We find ourselves at a pivotal moment in time, where our world is flooded with technologies – new and old. 

Reliant on it for our daily routines, few of us get through a day without using a digital device. And it’s not just for work; we keep in touch with friends, do our shopping, count our steps…the list is endless.

Our lives are transforming from analogue to digital at a rapid rate…

What does this mean for our wellbeing; is there a dark-side to digital and if so, how can we avoid it?

We spoke to Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste, a behavioural scientist with a passion for mindfulness and technology. #1 bestselling author and public speaker, with 25 years experience in social technologies and social strategy, Heidi advises organisations on digital wellbeing and how to thrive in the digital era.

So what is digital wellbeing and how did you come to it?

“Technologies are frequently evaluated on an individual basis – no one’s looking at the greater system of how they integrate – the big picture. Why do some succeed and why do some struggle?”

“Digital wellbeing is all about our relationship with tech, and how we develop technology that supports the human experience rather than becoming it.”

A young girl home-schooling online during lockdown

“My background is in social technology, working with big brands like Chrysler Europe and IKEA.”

“Then, I moved to Sweden and found a sweet spot in supporting startups to reach bigger and better markets, by making tech work harder for them; it’s the leveller in the playground!”

“Whilst studying for my PhD in Behaviour Science, I came down with lyme disease. I had to change how I was using technology, in order to be more productive. I became obsessed with the potential for technology to improve our wellbeing, and help us become more mindful.”

HealthTech can help keep us active and improve our quality of life

Yet we also know that there are potentially harmful effects from our use of technology. Research has shown that we’re spending 1 out of every 5 minutes of our time on social media.

We’re constantly distracted, don’t sleep as well because of blue screen exposure, and many of us get caught up in a cycle of comparison and FOMO. 

So how can we avoid digital anxiety?

“If we develop a gratitude practice, are kind to and respect technology’s role, it suddenly changes the dynamic of the relationship we have with it.”

“A few years ago, I was enjoying the last moments of my vacation, when I heard the ferry horn go. I had 10-minutes to grab my things and run to the harbour to catch the only ride home! I did a barefoot sprint and just about made it, but as the ferry pulled away, I realised I’d left my phone behind.”

“It had everything on it; I panicked…completely lost focus. Then, I felt a tap on my wrist. It was my Apple Watch telling me to breathe. I took a deep inhale and was able to remember that I had my laptop, and as soon as I could get wifi and sync my devices, everything would be fine.”

“By practicing mindfulness, we no longer feel obstructed by technology, but we see how it can aid us to accomplish great tasks.”

What should organisations be thinking about when designing their digital experience? 

“It’s all about self-awareness; organisations need to recognise where they’re at now…conscious use of technology, when and why you use it.”

“How am I engaging people through technology? What tools do I have? What tools do others not have?”

“When people drop off, ask them why, what could have been done better?”

“I put most emails in the trash because inbox anxiety is a thing for me. It’s triggering for some people.”

“It’s about building and maintaining mutually beneficial and effective relationships. Reciprocity! It’s about give, give, give and then ask. Free knowledge, music…don’t be like that friend who always asks or talks, but never listens.”

“And, frequency matters too. Send it once a month, it slips through the cracks. Send it everyday, people delete it!”

“Organisations need to listen to the people using their technology; understand their behaviour, have a conversation with them; a real-life conversation!”

Is now the time for a more feminine approach to tech?

Having more women in tech can only be a positive step towards digital well-being, yet according to PWC, only 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector are held by women.

“What don’t women bring to the table..?”

“Having women on boards increases your return on investment. There’s more efficiency, more effectiveness.”

Whitney Wolfe, CEO – Bumble; the women-focussed dating app files for an IPO @BBC

“I believe it’s a cultural challenge…”

“In order for humankind to find balance, engineers, businesses and organisations need to up their equality efforts.”

“It’s like the old days – men designing everything for women, from tampons to high-heeled shoes!”

“They’re missing half the needs of society. And, if you don’t take care of the user experience, it’s kind of destined for failure!”

“We’re seeing strong examples of female leaders, globally. In the last year we’ve seen the effectiveness of women leaders and what they’re able to do in times of crisis, that men have just completely failed at.”

“We need more women leading with feminine flair. Shaking things up. Being the catalysts for the big change we need to see in the world.”

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to know more, Heidi hosts discussions around digital wellbeing and future of the workplace, on her podcast Evolving Digital Self.

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