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Digital Nutrition

by Jeremy McCarthy

Monitoring our consumption of technology in bite-sized bits

A new wellness vocabulary around “digital nutrition” is emerging to help us navigate the pitfalls of technology. We all realize that our consumption of technology can become excessive and unhealthy, but we have also come to appreciate it and we rely on it every day to help us in almost every area of our lives.

Rather than throw our devices into the sea and return to simpler times, most of us prefer to think about healthy parameters that we can apply to ensure that we are using technology mindfully, in ways that foster and sustain well-being rather than detract from it. In other words, we need better “digital nutrition.”

Technology, like food, is not inherently good or bad. But what we consume, how much of it we consume and the way we consume it, can determine whether it helps us to flourish or flounder. Jocelyn Brewer, a psychologist from Australia, is one of a growing group of wellness experts focused on applying the nutrition analogy to technology use. She describes healthy technology use as:

Mindful: Are you present to your actions and aware of your online activities and their long-term impact on yourself and others?

Meaningful: Do you have a sense of purpose in your online activities? Do they contribute to your goals and values?

Moderate: Are you able to regulate and temper your habits and usage? Are you avoiding negative impacts on other areas of your life?

You can see how these nutritional tips can help to guide us to healthier technology consumption.

Another “digital citizenship” expert, David Ryan Polgar, says that technology use is leading to an epidemic of “mental obesity,” the overconsumption of information. “We are increasingly getting stuck at the information collection stage,” says Polgar, “and not spending the necessary time reflecting on the information and turning it into knowledge.”

Graphic Used with permission from David Ryan Polgar

Polgar suggests thinking of a “mental food plate,” which balances our mental activities between mindful consumption, mental assessment, brain training and reflection. Using the mental food plate concept, it is easier to create a “balanced diet” of technology use.

Tanya Goodin, the founder of digital detox consultancy, Time to Log Off, has created the “5:2 Digital Diet.” She recommends that people take two days of digital detox over the weekend in order to recover from the technology binge that most people have during their workweek.

To help people comply with their diet, she offers practical tips such as deleting certain apps from your phone on Friday evening (you can reinstall them on Monday) and having an old-fashioned alarm clock and camera handy so you avoid unnecessary temptations to reach for your connected devices.

According to Goodin, the 5:2 Diet is “the simplest and most effective way to introduce digital detox into your life.”

Using this new vocabulary, think about your own tech consumption habits. Are you overconsuming technology? Do you consume your tech mindfully or do you mindlessly binge? Are you consuming lots of junk, or healthy, meaningful content? Apply some digital nutrition and you just might shed yourself of some mental obesity.

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