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Digital Well-being: which practices should we adopt?

Clo S is the founder of This Too Shall Grow, where, as a certified digital wellness coach and trainer, she helps individuals and businesses build better relationships with their computers, smartphones, and connected devices. Our digital tools are often a source of stress and distraction. Her work aims to make them help us be productive, creative, and feel good instead of consuming our time.

 Before creating This Too Shall Grow in 2020, Clo was a UX researcher and UX designer. Faced with the consequences of some manipulative or rigged interfaces on her relatives, she decided to change her path. By taking an interest in ethical design and movements such as humane tech and tech for good, she discovered the field of digital well-being. Her journey then led her to take a 7-month training course to deepen her knowledge in this field and become a digital well-being coach.

 Clo is the author of Tech Bliss, an ebook that popularizes the scientific research on digital wellness. The book also features 30 experiments to apply these scientific learnings, and over 200 introspective questions to get people thinking and consolidating their experiences.

 Clo also writes for his free newsletter, Digital Wellness. This allows her to disseminate current information and research progress, as well as to present the actors in the field and to share concrete recommendations to improve one's relationship with screens.

 Finally, she also offers business trainings (in French or English) on various topics such as concentration in the digital age, productivity and well-being when working remotely, etc.


What impact do digital tools have on the way we work and more broadly on our physical and mental well-being?

The advent of digital technologies has brought many changes in the way we work, communicate and consume information. However, it is crucial to remember that these tools were designed to facilitate the execution of a task by nudging us to carry out a particular action, but they were not designed to take into account our physiological needs, especially those related to movement and gaze.

Thus, the intensive use of these tools can also lead to challenges and problems, such as "Zoom Fatigue" related to remote work and excessive use of video conferencing software. It is a common problem that manifests itself as mental and emotional fatigue due to participating in numerous online meetings without sufficient breaks to recover.

The main causes of this fatigue are:

-        The near absence of non-verbal communication in virtual meetings, where only the upper body, i.e. face and shoulders, are visible. This can lead to over-interpretation of facial expressions, head nods and hand movements to make oneself understood, which can be exhausting.

-        In a physical meeting, everyone is looking at the person speaking which allows those not speaking to take notes, look at others or look away. In virtual meetings, we just look straight at our screen and feel like we are constantly being watched, which can cause additional stress.


To remedy this, it is imperative to understand the science of digital wellness and make changes in our practices. For example, we can opt for audio-only meetings to allow for more movement, hold the screen further away, and leave breaks between meetings to reduce stress levels.


Another major challenge users face in a digital environment is multitasking. Remote work as well as self-employment have increased the tendency to multitask, which can lead to a decrease in productivity and quality of work.

It is important to distinguish between two types of interruptions: external interruptions, such as messages, e-mails or notifications, and internal interruptions, when we interrupt ourselves by changing tasks without any external stimulus.


To remedy this, some very simple adjustments can be made:

-        Turning off notifications to avoid frequent interruptions,

-        Blocking out time in advance to focus on a specific task (a practice called "time boxing")

-        Training ourself to stop when we are about to jump from one task to another to improve our ability to concentrate.


It is also advisable to block distractions, such as keeping your phone away from you to avoid its constant presence. Several studies have shown, for example, that the mere presence of one's phone (even when turned off) decreases our cognitive abilities[1].

We also need to play down the idea that our instant availability is a guarantee of professional reliability. People working remotely want to respond immediately to their colleagues who ask them for help, for fear that they will be suspected of not being working. This attitude is very detrimental to their ability to concentrate, and remote workers should make an effort to create time boxes for themselves and their colleagues to explain their delayed response and temporary unavailability.


Let's take the more specific example of social media and our consumption of online content. How can we make sure that these practices are beneficial to us?


Why do we get trapped by social media? Simply because we are programmed to do so. We all have a bias to learn, to collect new information. This is normal because it is one of the engines that allowed us to survive as a species. Biologically, this process of searching for information will make us secrete dopamine and thus give us a feeling of well-being.

Social networks are a gigantic mine of new information, so we are tempted to spend more time there because our brain knows that it will be able to find new things to learn and thus produce dopamine.

Some platforms are aware of this bias and offer features to mitigate it, for example Instagram informs its users when they have seen all the new content in their news feed.


Other platforms, however, have developed mechanisms that take advantage of these biases and our vulnerabilities. The principle of "random rewards" has, for example, been highlighted by Skinner[2]. By subjecting pigeons to two systems - one in which an action (pulling a lever) systematically triggers a reward, while in the other this reward is random - Skinner realized that random rewards provoke much more frequent, even frenetic, activity from the pigeons.

This mechanism is for example used on dating applications to push users to stay on the platform by offering them several less relevant profiles before stimulating them with a more relevant profile.


How can we progress towards digital wellness? Are there any strategies or tools to favour?


The first criterion we should have is the perception of a real benefit from our online activity. Other criteria like screen time are interesting but less reliable.

It is nevertheless a good start to work on digital wellness. We can then set up time limits to control our consumption, but I would also advise to use our digital tools to their full potential to achieve a benefit we set for ourselves.

For example, we quickly forget that the impressive personalization of social media could help us significantly improve our personalized feed to show us only content likely to make us progress towards our goal.

So, I think that we should not necessarily force ourselves to stop using certain applications. Instead, let's start by asking ourselves this question: "What knowledge does this tool allow me to access?” The answer will also help us become aware of what we will lose if we decide to get rid of this tool.


How do you feel about recent technological innovations, especially those around generative AI models or virtual reality?


I see more risks than benefits. Regarding generative AI, there are huge issues around veracity in many areas. For example, the Midjourney model builds images from mainly Western training data. Hence, there is a risk that the images produced do not reflect the cultural habits of the characters represented[3].


I also see it as a trap of convenience that would make us forget what makes us human. For example, having had to write a speech for a funeral, I could not see myself doing that on ChatGPT. I think we need to make some effort, especially in the grieving process, but this is true for many other situations. Our writing and speaking skills are also ways of dealing with our feelings and I think that not making those efforts would be detrimental.


The responsibility of companies developing these tools is at the heart of the debate. How have they taken up the subject?


As far as I know, the vast majority of UX Researchers, Product Managers and other profiles involved in the design of a digital tool are aware of the issues surrounding their product. However, this is not a main concern, especially because their hierarchy does not always understand the impact of these practices or is afraid of the time and money that would be required to ensure that a product respects the well-being of its users.

We can also think of companies that would have no interest in integrating these elements because they are in opposition with the company's business model (online games, social networks, gambling, etc.).


To me, I think it is quite simple to start a virtuous process. Before completely replacing its product strategy, a company can start with occasional workshops to get feedback from its users.

This is the most important element for me. Digital well-being must be included in all stages of the product design and launch cycle, it must be included in all audits and especially in User Research. It is absolutely necessary to ask questions to users on this very specific subject if you want to improve your company's practices.



What advice do you have for moving towards digital wellness?


Ignorance is the greatest danger. I do a lot of dissemination and education precisely to make as many people as possible aware of these subjects.

I am especially interested in deciphering the scientific mechanisms behind our behavior (hormonal, cerebral, psychological reactions, etc.).

The first step is to understand, the second is to take action by changing our habits.

In my opinion, this is the most difficult step, and it is necessary to break it down into several changes in order to start with small modifications before moving on to higher levels.


I see many people who are discouraged by this work and do not want to make the effort.

My favorite argument to get them to make this change, besides the decomposition that makes the work easier, is the importance of the reward. Someone who spends an hour and a half watching pointless videos a day will have lost precious time in 6 months that would have allowed him to learn a new language for example.

I therefore insist on the fact that this time better directed towards activities that really benefit us is crucial: it has the power to change a life and to allow us to be actors in our life choices and not passive consumers.



To go further :

Link towards Clo’s newsletter:

Tech Bliss, the ebook by Clo :

Consciously Digital :

Center for Humane Technology :

[1] “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity”

Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, and Maarten W. Bos

Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2017 2:2, 140-154

[2] B. F. Skinner: The Role of Reinforcement and Punishment". Schacter DL, Gilbert DT, Wegner DM, Nock MK (January 2, 2014). Psychology (3rd ed.). Macmillan. pp. 278–80. ISBN 978-1-4641-5528-4.


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