Our Well-being as Digital Citizens

How’s your relationship with technology? Do you have control of it, or does it control you?

Digital Well-being: Technology and our Daily Lives

“Technology is, not so much as a necessary evil, it’s a necessary good that can go either way.” www.wellbeing.google  

The Pew Research Center’s report called “The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World” (Anderson & Rainie, 2018) presents interesting perspectives on how digital technology has impacted humanity and how it is projected to continue affecting people’s lives. From producing and perpetuating human connections, revitalizing economies, reforming educational practice and instilling contentment to isolation, increased anxiety, cognitive and emotional harm, lack of empathy and digital addictions, technology has pervaded human existence. The search for balance and a middle ground seems elusive and increasingly difficult to attain. In the study conducted by Anderson & Rainie (2018), 1,150 experts were asked the question, “Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?” Almost 50% of the respondents believe that people’s well-being will be helped by digital technologies. These numbers are encouraging, despite the 32% that think technology endangers people’s well-being. 

In any conversation regarding well-being in the digital world, the principle of digital agency comes to play. According to Passey et al. (2018), digital agency is defined as “a way of empowering people to deal with new technologies so that they feel they have roles in how they adopt, adapt to and use them wisely and responsibly.” The trajectory towards a healthy relationship with technology necessitates that as humans, we can exercise agency over our digital interactions and take charge of decisions as to how we engage with technologies in our midst. 

Focusing on student mental health, how does the infusion of technology impact one’s well-being? The Covid-19 pandemic has, beyond a doubt, transformed lives, families, schools, the workplace, places of worship, societies, and countries around the world. When many cities went into lockdown, students quickly shifted to home learning. Shortly after, phrases like ‘Zoom fatigue, ‘doom scrolling’ and ‘digistraction’ became everyday terms (Dennis, 2021).   

Since the pandemic, there is wide concern that the increased use of social media technologies (SMTs) poses a threat to one’s digital well-being (Dennis, 2021). Furthermore, Dennis (2021) states that SMTs have been shown to be highly effective at manipulating user behavior. Regulating the use of SMTs might be more challenging as SMTs are becoming more integrated into everyday services and activities. This is where balance and digital agency come in. How do we encourage users, especially students, to exercise moderation and self-control? 

According to Burr and Floridi (2020), digital well-being refers to “impact that digital technologies, such as social media, smartphones, and AI, have had on our well-being and our self-understanding of what it means to live a life that is good for us in an increasingly digital society” (p. 3). Another definition of digital well-being is the “impact of technologies and digital services on people’s mental, physical, social and emotional health” (Passey, 2021, p. 5). The common thread between these two definitions is the word ‘impact.’ Digital agency helps one manage the impact that SMTs or other digital input create on users. At times, digital agency is limited or thwarted by external circumstances, as in the example of school switching to online learning due to the pandemic. At other times, digital agency is enhanced by the learning opportunities available to the users. 

“In digital agency, the core concern is that the teacher is as much a producer as a consumer with regard to using digital technologies” (Passey, 2021, p. 7).  Although this statement is specifically about teachers, I believe it can apply to all digital users.  Furthermore, Passey expounds on digital agency as the intersection of 3 elements: digital competence – a safe and effective way of navigating the digital world; digital confidence – being able to use a variety of computer apps and software; digital accountability – taking responsibility for oneself and others’ digital actions (Passey, 2021, p. 7). Using these three elements together, digital citizens can develop and strengthen digital agency as they engage in their digital environments.   

Digital well-being is not a static phase; it is fluid and dynamic and can change from being robust to vulnerable within a short span of time. We must diligently guard our well-being by exercising digital agency over the choices we make. We strive to enhance our digital learning, promote the well-being of others and contribute to the greater digital community we are a part of. 

Resources: 

Anderson, J., & Rainie, L. (2018, April 17). The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/04/17/the-future-of-well-being-in-a-tech-saturated-world/ 

Burr, C. & Floridi, L. (Eds). (2020). The Ethics of Digital Well-Being: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Springer. 

Dennis, M.J. (2021). Towards a theory of digital well-being: Reimagining online life after lockdown. Science and Engineering Ethics, 27(32). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-021-00307-8 

Google (2019, May 8). Digital wellbeing: Technology and our daily lives [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7rB_Iwlh8M 

Passey, D. (2021).  Digital technologies—And teacher wellbeing? Education Sciences 11(117). https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11030117 

Passey, D., Shonfeld, M., Appleby, L., Judge, M., Saito, T., & Smits, A. (2018). Digital agency: Empowering equity in and through education. Tech Know Learn (23), 425–439. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-018-9384-x 

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