My clients often ask: “OK, I have a negative tech bias, so how can I open up beyond it to learn more about good digital wellbeing?”
This is such an excellent question to ask already! Great start!
When we realise a bias, we can start working on shifting our attitudes through reflective exercises. A simple start is to ask yourself a wide range of questions and ensure that you consider the other/opposite side (what if I am wrong?), multiple perspectives (how else could I look at this?), context (what else am I not thinking about?) and openness to new ideas (what else is there?).
So today, I am offering you a few reflective questions to start exploring your negative tech bias. I have listed the areas people mostly use for daily language myths without noticing that they are doing it.
Just a word of advice: because we are dealing with the negative bias (which we are all wired for as humans – our brains need to scan for negative clues to keep us safe), I recommend also paying attention to the positive and negative sentiment of how you ask the questions. Always start with opportunities and benefits and then list challenges to get a more balanced view.
Digital technologies and their impact on our mental health and wellbeing
People say: “Screens harm our health.” “Social media is not good for my mental health.”
Does it, really?
Is the digital age really affecting your wellbeing in a negative way? Then rephrase the question: I claim that social media affects my mental health – so has my mental health been actually affected in the last 6 months, consistently? Also: has it been affected to the point of issues with daily functioning, avoiding socialising/relationship problems and needing professional support? (Otherwise: is this an issue to seek help for or a phase in my life?)
What else has affected your wellbeing in the last few days, weeks, months, or years? Has your wellbeing decreased due to other factors like workplace culture, income, physical health, relationships…?
What is the role of your social positioning in how you can access digital technologies and how people treat you online? Think about all your protected characteristics (many studies show that digital spaces by now reflect how our societies operate offline).
Think about the tools you use, the people you interact with and the content you read or post. What is similar and different between being online and offline in terms of how you feel/are affected, how you rest, and how you nurture your wellbeing? Take a specific example: for example, a toxic manager at work and online or a complex relationship with a family member online and offline. What are your experiences and options to protect your wellbeing?
Young people, smartphones and social media
People say: “Teens are glued to their phones” and ” Teens spend all their time on social media, which is bad for their mental health.”
Does it, really?
Are all teens spending all their time on phones? And because phones are addictive?
What are other reasons why they may wish to choose to access news, socialise, study, rest and play online and not elsewhere?
What other options do they have in your family, school, or area to access news, socialise, study, rest and play? With or without adults? Take a simple example: How many movies in your local cinema are available for young people to see without adults? How many young people in your area can afford a cinema ticket?
Given a choice to socialise in person and online, what choices would teens make and why?
What modelling (or active support like open conversation on the topic) do teens receive from their parents in regard to smartphone use in public places, social media use or socialising online vs offline?
People say: “I am addicted to the Internet.”, or “Internet is making us all addicted.”
Does it, really?
Does it “make” us do anything? Who owns the agency and decides on actions when accessing the Internet? Who decides?
Why do we access the Internet a lot these days? What for? List all the reasons – work, shopping, news, socialising, staying in touch with distant family, online learning – all of it.
What are the benefits and challenges of using the Internet over offline interaction – for example, when buying a train ticket?
Is Internet addiction a diagnosable condition? If so, what parameters would we use? What are people addicted to, and why when they use the Internet? What are the role of the Internet in my life and my functioning? (A tiny hint: no, Internet addiction is not a condition. Gaming disorders are now officially introduced as disorders by APA and WHO, however, with a note that they are not confirmed and still need to be researched. The professionals who use the diagnosis tend to say that a person needs to suffer a severe impact on core life functioning (stops eating, socialising, going to work) for at least 6 months).
If “Internet addiction” is not a mental health condition, what is the impact of media and regulators using it on all of us, on me?
What is the impact of my using this term in my conversations?
Accessing news and fiction about digital wellbeing
People say: “Internet is ruining our lives” or “Social media users are narcissists.”
Is that true? Is this a documentary or a docudrama (aka fiction) – I am referring to the famous “The Social Dilemma” movie, which I have supported with critical reflection in another post here.
Who wrote it, why and how? What was the data sample or source of this claim? What is their intent and interest in sharing it this way beyond the clicks on the website? Otherwise: How is this information helpful for MY mental health?
What is the impact of this piece on me and my mental health: is it scaring me to stay offline, inviting curiosity and active engagement for better health, and what else?
And don’t forget the critical question: “What reliable, fact-checked scientific evidence do I have to prove this point?”
I hope you will find this set of questions helpful. I would love to hear your suggestions too.