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Technology in the Information Age

According to the newest Hootsuite raport, 49% of the world population uses social media which makes 3.8 billion people. The average daily time spent online is 7 hours, including 2,5 hours in social media. How does it impact the wellbeing and daily functioning of people? 

The Information Age gave us a lot of advantages, but also problems that were unknown before. Suddenly it turns out that a lot of information requires an ability to filter it. Data overload implies fatigue and confusion and makes people feel obliged to learn something new all the time.

These symptoms are connected to FOMO (fear of missing out), a phenomenon that refers to constant fear of missing something interesting and a compulsive need to check notifications on mobile phones or social media. It’s a kind of fear related to the need of being connected with others all the time.

Now JOMO becomes more and more popular. This acronym stands for the joy of missing out. People tend to be interested in their offline lives more and awareness or meditation camps are offered. So what has changed in the last few years? Where does this need to turn mobile phones off come from?

Maybe it’s the information buzz that generates stress. Information overload, a term popularized by Alvin Toffler in 1970. Toffler wrote a whole book about future shock, describing it as a state in which a person experiences too many changes in too short a time. 

According to Google research, users find it difficult not to use their mobile phone. If they go out without their device, they feel anxious and worry about not being able to contact with their friends. Their productivity even falls.


Just like prison

“It’s like a prison. You can get lost in your phone and not get out. Social media, gaming, being available [to others] all day… you can’t get away.”

This is what one of the interviewees said. The other compared their phone to a pet, that follows them from one room to another. And how does it work from the perspective of science? Are we all addicted?

Received notifications stimulate the dopamine system. Dopamine is a hormone released during positive experiences, such as a tasty meal. Its release is what motivates us to reach for the phone again and check if there are any new like or messages.

Another problem that’s caused by social media overuse is limited attention span. According to American psychologist, economist and informatician Herbert A. Simon, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. For this reason, attention is now treated as a scarce commodity.

These dramatic conclusions inspired the Google team to search for solutions. How to make disconnecting easier? How to make addictive applications less tiring to their users?

How can you help?

While the awareness of the problem increases, some attempts to solve it have appeared. There are apps limiting time spent online, automatic brightness adjustments or more creative projects, such as these presented by Digital Wellbeing by Google. Activity Bubbles shows each phone unlock as a new bubble on the screen. Other ideas are even more fun: Desert Island limits the number of apps to just a few, and Paper Phone is… a printed mock-up containing only necessary information (maps, contact lists, agenda). 

Also Time magazine appreciated technical projects that showed their creators’ social engagement. A great example of this attitude is Helm Personal Server, which lets the user gain control over their personal data.

Human as the centre


The change of attitude and designing applications not longer absorbing the user, but rather limiting their time spent within them, may be caused by the increasing tendency for emphatic design. The designer’s responsibility is more visible as their role is to take care of the target user’s wellbeing. No matter if it’s a website or a complicated IT system, the design has to be functional and easy to work with. An app that will save our time will be more appreciated thanthe one that forces us to spend hours in front of the screen.


Hootsuite raport

Julie Aranda, The search for JOMO: New research on digital wellbeing

Projekt google: Digital Wellbeing Experiments

Brian Scundamore, The Truth About Smartphone Addiction, And How To Beat It

Sarah Peterson, Overwhelmed? Here's How to Overcome Information Overload

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