8 guidelines for maintaining a healthy digital well-being during COVID-19

Tech can be just as disruptive as it is helpful. The following tips can help professionals and their children use technology in a productive manner.

Digital transformation: It's time to invent the future we want

While technology has been a staple in most social lives, the coronavirus pandemic has forced digital tools to infiltrate work and personal lives, too. Office workers have shifted to remote work, students have adapted to online learning, and patients have transitioned to telehealth practices.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same--here's what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Experts are predicting that this remote lifestyle might be the new normal, extending well beyond the pandemic. The benefits of remote work make the transition worthwhile, including heightened productivity, better work-life balance, and lower costs by eliminating office space. 

However, the influx of technology also has its downsides, according to a report the Center for Humane Technology, released on Monday. 

Many children are being exposed to technology at a greater extent than before, particularly because of virtual schooling. The downside of this is that they could succumb to the addictive nature and misinformation that tech also offers, according to the research. 

To help professionals maintain a healthy connection with technology for both themselves and their children, the Center of Human Technology compiled the following eight  tips for maintaining a positive digital well-being. 

8 guidelines for a healthy digital well-being 

1. Pay attention to how you feel

The report suggested techies take time to reflect on how technology makes you feel. Users should ask themselves and their kids, "How does this app or game make you feel, during and after use?" 

By asking some simple questions, tech users can learn a lot about how tech is affecting them, and ultimately protect themselves, or others, from harmful behaviors. The report also offered the following questions for self analysis or to ask your child: 

  • What thought, feeling, or impulse led you to pick up your device?
  • As you scroll through your feed, what kind of thoughts come up? 
  • What kind of emotions come up?
  • What happens to your breathing? 
  • How does your heart feel?

2. Communicate the "why" behind using the device

Maintaining a healthy relationship with tech is hard. Oftentimes users fall down the rabbit hole of using tech to only realize hours later how long they've been engaged. The report recommended making an effort to use tech as a tool instead of an end in itself. Consider the "why" behind using the device, and ask your child the same. 

The report offered the following helpful questions to ask yourself or child: 

  • Why am I reaching for my device?
  • How is this technology really enhancing my life?
  • Is this technology serving as a successful substitute for something lacking during the pandemic (i.e. exercise or education)?
  • Am I being a tech role model? 
  • When I am mindlessly using technology, am I taking ownership of that with my family?

3. Remember that all screen-time is not equal

Simply looking at a screen or using tech isn't intrinsically bad; there is no need to completely remove tech from our lives, according to the report. Rather, professionals and parents should consider the type of activity they are doing on screens. 

For  example, rather than passively scrolling through social media for hours, creating a drawing or making a dance video can be much more engaging and rewarding. 

The report provided the following helpful questions: 

  • Am I engaging in "slot-machine" behavior? e.g. Endlessly scrolling for the occasional emotional reward? Repeatedly checking my likes to see how many there are, or who liked my post? 
  • What values is this content/game teaching?
  • How can I use what I am consuming as a source of inspiration for creating something of my own? 
  • What am I learning?
  • What is my reason for posting? How would it feel if no one likes this?

4. Consider tech as a trade

Tech makes simple tasks very convenient, however, we also run the risk of losing some interpersonal  connection for the sake of that convenience. 

As stated in the report, "When a phone is involved, we're often trading our mental presence in the room where we are physically for whatever is happening on screen. The people in the room can feel ignored and 'less important' than what's happening on the screen, which can be especially hard for children to experience from their parents."  

The report listed the following helpful questions for self-reflection: 

  • What am I losing as I'm gaining this convenience? Is it worth it?
  • Is this time well spent?
  • What's the non-tech way to do this thing I'm doing right now? (e.g. journaling or meditating without an app)
  • How does my own tech as a parent use make my children feel?

5. Become proactive about use

Getting sucked into our phones or devices can be  really easy. People need to be  cognizant of how much time they are spending on their phones and be proactive about setting the devices down. 

The report provided the following questions to help keep yourself in check: 

  • Did I connect with the people I wanted to this week?
  • Did I put the effort and energy into the work, play, social time, activities, and sleep that I intended to dedicate myself to?
  • Is my current time management strategy working for me and my family?

6.  Choose the right tech 

While texting or messaging is quick and easy, talking over phone or video can help people stay better connected, especially when social distancing, according to the report. 

The report suggested using certain technologies based on the goals you want to accomplish. The following questions can be helpful in determining that: 

  • Is this conversation best for text or should I call or FaceTime this person?
  • Do I want to share this with everyone on social media or a select few?
  • How long did it actually take to have that text conversation, and how much was my attention interrupted in that time?
  • Is this digital environment working for me or my family?

7. Protect young minds

The report warned parents to remember that children's brains are still developing; the more a child relies on technology, the more their minds might be shaped by tech and media. 

The report recommended asking the following questions: 

  • Is this screentime really for them or for me?
  • Are we creating screen-free zones and times in our home?
  • What kind of call or online socializing should we engage in?

8. Be skeptical about social media

During the pandemic, we are naturally on our phones more. The report  found that social media products and stunts will try to get your information or make money off of you more than ever. Users must be skeptical and cautious when clicking links or engaging on social platforms. 

Here are some helpful questions to consider, according to the report: 

  • How is this going to improve my life? 
  • What value does this bring me as a human being?
  • What skills might I be giving up as I use technology to do this?
  • What personal information am I comfortable posting, considering it could be sold to  advertisers?
  • How are the apps and services I use trying to keep me as a user?

For more, check out The role of digital tools in a post-pandemic world on TechRepublic.

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