Media & EntertainmentTech

The Cautionary Tale of the Digital World

digital world covid-19

Once upon a time, a virus took over the world, and amid all the uncertainty and fear, many were forced to stay indoors, in isolation. Technology quickly came to the rescue, ensuring that life kept moving forward through the digital world. But at what cost? The current dependence on technology may have taken a toll on the mental health of many. Has the hero become the villain?

The call to adventure into the digital world

Covid-19 has created a myriad of realities. While many had to put their lives on hold, others found themselves in the lucky position to be able to continue working and living life from home. For those, it should have been relatively simple. Remain at home, wash your hands often, and dive into the digital world!

Need to exercise? YouTube has you covered with live workout classes. Need a sourdough recipe? Google has your back. Need to finish a group assignment? Hello, Google Docs and Zoom calls!

With all the necessary resources and the right conditions, a few months in the digital world should have been far from difficult. Nonetheless, many began to struggle with anxiety, stress, loneliness, or endless sleepless cycles. While this is to be expected when we experience the dystopian-like reality that a pandemic can generate, what if our coping mechanism is also to blame? What if the very same thing that allowed us to continue our life also betrayed us?

What if the digital world is the problem?

Friend or foe?

Technology isn’t evil (as far as we know), but it can be a source of numerous problems. Headlines about the consequences of frequent tech use have been around for a while. From articles warning about phone addictions to reports pointing at tech use as the source of increased anxiety, much has been said about the issue. Despite this, the scientific data regarding the topic is still up for debate.

The constant changes in the media landscape, the countless external variables impacting one’s health, mixed with the reliance on self-reported data, have been the recipe for inconclusive conclusions. Nonetheless, experts seem to agree that the way and amount of technology we utilize can have negative consequences, leading to addiction. The question is, how does technology go from being the hero to becoming the villain of the story?

While this is to be expected when we experience the dystopian-like reality that a pandemic can generate, what if our coping mechanism is also to blame? What if the very same thing that allowed us to continue our life also betrayed us?

One of the main reasons could be the restless digital world to which technology has allowed us to travel. The constant content one can watch, read, or interact with at all times accustom us to a hyper-stimulating reality. This can become problematic as it makes the slow pace of the “real world” unbearable to some, as they develop the so-called “popcorn brain.”

Additionally, the world that never sleeps can be a cause of insomnia and general sleep dysregulation. Apart from unplanned hours spent on social media, exposure to bright lights can interrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to poorer sleep and further contributing to higher levels of stress and anxiety.

To top it all off, working from home, with devices used for multiple purposes, blurs the line between work and social life. It becomes harder to switch off as our entire life occurs in a single space, which can be overwhelming and quickly lead to potential burn out.

Retrieving the elixir

The current pandemic may not have an easy solution, but the technological dependence it contributed might. The recipe for the elixir can vary, but can be summarized into four basic steps:

    1. Call yourself out

The first step is to admit you have a problem. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with choosing to spend an hour trapped in a YouTube rabbit hole, or scrolling through TikTok. Still, it is important to be able to identify and recognize when the use of technology gets in the way of tasks or generates feelings of guilt. Keep yourself in check, and take those phantom vibrations seriously.

    2. Create a relaxing digital space

Choosing a neutral background image, adjusting the brightness of your screen, or opting for a less alarming ringtone can be an easy way to create less sensory overwhelming interactions with your devices. 

    3. Carefully curate your digital world

Ultimately, we get to control the sort of apps, accounts, and notifications we expose ourselves to. Carefully curating these is a crucial step to mood management. 

    4. Apps to the rescue

Finally, if you can’t beat technology, use it! There are countless apps on the market that specifically allow users to understand and manage how they are spending their time online. Words of wisdom: For every problem, there is always an app.

Technology can be the hero we need, as long as we are cautious. With great power, comes great responsibility.

Cover: Junior Teixeira

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Rita Alves
Rita Alves was born in Portugal but is currently living in the Netherlands, where she studies Communication Science.

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