• Bobby Dye

Digital Well-Being

The importance of digital well-being is more critical now than ever before. With the rise of popular digital-based documentaries, such as The Social Dilemma, and the subsequent creations of them, like the Center for Humane Technology, it’s a wonder why it’s taken this long for a movement of this kind to take place.

Expertise


If you listen closely to ex-silicon valley career professionals and experts, it hasn’t. According to many of them, there’s been an outcry to hold social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube more responsible than ever before. To hold them accountable for what many ex-employees call “using our own psychology against us.” A growing number of these individuals, who worked at these giant tech companies and somewhere along the way, questioned the ethics of executive decision-making.


The algorithms used in suggesting what post we view next on Facebook, what type of picture we see on Instagram, or video is recommended on YouTube are made with artificial intelligence. Meaning, they only get more effective with time. These algorithms only get better at predicting your very next move. In part, due to the extensive amount of information we relinquish about ourselves to these networks from the moment we sign up for an account. I am sure you noticed the twenty-page privacy policy your favorite social network has but chose to ignore it altogether when you initially signed up. When you did so, you gave free rein to the company to use that information against you, even on a psychological front.


Regulation and Extremism


There is a reason main media outlets such as television, radio, and newspapers all have regulations. Large in part, due to public interest and the impact these outlets can generate. Have you ever thought about why these large social networks aren’t regulated in the same way? Or did you believe they were? Because they aren’t. There’s been a call to action of sorts brewing in many people’s minds in the technological communications sector, in terms of regulating the internet more strictly, holding social networks responsible for the content they allow to appear on their websites, and what they do with the data they’ve aggregated from you. There have been changes in the European Union recently with the establishment of the GDPR, which is the general data protection regulation. In short, it’s a regulation requiring that people know, understand, and consent to the data collected about them.


The need for such regulations in the United States and around the world is ever apparent. Statistics wholeheartedly back the notion of social networks, making a negative impact on society. Although initially intended for good, there’s the flip side of the coin. Yes, social media has linked people together across the world, allowed children with terminal diseases to reach their favorite athlete, and so on. Yet, what’s on the opposite side of the spectrum?


Researchers have only had a small amount of time to study the ramifications of social network usage. Of course, we all know social media is a distraction, but many people don’t think about it past that. However, studies already show some users have increased depression and anxiety, an overall increase in the feeling of helplessness, and body dysmorphia, such as teenagers getting plastic surgery to make themselves look more like a Snapchat filter. They also show a decrease in attention span, a correlation between the increase in a child’s screen time usage and a reduction in their ability to learn, comprehend and memorize material, and a link to altering society’s social fabric as we know it.


Infrastructure


As with any sizable societal change, it starts from the top down. To combat the new age of digital media and its nuances, we must build an equally robust infrastructure. There needs to be more discussion around digital well-being, including you, your family and children’s usage, and those within your community. Not just day-to-day conversations, either. You know, the ones that sound like this, “I know I get on social media a lot, but it’s just what I like to do in my spare time, and is it really hurting anyone?” The answer is an emphatic yes. Firstly, you can rest assured you get on your phone more than you think you do and “in just your spare time.” Odds are, you check your phone around the same amount others do at an average of 95 times per day. That’s around every ten minutes, and if you’re younger, it’s probably even higher. Also, that number is only going up, unless we can stop, of course, or at the very least, minimize it.

In an age where there are many “influencers” who impact younger audiences, you must lead by example. Studies show children spend nearly double the time on their phones as they do with their parents. So ask yourself, who is raising your child? If you are a parent, you have to not only lead by example through setting strict usage guidelines for your children to follow, but yourself included. Children are more likely to believe and want to mirror your actions when you can do what you’re asking of them. So we’ve discussed sparking conversations centered around digital well-being and leading through an example with tangible actions. Yet, I can’t help but feel we are missing one crucial component.


Extreme circumstances require extreme change. The fact that teenage girls are attempting to alter their bodies to look like filters because they believe they look “better” with them is all I needed to hear to know that we, as a society, have gone farther than ever imagined in a negative direction, within the context of social networking. To counter the imposing attack from social networks on our social and mental consciousness, we need reform, reform in terms of policy changes and regulations, but perhaps none more essential than curriculum in a school setting.


I understand that the more I come to know about the absolute changing of societal constructs due to these platforms, the more of a need there is for a curriculum based around it. Technology has gone through much evolution, but the human race hasn’t kept up in some regards. We’ve created the technology, but without considering every conceivable sociological outcome that could occur from it. In this way, we must educate and inform our youth on the basics and intricate details of digital well-being. Future generations must understand the invisible wrap these networks will have on their children, especially in terms of cognitive and social ability.


Therefore, it is in our best interest to create a detailed, comprehensive class offering for children, starting in middle school. It’s when kids are most susceptible to change, positive and negative affirmations from others, and associating them with themselves. Not just an online crash course, either, but a semester or yearly long, traditional class in-person. The class, revised based upon age group, should be taught in middle school, high school, and even college, for those who missed out when they were younger.


The class would serve as a digital well-being guide, informing our youth of the dangers in social networking, such as growth-stunting, constant comparison, and false narratives, while instilling in them a care for our society in reality outside of a virtual world. As sad as it may be to state, this day has come. Just as humans have needed classes to learn how to use the internet and social networks, they should take a class on how to undo some of the adverse outcomes of using them. Otherwise, these consequences have and will continue to occur without proper context and regulation.

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