Image by Luke Wroblewski, courtesy of Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Digital nutrition – yep, it’s a thing

I’m sure most of you have heard about digital downtime or device-free time. All for the benefit of easing our overloaded brains and nurturing our F2F* or IRL** relationships. I’ve heard of digital detoxes, including resorts specialising in this area (I thought it was just a place with no wifi!) In fact, the digital detox has become a whole industry! However the digital detox has been one-upped by the term digital nutrition.

Here’s a brief overview of the impact of too much screen time before we move on to what digital nutrition really is.  There has been a plethora of research in this area but what I found most interesting was from this study by neuroscientists, who kind of did their own form of Survivor by putting 35 people into the desert of Morocco sans device.  I wouldn’t have thought you’d get great connection in the desert anyway but I digress….

Social media appears to promote narcissism, smartphones could be causing insomnia, and screens seem to be making our kids less empathetic.

Image by Rusty Blazenhoff, courtesy of Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0)The neuroscientists on this trip noted changes in people’s facial expressions, physical movements and how they interacted with others.  Their top takeaways were:

  • changes in body posture  looking into people’s eyes   improved approachability   deeper connections
  • improved discussion  without google people talk through ideas to find answers
  • improved memory recall   people weren’t as distracted, so gave more attention
  • more efficient sleep   less blue light from our screens, which reduces melatonin, the brain chemical that helps us get to sleep
  • new perspectives   less distractions, more time for reflection   decisions about significant life changes
    Read more about the study here or here for a participant’s diary of the experience.

The problem with the idea of a detox is with the extremeness of it.  Quitting something that is all pervasive in our lives is very difficult.  Think of something you’ve tried to give up, a habit like having a coffee every morning.  There are so many coffee carts and cafés on campus, everyone around you has a coffee cup, it’s in your face everywhere you turn.  Add to this combination what you’re trying to detox from is now pretty much a necessary tool of everyday life, work and personal.

So this is where the idea of digital mindfulness comes from, which is what underlies the concept of digital nutrition.

Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer, recipient of the 2014 Premier’s Teachers Fund Health Education Scholarship conducted a Digital Nutrition study tour of the USA.  She explored the host of issues arising from our digital consumption and how technology is markedly changing behaviour, society, and learning.

Image by Farhad Sadykov, courtesy of Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)Digital nutrition is about reclaiming the way we think about our digital world and technology habits…. proactively designing a relationship with technology that is healthy and sustainable.

The idea borrows from the concept of a healthy, balanced diet. Apply this to our digital interactions and think of what is ‘nutritious’ from  a social, psychological and cognitive point of view.  So what would ‘junk’ be or too much look like?  Probably spending all day on social media websites, putting too much value in public commenting like E! News or Reddit, gaming all night long and you’re now wearing adult nappies.

Image by Joe Gallagher, courtesy of Flickr, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Ok, pretty dated computer but still funny!

Rather than assigning morals of good and bad to the digital space, Jocelyn it’s complex and nuanced, so has developed three key aspects for Digital Nutrition: Mindful (present and aware), Meaningful (a sense of purpose and clarity in what you’re engaging in) and Moderate (you can regulate your habits so you don’t end up in those adult nappies).

As a non-parent, I’m fascinated by watching my friends kids using technology.  They are so adept at it so young!  The fireworks when you take it away from them is spectacular to watch (NB. in a non-judgemental way).  Some articles I’ve read about such fireworks are pretty interesting:

So technology and the digital world are not going anywhere but we as educators, parents, and friends can promote a balanced approach, model appropriate use and not be swallowed up into the vortex of searching for the perfect image for a blog post that took me two hours to find.  Oh, wait, it’s not about me.

Jocelyn has some fantastic resources on her website Digital Nutrition, in particular, this list from a presentation on Engaging Adolescents.

Have you ever battled digital addiction?  Can you admit to refreshing your screen to see how many likes your photo on Instagram got, even though you only posted it 30 seconds ago?  Share in the comment section below.  Go on!  You know you want to. 

*Face to face   **In real life

8 thoughts on “Digital nutrition – yep, it’s a thing”

  1. Love that term/concept ‘digital nutrition’ Rebeccca. One (adult) friend of ours just took the facebook app OFF her phone and in this small step reclaimed lots of time.

    1. Thanks Alana. I first came across it in a newsletter from my health fund, in an article about Jocelyn Brewer’s research and it really resonated with me. I have quite often gone down the rabbit hole of the web and a whole evening seems to have disappeared looking at StumbleUpon, etc.

  2. Great article! Good you include practical steps to help the tech-afflicted (like me) as my 8yo daughter berated me for being on Instagram last night!

    1. Thanks John. Yeah, kids really notice and get offended by their parents being on a device and not paying attention to them. I saw a British doco series called The Secret Life of 4/5/6-year-olds and in one ep a group of kids all said they wanted their parents to get off their phones.

  3. Great write up Beck.
    My kids are Mindcraft addicts and the tricky thing is the amount of screen time they are allowed. I find by doing chores they EARN screen time. No chores, no screen time. They might not be happy with it but we are the parents and it’s our rules.

    1. Thanks Pierre! Kids are really nuts over Mindcraft, aren’t they? I like your approach to earning screen time and that other stuff still needs to happen.

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