Are we ever offline now?
Yesterday was Digital Wellness Day, apparently a day to rethink our relationship with technology. Via online events.
One of my many Zoom calls was about how our use of tech is affecting our mental health. Let’s start with Zoom, the handy video conferencing tool that enabled our working life for the last 14 months. Here’s a scary thought: using Zoom’s appearance filter may have changed how I view my own face. It softens any texture, lines or uneven colour. Is it a coincidence that when I look in a mirror I now see imperfections more clearly than ever? The frown lines, blemishes and imperfect teeth seem like pressing problems to solve. They feel wrong. But they are just parts of my face. And it’s not just Zoom of course. Instagram filters are changing the self image of a whole generation.
Recommendations suggest that hiding the self view in Zoom is a good idea. I’ve found that I enjoy meetings with the Webinar format, where only speakers appear. If I have my video turned off, I can pay attention to the content more fully. It switches off the appearance-monitoring part of my brain. A recent workshop on running workshops (yes, really) gave us attendees explicit instructions to turn off our videos. What a relief.
After a Zoom call, I might check Slack. In fact I’ll likely do both at the same time. We all do, don’t we? To be efficient and get more done. Notifications from email and Slack punctuate our days and demand attention. When we switch from one task to another, it’s a mental shift. Studies show that it can take 23 minutes on average to get back into the original task after an interruption. Yet it’s impossible not to check a DM in case it’s important.
My phone is never far from my side. Just having it nearby could be affecting my concentration but I need to authenticate the access to work systems via a mobile app, plus keep in touch with loved ones. WhatsApp is a lifeline, and so are podcasts. They provide a feeling of connection. Social media and news updates are a mixed blessing. The sheer amount of information they provide is overwhelming, but some of it is necessary and interesting. I’ll pick a few stories to read every day, scrolling past hundreds more.
And then I’ll watch Netflix. To unwind.
All of these products are useful innovations but when I review what the average day looks like, I see the need to unplug! During the pandemic it’s been harder. Being always-on and needing to respond is more acute during a crisis. Now might be a good time to reassess the routine.
So I am looking forward to going to the top of a mountain or getting in the sea as soon as weather and restrictions allow. No wifi, no problem!