It would have been hard to make it through the past year without hearing about the impact digital technology is having on our health. For the first time, consumers are putting pressure on Apple to do something about the effects of smartphone addiction on kids. Mark Zuckerberg announced changes in 2018 to make sure the time users spend on Facebook is time well spent. Video game addiction is now an official mental health disorder according to the World Health Organization. Some countries are even declaring tech addiction a health crisis.

The most common approach to achieving digital wellness has been to simply disconnect cold-turkey from all devices. However, much like with crash-diets, it’s an approach that’s hardly sustainable. Within the travel industry, many hotels and resorts have tried to enforce a strictly device-free environment but found that it backfired on them by preventing guests from staying as long as they would have liked, or by actually causing guests more anxiety. More successful are the retreats that take a softer measure, creating an environment that contributes to our sense of wellness by emphasizing natural spaces and human connection, without the forced abstenation of digital devices.

Practicality calls for a solution that allows us to take advantage of the benefits of technology without impinging on our health. Below, we outline what we see as three critical practices for maintaining ‘digital wellness’ – something like Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues, for the digital age.

Staying organized

How much better would we feel if we could filter out all the noise, all the extraneous information that’s pushed our way that has nothing to do with our interests or primary aims? To do this we need to decide what our goals or intentions are for being online. Is it to learn something in particular? Is it to hear from the people that matter to us? Having identified who we want to hear from and what we want to hear about, it’s a matter of setting up the right filters. Fortunately technology is on our side, allowing us to customize our news feeds, install ad blockers, decide which social platforms we’ll use, and curate our friend/follower lists.

Communicating purposefully

Aside from organizing what attracts our time and energy, being purposeful ensures our time is spent on the things that matter. When it comes to personal time, restricting devices from certain activities (such as driving or meal times) can help restore balance. Common Sense Media, a non-profit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, has created a campaign around the idea of a ‘Device Free Dinner’. Let technology exist where it has a purpose, but not to the detriment of human interaction. As with other things, like diet and exercise, the best regimen is one of moderation.

When we do interact online, we need to set clear intentions. With a desired outcome in mind, we can avoid being sucked into a whirlwind of time-wasting online activity. Having a greater strategy or larger purpose gives more meaning to our time spent online, while a time-cap helps us maintain a healthy balance.

Remaining authentic

The fact is that social media addiction has made many of us less social. Digital wellness author and coach, Sylvia Frejd, treats people suffering from digital addictions and says that the people she sees often struggle to make eye contact and have real conversations. Diminished social awareness and lack of empathy have also been linked to an overload of digital media consumption. Frejd emphasizes the importance of making connections with people who are physically near to you as a priority. We see inauthentic expressions of emotion and scripted responses everywhere from our emails, to public statements, to text messages and social media. Not only does the sender come off as phony but it only contributes to the great disconnect that our generation faces.

Most importantly, when we can translate our online conversations and behaviours into real-world action we develop our own integrity and put ourselves on a path towards greater digital wellness.