Digital Health (March 2020)

Published March 2020

Digital Health

There is a sort of irony in the fact I am using technology to write an article about how to use less of it.

However, I did balance the scale by completing the majority of this article in a wooden cabin on a mountain.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

There is a lot of waffle out there regarding the subject of ‘digital health’ with some grains of valuable truth sprinkled in between. Luckily, this article is not about the risk of thumb ligament injuries as a result of too much time on a cell phone.

You may not believe that there is a problem with our consumption practices regarding technology, but there are plenty of studies that confirm our minds and bodies suffer from excessive technology use. There are people (including myself) who are acutely aware of these afflictions on their health because of devices.

Of course, there is another type of digital health, one that shouldn’t be confused with the subject of this article. Instead, this form of digital health relates to an enormous commercial industry that is in many ways recession-proof. The concept here revolves around devices that support healthy physical habits with revenue coming from wearable gadgets like Fitbit bands or an Apple Watch. This industry, while still in its infancy, is anticipated to accumulate a value of between $223.7bn and $536.6bn by the year 2025.

Now, the type of digital health I am writing about refers to using digital devices too much.

But what is too much?

‘Too much’ is a line crossed when the benefits of the device do not justify the negative effects on our health, nor does it warrant a good return on the use of time.

This ‘line’ is one many of us struggle to see unless we are brutally honest with ourselves. For example, you might believe that you use Facebook to stay in contact with your friends, but you know deep down that you have not bothered to see most of them for months. If this is you, and you claim that the purpose of your social media is to maintain friendships, you really are fooling yourself.

I didn’t have computer games when I was in junior school, but, I had Lego and an imagination. These combined with inspiration from Nintendo, led to a pretend game console being made, where my younger brother (one of them, I am one of 9) would animate Lego characters of Mario Brothers on our TV while pretending he was invisible. This is one of my first memories prior to the tech era, but these days, like me, most people have very few memories that do not include any technology.

We are oblivious to the fact we absorb 3 times more information from devices today than humans did 50 years ago.

You could argue that televisions and PCs were not around 50 years ago, therefore an increase in information today is an obvious result, but, what you are not putting into context is that you are essentially digesting 3 days of information in a single day. Ever wonder why you are tired before11am? It is probably because you have absorbed a full day’s information.

We are experiencing sensory overload, processing volumes of data that our human body was not designed to deal with.

Humans are a superior species and one of our defining characteristics is our advanced methods of communication. Through the evolutionary process, our brains evolved to seek out and process information received through human to human communication which includes social triggers and cues. Digital communication lacks all these ‘higher-level messages’ and this creates problems. Not only are we receiving more information, but it is of lesser quality.

Think about the level of anxiety caused the last time you misinterpreted a person during a conversation. Do you recall the mild panic and internal stress?

In many ways, our brains are going through similar stresses when we replace traditional communication (the type we evolved to process) with digital communication. Our psyche does not believe that we have understood what is going on and this uncertainty creates stress and anxiety. Prolonged exposure deteriorates our social skills and ultimately leaves us feeling with a sense of disconnection.


I cannot think of anything else we do on a day to day basis other than sleep or work that uses as much time as a cell phone or PC. Can you?

Society, in general, does not identify technology as a damaging force, and we believe that the use of a cell phone for an hour a day is of no harm at all… but, we are not on it for only an hour. The average person uses their cell phone between 3 and 6 hours each day, and even when it’s not in our hands we are thinking about one of its Apps. Digital media usage has increased by 40% since 2013. I predict an equivalent and compounded increase by the year 2022.

You might want to argue for the benefits of tech, such as its positive impact on education.

However, I could counter with the fact that tech doesn’t always guarantee a better quality education, instead, plagiarism and cheating have increased, or our ability to become a problem solver has reduced because we Google solutions before assigning any mental power to solving the problem. Additionally, children are less independent because they can WhatsApp mom for an immediate reply. Generation Y send around 50-60 messages less than one hour before bed.

Children born today will probably spend a grand total of 27 years during their lifetime in front of a device. 27 full years… can you fathom this usage of time?

Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 20 years, which supports a study out of Essex University saying children are physically weaker today because of reduced play and general movement.

The brains of our children are at risk of developing in an entirely different way. Development of neuron connections which used to form through things like playtime doesn’t happen anymore, and we are hardwiring ourselves to interact with a device over a physical friend.

Perhaps this is just the next step in our evolution. I believe we need to change in order to coexist or cohabitate this new world with our digital counterparts. This opinion of mine is of little comfort to the parents of today who have to deal with their children being exposed to violent and sexual content or predators via their phone.

Many children follow the example of their parents and we have all become technology addicts. This it is not an incorrect medical description either. When we get ‘likes’ on social media our levels of dopamine increase in the same way drug or alcohol addicts might when they consume their substance of choice.

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a recognized disorder.

Chronic Smartphone Stress is another.

Men, if you think this article is a lot of wish wash, I will have you know if you work with a laptop on your knees for more than an hour you are damaging your nibbly bits and reducing fertility because laptops raise your scrotum temperature.

New technologies are particularly well-suited to adjust our behavioural practices.

Many people believe this is a deliberate design with a sinister agenda. I would not buy into the belief that there is evil intent, only commercial. Some people believe these are the same things.

People like to be entertained, we enjoy being connected, we love immediate gratification, and we need to make a living… all of this can be delivered on-demand in the palm of our hands, any time of the day, anywhere in the world.

Let me touch on some of the actual risks and results.

Computer Vision Syndrome is a medical issue caused by excessive screen time. It results in eyestrain, dry eyes and blurred vision. On average, humans are blinking less!

Other physical manifestations include obesity, poor sleep (the sleep chemical, melatonin, is influenced by the constant glow from screens), neck, back and head pains.

We lose the ability to read social cues like tone of voice, facial expression and body language when we replace traditional communication with digital. Negative social effects include isolating oneself, regressed social skills, people with fewer true bonds and weaker families.

Some people develop a lack of social boundaries. Others increase bullying. Many become complacent with reduced privacy. Some people display less empathy. Many at work use digital communication as an anonymous way to be rude to suppliers, clients, or colleagues. Digital health is something important for businesses to support regarding their staff, as it can increase productivity and quality of work.

Mental health issues are the most extreme result and include depression, a warped sense of reality, extreme stress and anxiety. Some people become narcissistic.

In extreme cases, suicide has been linked to excessive use of technology, especially social media platforms which diminish many people’s opinions of their self-worth. We have faded into a world that has been filtered to show only the best parts of each other’s lives - lives that are not sustainable or true. I am personally sick to death of having dinner with some friends and being ignored for a phone.

One article stated that we have turned into zombies, being stupid and clicking on crap (sorry to my Aunt Marian for the quoted vulgarity).

I realized I had a problem when I forced myself to reflect on the reasons why I became a total wreck if I didn’t respond to emails or WhatsApp messages straight away.

Perhaps many of you are in the same position I was once in?

Truthfully, I believe my quality and balance of life today is better than it has ever been before. I want to share some tips and points, in no particular order, and encourage you to take some time to reflect on your habits.

  • If you message people from the toilet, stop.
  • Be mindful and monitor your use of technology. Consider the intended purpose and the actual deliverable outcomes.
  • Take into account the time used and if you can find an alternative technology solution that uses less of your time, use that option.
  • Take cognisance and balance entertainment, work and social purposes on digital devices. Try to work out a rough percentage of the times assigned.
  • Only use social media on your PC and not on your cell phone.
  • Delay responses to all electronic messages. Never respond on the spot.
  • Turn off notifications on all devices at certain times of the day.
  • Organize family time with no electronic communication. I give myself a full day on the weekend with data off and I feel like a new person on Monday.
  • Have a conversation with a stranger (in a public space). This was a personal goal of mine because I am introverted by nature and my confidence only comes from the decision to engage and make an effort. It is one of the reasons I get up in front of people to do keynote talks.
  • Stop clicking like on posts and rather make a comment of 5 or more words. If the post does not warrant that effort, move on.
  • When on social media, try to become a contributor and not a consumer.
  • If you see or observe something (person, river, pet) on a digital device more than you do in real life, take this as a real red flag.
  • Do not keep a PC or phone in the bedroom.
  • Do not replace human interactions and experiences with digital.
  • Move to a country with electricity problems. *Joking…
  • Change your habits and routines.

4-step process:

  1. First, acknowledge that you are spending too little time with real humans and other living things.
  2. Spend 5 minutes researching these options, pick one and give it a try. If it does not work for you, try the next.
    • Digital Minimalism,
    • Digital Declutter,
    • Solitude Deprivation,
    • The Bennett Principle,
    • Or, the JPMK method. (Included below)
  3. When, or if, you relapse, just try again and tweak your approach.
  4. Once you have succeeded, and a new technology enters the market, don’t be a guinea pig and start using it because it is a trend.

Only tweak your routine if the benefits truly justify the time on a device and there is no human alternative. Be brutally honest with yourself.

My personal adjustments took around 4 months to perfect and I have managed to maintain my quality of life for about 3 years now. In this time I have managed to travel, learn, experience, love and care more. I have tripled my productivity. I manage my stress and I am less concerned about trivial matters. If you would like to try a version of what I did, this is the JPMK method:

a.) Pick a starting week.

b.) Alert friends and family that you are going offline. You might worry that someone is going to die and no one can reach you, therefore nominate someone to come and let you know in person if such an emergency takes place. It probably won’t.

c.) If you are part of a close family, try and do this as a unit.

d.) Be prepared to go through withdrawal. These negative feelings are not a sign of failure, just a part of the process.

e.) Day 1 and 2: Do not touch any variation of PC, cell phone or TV. These 2 days will be your hardest and I suggest that if you want the least impact on work, use a weekend. I really did suffer over these 48 hours.

You have some homework to keep you busy. Write (on paper) a plan that details time provision for the variety of activities that take place each day, and are needed for a balanced life:

Work hours: I started with 6 hours per weekday. This time allows for PC use, but, only for banking, work emails, work research, etc. Nothing social.

Cell phone time: I worked with 2 hours a day. This covers all work calls and WhatsApp messages. This should run consecutively during the 6 assigned PC hours during each workday.

Social Media: I allocated 30 minutes before breakfast, 30 minutes during lunch and 30 minutes in the evening. I used a PC for this and not a cell phone. The final 30 minutes I made sure was concluded before 20h30.

Physical activities: I planned 90 minutes a day. I included the gym and a walk around my complex or on a nice day I went to the beach. Many people will struggle with this, and the creativity we allow ourselves to make excuses is impressive.

Isolation: I made sure I was alone for at least 1 hour a day during the week and 2 hours a day on the weekend. This was some of my best spent time.

Hobbies or upskilling activities: 1 hour a day during the week. I used this mainly for studies.

Phone calls with loved ones: I planned this twice a week for 15-30 minutes. I normally used the time spent travelling in the car.

Social time: On weekends I made sure I used at least 2-6 hours and during the week 1 hour on a Thursday evening.

Sleep: 7-8 hours.

Waffle time, for play with pets, or something else: 1-2 hours.

Good luck Future Thinker, this new world might have more tech, but you don’t need to use all of it.


Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline
Digital Architect & Scenario Planner.
Everything Trends, Tech, Web, Iot & Strategy.
Author, Consultant & Project Manager.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist


Published March 2020

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