Can We Embrace an “Offline” Future After COVID-19?
Will digital detox become mainstream to safeguard our mental health?
December 8, 2020, Yukie Ikezumi
COVID-19 can be heavily taxing on our mental health. Significantly increased internet use and overload of information are exhausting our attention and causing grave cognitive fatigues. Now may be the time to go offline and contemplate an unplugged future for our mental health.
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SURGE IN INTERNET USE LEADS TO INCREASED ANXIETY ABOUT CORONAVIRUS
COVID-19 has brought about numerous unprecedented changes in our lives, with the surge of online data consumption being one of the most notable phenomena. From remote work to entertainment, we have been forced to move many aspects of daily life onto the internet. Online meetings and learnings are becoming a new normal, and on-demand services such as Netflix or Spotify see unprecedented growth in subscribers during the worldwide quarantine.
More importantly, the internet has been a vital source for many in reducing uncertainty and keeping up to date with the latest developments in the pandemic. Yet, at the same time, overexposure to an overwhelming load of information is undeniably causing an adverse effect. We are trapped into a perpetual chase of news development, which invites a thirst for more information. Ultimately, overconsumption of news leads us to a state of “corona fatigue”, causing amplified anxiety about coronavirus.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND INFORMATION OVERLOAD CAUSES SOCIAL BURNOUT
With the pandemic-induced acceleration of digital transformation, we are also seeing a surge in social burnouts. People are plagued by the pressure to be always online, prompt to act from anywhere, anytime. The pandemic is only exacerbating the situation, as we go online more than ever to roam around the internet and social media to seek stimulating information.
However, at times, information on social media can be void of any real information, as social media algorithms are known to lock users into an information bubble where uninteresting information is unknowingly excluded, and only the desired information is fed to the users.
Moreover, fake news about COVID-19, such as conspiracy theories, has also seen a surge all over the social media platforms. As people turn to social media for close communication with friends and family, a study reveals that they are more likely to believe fake news circulated on these platforms.
Social media platforms can also trap people into a state of constant social competition and comparison. Although scientific researches to establish the links between social media and mental health problems are still in progress, biases and burnout nurtured by social media are becoming serious societal issues. While regulations on social media are yet to be in place, people increasingly take the initiative themselves to protect their mental health from digital harm.
FURTHER AHEAD OF DIGITAL DETOX
How can we, then, escape the cognitive fatigue driven by social media and information overload in the digital era? Governments and health organisations are issuing recommendations to reduce screen time to ease corona fatigue, but how can we really reduce internet consumption and use it in moderation amidst lockdowns?
Digital detox is already a widely known term, and research shows that it is effective in reducing stress levels. There are also different types of digital detox, such as partial detox or detox within a limited time. Analogue vacations that prohibit the use of smartphones or computers are gaining popularity, as well.
In the future, this trend may further strengthen and evolve into technology-free zones. Rather than reducing screen time, completely digital technology-free districts could be founded to counterbalance our overly digitised environment.
In the modern working life, it is becoming near impossible to separate ourselves from digital technologies altogether. However, internet-free homes or schools could offer people the chance to go offline in their private time. In such zones, houses or phones would no longer be “smart”, and analogue equipment, such as paper books and snail mails, could restore their original positions.
TOWARD AN UNPLUGGED FUTURE
An array of advice on how to unplug from technologies can be found on the internet today. Still, it can be challenging for individuals to successfully conduct a detox on their own when stimulating technologies and information are competing for our attention all the time.
The first step toward an unplugged future could be personalised digital detox coaching. With consumer behaviour changing to prioritise more customised and efficient experiences, demand for health and wellness coaches are on the rise. They help clients to achieve their health goals through personalised and holistic support with exercise, diet, and mental counselling. With more people improving their mental health through mentorship fine-tuned to their personal goals, digital detox could become one of the areas to benefit from personalised coaching in the future.
A successful digital detox will bring various benefits. People can reduce the stress arising from an overload of information, the pursuit of validations on social media, or constant comparison of themselves to others. Thus, just like we saw the rise of the slow-life movement, we may also witness the rise of technology-free zones as a social movement someday in the future.
The year 2020 has been an extraordinary one. It is also a testimony that we are indeed living in a world of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), and our ability to future-proof ourselves is on trial. With the new year 2021 right ahead of us, the digital-free moment may further accelerate to reinforce mental health and help people cope with uncertainty.
Read more about the VUCA world order and check out our futurist’s advice on how to turn it in your advantage.
TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATIONS OF MENTAL HEALTH AFTER COVID-19
To write this article, Futures Platform's futurists have collected the data from different phenomena and studied linkages between them. Here are the three colliding phenomena that are covered in this article to envision the future of mental health and digital technologies.
COVID-19 and Mental Health
Experts have expressed concern about the effects of the coronavirus on people's mental health. Quarantine measures, worrying about the future and economic uncertainty can increase fear, stress and anxiety. In the face of ever-changing circumstances and a prolonged virus epidemic, both medical staff and ordinary citizens need mental coping methods.
The performance-centric lifestyle reinforced by social media platforms leaves many people feeling inadequate, unsuccessful, and dissatisfied with their lives. Younger generations in particular may feel the pressure to be hyper-productive and to constantly promote their personal brand on online platforms. Millennial women may be more prone to social burnouts, as they are also exposed to unrealistic beauty standards set by what they see on social media.
It is well possible that technology-free zones are founded in the near future to counterbalance the digitalisation of our built environment. If such areas gain popularity, they can turn into a steady phenomenon that gives rise to a larger societal movement.
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