Is now the time to re-think our perceptions of digital wellbeing?

May 13, 2020 |5 min read
digital wellbeing

With all the dramatic, recent changes and new pressures in our lives, is now the time to re-think digital wellbeing?

Across the world, communities have experienced a range of lockdown style restrictions for weeks or even months, complying with their respective governments' advice means many are now 'living' online. After developing my own bit of what can only be called 'screen-based cabin fever', I have been thinking a lot about what my own digital wellbeing now looks like and how I can break free from the screens. So, like many people, I finally bought a bicycle in the hope of spending more time off-screen and finding the freedom to explore beyond my London borough.

digital wellbeing devices

As the UK lockdown was introduced, I very quickly noticed that:

1) We are spending a lot of time thinking and talking about COVID-19 and looking at our screens.

2) We are tired of talking about COVID-19 and being behind screens almost constantly.

Like the digital revolution, COVID-19 has rapidly spread across the world and transformed the way we live. In contrast to previous pandemics, such as the Spanish Flu, what happened to us in a matter of weeks, took at least a year to play out in 1918. On top of that, we now battle with screen-time and information-overload, causing increased stress and anxiety.

We surveyed 869 people in the UK via OnePulse and found that for more than 2/3 of people (67%), COVID-19 has impacted the extent they think about and look after their mental health. And this type of result is not surprising, globally there is more uncertainty than we have ever had to face before.

Digital Wellbeing

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we were worried about spending too much time on our devices and screens. In 2019, What Mobile found that half of smartphone users were planning to reduce their screen time. 54% of respondents in Ofcom's digital dependency research admitted their device interrupted face-to-face connections.

With more people becoming aware of the negative impacts of our dependence, and in some cases addiction to using our devices, the phrase digital wellbeing was born. Brands have responded with a host of new tools and features to monitor and offer the ability to restrict our use of apps and devices to help give us the balance needed between our Non and off-screen lives.

However, now many of us are unable to leave our homes, we are turning to our screens for entertainment and connection with friends, family, and brands. In this time of such uncertainty, we are on the hunt for connection within the limits of social distancing, and right now, the only way to reach out to others safely is through our devices and screens. Therefore, pandemic has created a paradox between our ideals of digital wellbeing and need for togetherness in a time when we can't be. So, what does this mean for our digital wellbeing during COVID-19?

Now that we are spending more time on screens and connected devices than ever before, it is having an impact on how we think we may live post crisis. According to Global Web Index (GWI) research, around 2/3 of consumers say they expect to reduce their out-of-home leisure activities, even after their lockdown ends. As well as this, around ¼ plan to use video conferencing platforms more regularly, suggesting a move towards more on-screen socials. Is it more about how much time we spend on our devices, or what we are doing that matters when it comes to digital wellbeing?

Right now, we are spending quality time with friends and family online - hosting digital dates, family meals and pub quizzes - is it possible that this lockdown situation could make us more aware of the positives of screen time when spent well? Surely there is a difference in using our time on screen for scrolling through our social media feeds and learning or talking to loved ones who live across the world.

Perhaps the nature of using screens is less simplistic than being good or bad time spent. Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic could make us re-evaluate the digital wellbeing narrative from amount of time we spend online, towards how we use our time online.

How can brands and influencers help us achieve digital wellbeing, online?

As mentioned in previous posts by 2CVers, with customers under a range of lockdown restrictions, engaging with them requires a new approach. COVID-19 has afforded brands the opportunity to showcase their brand purpose, revealing the human nature behind the name, logo and products. These brands have been at the forefront of good news during the crisis, providing "pick-me-ups" when people have needed it most. Brands across the world, such as LVMH and Burberry, are stepping outside of their comfort zones of beauty and fashion, shifting production towards hand sanitizer and Personal Protection Equipment. This situation means that brands are having to do more than retailing and communicating, they are providing public services.

I have been listening to coffee bloggers, Some People Like Coffee, live, every morning on Instagram. They bring speciality coffee enthusiasts together to discuss with and learn from experts in the field from all over the world. Ironically, whilst I am unable to attend my favourite cafés, it has shown me the value of café culture; and in the case of speciality coffee, the closeness of a niche community spreading across the globe. I have found that human connection behind products is equally, if not more important, especially during COVID-19- and it can be delivered digitally to great effect.

We have seen brands using digital channels to promote the positive time you can have on screen. Brands have provided services to enable people to socialise and connect with each other, from Instagram releasing a StayAtHome sticker in multiple languages, allowing people and brands on their platform to reinforce this lifesaving message to Netflix's watch parties and BrewDog's virtual bars. As well as this, across the world brands are improving our physical health by providing at-home online exercise routines. In China, Nike Training Club has partnered with social media platform Douyin to provide a live-stream workout event that hosted 350,000 followers. Further, brands are providing opportunities to learn new skills online: Wagamama have launched a "Wok from Home" YouTube series, sharing recipes from their menu; Headspace and Calm have released free digital meditation content to help people manage their stress and anxiety; and Pluralsight encouraged people to educate themselves in technology skills with their Stay Home and Skill Up offering, making every single one of their courses free during April.

The Future for digital wellbeing

We are finding positives in screen time, such as connecting with people across the world and learning new skills online. Covid-19 could mean we reassess what we think when it comes to digital wellbeing - its not just the amount of time we spend online, but what we are doing that makes it a good or bad experience. Perhaps post crisis, we can re-evaluate our thinking on digital wellbeing - thinking about how to keep the positives we have found?

Respondents in our 2CV COVID-19 video series said:

"Using zoom a lot which I have never used before and having choir sessions and Italian lessons"

"I was frightened to start using it [Houseparty], but once I'd got the hang of it, I found its great fun"

However, we are also finding new alternatives to screens as over-exposure to screens seemingly drives appetite for off-screen activity. The fastest growing category in the UK (w/c 30th March) was baking products which were up 49.3%. People are still finding that they need to digitally detox from their computers, phones, and TVs. However, perhaps this is due to the binary nature of current thinking on digital well-being - is it on or off?

Brands who have proved themselves useful in times of crisis are viewed favourably by consumers, particularly those who are achieving digital wellbeing, showing that we it is possible to have healthy, digital activity. Google reported in 2019 that as digital wellbeing gains traction and technology continues to assimilate into our lives, people will look to change their use of technology as opposed to reducing it. 1 in 4 people already made changes to gain a greater sense of digital wellbeing, such as deletingcertainapps, reducingunwanted notifications and reducing the time spent oncertain apps. COVID-19 has opened an opportunity for brands to evaluate their interactions with consumers and the purpose they have in their lives; brands must ensure they remain useful before they become one of the things people spend less time doing.

Ultimately, during COVID-19 individuals and brands alike should think about how to create balance in their digital lives. How can we keep and enable healthy on-screen behaviors, as well as finding the balance with offline activity?

Prior to COVID-19 I was unconvinced by the value of considering my digital wellbeing when using devices. Following suite with Google's suggested trajectory, my long-term goal is to create a healthier relationship with my screens, rather than avoiding them altogether. I believe this relationship must be bound by usefulness, reserving my on-screen time for necessity - a contrast to my current one which is built on dependency. In turn this will allow me to invest more in off-screen hobbies and incorporate the outdoors into my day-to-day life, such as cycling to work rather than taking the tube. And when I must use a screen, I will make sure I do so with digital wellbeing in mind.