I am very pleased, humbled and excited to introduce Voxel Hub’s first Advisory Board Member, Liam McKinnon. I have worked with Liam for over two years now and I remain inspired by his kindness and professionalism every day. I look up to him and I trust his judgement. So it was only natural to ask him to join the Voxel Hub’s mission in this advisory role. His role is independent so I look forward to his honesty and great critical thinking, especially when I tend to fall into a negative bias around tech or make assumptions about digital wellbeing. I created Voxel Hub to open up explorations, not to provide rigid answers. I appreciate his insights on social media and online marketing, as well as a great understanding of the charity sector and mental health. Liam, together with other wonderful Advisors, will be here to help me steer this ship on wider, and sometimes stormy waters, and to maintain the sense of calm and safety nonetheless. And so today I am really excited to welcome him on board.
Please tell us a little bit about you – what do you do for a living and what is your current professional focus?
I am the Marketing, Communications and Digital Manager at Off the Record Bristol, a young people’s mental health social movement and charity. I’ve been there for 8 years and love my job and the ongoing challenge of promoting innovative and proactive wellbeing interventions for young people. I also freelance in digital marketing, helping clients across the charity, business and entertainment grow their online presence and work with them on creating content. The current focus at OTR is to adapt all our services, which would ordinarily take place in-person, into online alternatives throughout the Coronavirus disruption. It is a testing time but we have been able to continue providing our support via platforms such as Zoom, Skype, even WhatsApp. It is teaching us a lot and the way we have responded has been really well-received.
How important are digital technologies for your business?
They’re absolutely vital in every aspect of OTR’s work – from promoting our therapeutic offers and projects to generating income via donations and fundraising, to the actual delivery of services. Young people are so native to the digital world that it feels obvious and constructive to signpost to our work this way. I feel that we’re an important voice in a busy online landscape and by putting out mental health information and resources on social media, apps and broadcasts then that can only be a positive thing.
In terms of technology enabling me to do my work – I’d be lost without it. In my freelance career, I live off my iPad Pro – I do absolutely everything on it. I can quite feasibly be sat at my desk with five or six Apple products within reach, each serving a different purpose and allowing me to work quicker and smarter. Tech is totally embedded in my day-to-day life.
What are your hobbies, activities beyond paid professional work?
I’m a keen squash player and also a big fan of football – playing and watching (I support Newcastle, for my sins). But my biggest hobby is drumming – I have been playing since a very young age and in recent years have been able to realise a dream and play alongside the singer Steven Page (ex-Barenaked Ladies, my favourite band) as his touring percussionist. It has taken me all over the world and I have memories to last a lifetime from those shows and travels! I’ve recently launched a website for my drumming at liammckinnon.com.
Beer or wine? Milkshake or a smoothie? A good steak or a superfood salad?
Definitely beer – I am a big fan of craft beer and always have a fridge stocked full of IPAs and Pale Ales! I feel lucky to be living in Bristol where there’s so much good beer produced. I like a good smoothie, and I’d take a steak over a salad – although Mexican food beats the lot, so pass me a big burrito…
Are you a cat or a dog person?
How do you manage work/life balance?
It can be hard at times to draw the line between using digital for work and leisure. More often than not, scrolling through social media in my downtime will give me an idea, or remind me of something, that I can use professionally. Having said that, I don’t find my screentime reports as alarming as I used to. If you think about a 7-8 hour working day, much of which can be spent on a mobile device, a screentime report can, in fact, demonstrate that I’ve been really productive (or just found a really good Youtube video).
The best and healthiest thing I can do to maintain a good balance is to stay active and sociable, be it walking my dog around the lovely Victoria Park here in Bedminster, playing squash, or let’s face it – spending a few hours down the pub!
You are responsible for marketing & social media at OTR Bristol, but also as a freelance digital media specialist. How, in your professional opinion, are digital technologies impacting your life today? What is their impact on your wellbeing?
The vast majority of the time, I consider tech to have a really positive impact on my mental health. It allows me to connect not only with friends but also with interests, hobbies, resources and educational materials. I truly think the situation we’re in now, globally, will be a game-changer for the narrative around tech. In a really challenging and totally unprecedented time, tech has allowed us to retain social connections despite being physically distant. It has mobilised and empowered entire nations to continue with some degree of normality, professionally and personally.
On occasions where I do feel that digital technology is adversely affecting my wellbeing, I have to remember that it’s usually down to the choices I’m making and not the tech itself. Blaming tech for any kind of ‘societal breakdown’ is like blaming a wall for graffiti. Of course, the big tech companies have responsibilities to safeguard and to protect (particularly young people), but we also have to recognise our own individual responsibilities and choices. Having the discipline and will to be selective with what you’re consuming online (and how much of it) is important, particularly in difficult times like we’re experiencing now. We can all choose not to engage with the 24/7 news coverage, angry social media exchanges or mistruths.
You are joining the Advisory Board of Voxel Hub at a time when most people embrace the remote work and digital technologies with astonishing speed. What trends and patterns do you see in our collective digital wellbeing at the moment?
I remember when social media took off, there was a new understanding of the term ‘citizen journalism’ and the instantaneous and open nature of those social platforms has long been cited as the death of local journalism as we knew it. I think the legacy of this pandemic will further that trend – we are all becoming bloggers and vloggers; we all have a story.
I also see a real shift from industries to embrace conversational marketing which for a consumer I think adds a great deal of personalisation to an online retail experience. I’d like to see it adopted by health service providers – it’s something we can explore at OTR, for instance. People are waking up to the cynical nature of influencer marketing and, particularly for young people, it’s much better for our wellbeing to understand that things aren’t always what they seem online and your favourite celebrity probably doesn’t really give a crap about those diet pills. Having more authentic voices, and useful resources (such as Voxel Hub!) helps us to better understand the impact of digital on our health.
How are you taking care of yourself in those challenging times?
With the Coronavirus disrupting basically everything we know to be normal, I’m trying to spend the extra time being productive – but at the same time, not putting too much pressure on myself or setting any deadlines. I’ve worked on some little projects at home, made myself a website (I’m always working on other people’s online presence and decided it was time to create something for myself!), but have had plenty of days where I’ve not accomplished much at all – and have had to learn to accept that it’s OK to have days like that too. My dog and the (online) company of my friends are keeping me sane.
What would be your top digital wellbeing tip at the moment for our blog readers?
Send fewer emails. So much time can be saved by speaking face-to-face or picking up the phone. Email admin is so laborious and nobody likes an overwhelming inbox. Don’t make your inbox number a competition!
Liam will be active on this blog so stay tuned for his thoughts on digital wellbeing. In the meantime, you can also follow him over on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out the short video diary from his last tour here.