Today is my Nameday – a day of celebrations of my personal identity and my relationship with my Dad (we used to celebrate our first names together). This is one of the few most important days in my calendar, so I tend to make it special. This year it is really important to me because it marks an important step in my life journey. I would like to use this day as an opportunity to launch a new edition of my business, Voxel Hub. This blog post contains an update on how I have arrived at this point in my professional life and why I think digital wellbeing is the next core focus of my work. I have posted quite a while ago about my luck in professional life. Most of my jobs were excellent. I worked in innovative industries, with fantastic leaders who showed me the way to grow but also to ask myself the right questions in regards to my life – private or professional. All those experiences and skills I have acquired along the way, shaped me into a person who seeks new challenges all the time. However, that constant need for movement and growth does not feel too heavy – it helps me grow, learn and help others. So today I would like to explain to my friends and colleagues why I have arrived at the point in life when Voxel Hub feels like the natural next step.
Whether you work for yourself or others, you are probably making career choices almost daily. Every single task and stuff you get done leads to your future direction in life. If you pay attention to your life, you can shape it into something rather extraordinary. That is precisely what has happened to me in the last decade of my life. I started my UK career in the first social media agency in the country, but as it grew and moved to London, I decided that living in London was too noisy for my young son. I was a single mum, so I had limited choices, but that did not stop me. I was told a startup was in the making in Oxford, so I reached out to them, and thus NFP Voice was born to support charities with social media work. I was deeply involved in digital for charities and really loved it, but I felt restless. The industry was changing and so doing social externally as an agency became a challenge to our beliefs – that people and organisations should be embedding social into their internal structures. So our work shifted to individual consultancy, and I suddenly became a business owner myself. It took me a few years to figure out the work-life balance and learn how to run a business, but I had brilliant support from my family, friends and colleagues. Only that working from home and running it, running a business and raising a child in a small and hostile town started affecting my overall mental health. Social media became my life-line, and until today, I strongly believe in the positive impact of online connections. Access to courses and life hacks also helped me a lot. I got involved in a few local causes, to balance out my inability to join other mums for a coffee during school hours. I made a few good friends to fill the loss of those lost to the ever-busy life of digital marketing in London.
I was incredibly stuck, though, and I did not know why. On the one hand, my actual circumstances were pretty good – a good job, a loving family, great location… On the other hand, something was bubbling up in me – a realisation that something around us was changing too. Our town became more and more hostile, on some occasions, racist. My son’s school turned into an academy and stopped caring for children – moved to care for results. The cues to the local GP practice grew, and all around me, people became more anxious and more lonely. I was feeling very lonely too. And in late 2015, I started noticing worrying trends online. Six months in the lead up to the Brexit Referendum I got seriously ill. Each time I sat to work int he morning, I would experience severe bellyache. My GP could find no other reason than stress. Only that my life was rather good, balanced… I did not understand what was going on. Something was really bothering me still…
The night of the Referendum vote I got an hour of sleep. I was worried, sick. For a person working in trends, I could see the results coming – I was genuinely not surprised. I was just really shocked that very few of us did see it coming. Next morning, before school run, I receive a message from a mum who after months of weekly visits to my house with her sons positioned herself as my best friend (actually best-mum-friend would be a more suitable term) saying: “I talked to my husband. He is certain that your husband will not get a job in the UK now”. I was experiencing racism and profound cruelty but also an astonishing level of entitlement and bias, which I did not see until then. The same afternoon another mum stopped me and said: ”I honestly did not know if I can text you or not so I decided to share this in person – I am so sorry for what you are going through right now.” And that reaction made me feel very curious. It is evident that everyone in the UK that day was suddenly to take a side and renegotiate their relationships. Still, it was also quite clear that cruelty was loud and forceful, while kindness was too quiet and too polite. At least in my experience, this was the trend I was experiencing in weeks and months in advance.
That day my husband and I decided to leave the small town. Pending our residency application, we would move to Bristol or Italy. Our residency application came through in two weeks, and it was backdated, so clearly we not just welcome but destined to stay. We started working on our plans to move to Bristol while I was processing my learnings from those early Brexit days concerning my profession – social media marketing. It was pretty apparent that the vote was hacked and today we also know how it was done. But I was more interested in two areas: people’s ignorance and general lack of civic engagement (and by extension engagement in the way they work with technology) but also the lack of active resilience and resistance in the times of rising hostility. I spent most of my time since summer 2016 figuring out what was it that bothered me about it all. I did not wake up one day with a brilliant idea of opening a new business and educating people on digital wellbeing. No, I did not.
The idea of Voxel Hub was born out of years of confusion (offline social isolation and thriving online connections) and active search for answers to new emerging questions. On that journey, I have promised myself a few things: to trust myself, to listen to people, to learn and never to assume anything.
I sat back and took time off work. I spent a few months switching off entirely. I was ill due to Brexit news, so I stopped reading news and focussed on my self-care a lot. I got a dog, went back to gardening (perfect time for listening to podcasts) and moved my blogging back to my quiet journaling on paper. It felt like I lost my public voice, but I know now that I was merely in need of quiet time. Time to think. I was confused but curious to explore the more human side of technology.
Next, I went back to my clients for more feedback on my work. I was always curious about social media ethics but their feedback clarified a more significant perspective on my passion – my deep curiosity in the human aspect of social media. It was my clients who made me realise the truth about my work – I was helping them with social media but also with their actual perspectives and feelings about it. One client made it pretty clear that I was her coach and a counsellor too. And that I was pretty good at it. But I was also aware of one problem: I had basics of psychology from my teacher training and books I read, but I was not qualified to do counselling so I was out of my depth! I had to go back to school.
I spent a few weeks learning to hack my life to make space for studies. I designed the family and home running around it and recruited all family members to help me with my new goals. My husband sat and planned it all with me, promised his support all the way. So I started learning a lot. First, I took all available online courses on human psychology, cyberpsychology, coaching and counselling. I learned about systemic challenges to mental health and a lot about personal ones too. I studied biases and learned more about echo chambers – before they were even a mainstream term. I studied leadership and collective thinking. Then I went back to university. At the same time, I dived deep into the practical work of counsellors – I still study and gradually start supporting people myself too.
Additionally, I have stopped assuming things. I explored and questioned every step of my way. I was confident in my skills, but I wasn’t sure about the stuff that was going on for my clients. So I stopped looking at things from my little box and worked hard on my own story and my individual assumptions. I spent over a year in personal therapy (study requirement but also a way of growing personally). I cannot tell you how many times I have shed the layers of my culture, upbringing, past religions and other systems. It is and always will be the most painful and formative part of this process, but it’s worth it. Instead of assuming, I was testing. I tested the idea of a tech hub for young children and their families. I tested running of a local art initiative for collective benefit. I tested online courses, coaching and one-to-one support around digital wellbeing. I started building in my learnings into my daily work too.
As the world started talking about the positive side of mental health and technology I was already in the space where a balanced view on both was not just new, it was a basic human need. I wanted to explore it, but I did not have a term for it, so I was forced to look at academic work around the impact of the Internet on our lives. I found it in London, Cardiff, Birmingham and…yes, in Bristol at the University of West England. At the same campus as their counselling studies. And that was the point when all my explorations started to align themselves into a consistent picture. Moving to Bristol made sense. People were friendly here, so it also helped me heal from my experience of racism and local hostility. I moved beyond my newly acquired anxieties towards a more courageous life. I even jumped out of a plane to celebrate that!
In those last two years of our life here, I started working on the idea of Voxel Hub and my new work-life balance. I joined the oldest youth counselling service in Bristol and continued with my social media consultancy to maintain the right balance between technology and mental health. I continued with my studies. Cyberpsychology is not new, but it took its time to enter the public discourse. 2018 welcomed first positive conversations around mental health and also more balanced research into the impact of social media. Google launched digital wellbeing tools, thus coining the term. Apple introduced screen time tools, and so the idea of wellbeing around technology became relevant to all. Digital resilience, the term which applied to the information security of company systems, starts to be used for the human element of those too. In education, contextual safeguarding is finally implemented with young people actively involved in the process. In the online rights movement, access to information is now the topic too. We even start to research and question the bias in academic research around the impact of social media on humanity. You can now learn some aspects of digital wellbeing online. Digital wellbeing frameworks emerge in a specific context, here’s one for academia. The Internet is 50 years old, but in our daily conversations, we are still repeating the myths (“social media is negatively impacting our lives” or “screens are damaging to our health”). There is so much work to be done! Slowly, the shift is happening though, so now is the time for Voxel Hub to open its doors.
I do have to admit this: the last five years of my life were challenging. I lost both parents. Due to all the stress, I became pre-menopausal and moved to a new biological age (experiencing a hormonal balance for the first time in my life was a bit of a shock to the system). I have lost some significant friends and leaders. I also lost two countries – not a day goes by that I do not grieve for Polish and British democratic process the way it used to be. At the same time, the losses created space for the new. I have chosen to make a difference to the systems around us in the way I am best equipped to do – through my experience and skills. I am celebrating my new family daily – it remains to be my core priority. I am making new friends and welcome new leaders. I am looking at both countries with the hope of young people who are angry but also determined to act and built a better future for us. I am moving away from certainty into a world of unknown. I learn to live with the uncertain, exploring instead of arriving at specific destinations.
Symbolically, launching a new business in the middle of Brexit crisis in the UK is a reminder for me to stay steady and prepared for the unexpected. I can only achieve it by reminding myself to be kind, open, resisting the power and welcoming the change. Always critically questioning the status quo. In my case and in my small way, I will be here to help others explore their individual and collective relationship with technology. I will study our humanity in this digital age. And I hope that you will join me – actively involved or watching, but prepared to point out mistakes and hold me accountable for my assumptions too.
So on my forty-second Nameday, I would like to introduce you to the Voxel Hub – a safe space for digital wellbeing explorations. You are welcome. I hope you can join me.
I have spent the last six months working on the core of Voxel Hub articulating the mission, core services and branding to create a calm space aligned with my values and what I think my clients need. I described it in the brand guidelines and the website’s about section. I have developed a core model of support which combined digital marketing principles with core approaches in mental health support. There is not much large scale research into this area, but what is out there, I have included in the Voxel Hub methodology. I will spend the next six months working with my close and trusted friends on a series of affordable online courses. You will see topics ranging from the language around mental health for online journalists, resilience in the digital age to leadership topics and management of online crisis with appropriate self-care. I have published one free course already and signalled other courses I am working on this winter.
As I continue building the core of the business with digital consultancy and digital wellbeing support, I will also be testing coaching and counselling support, training and corporate packages. All of this will have to happen slowly, as I do not want to change my current commitments, but I am really excited about it all. I hope to have a core of my business work finished by March 2020 (after October, the second most significant month in mental health calendar) for a larger launch here in Bristol.
I remain committed to all my current commitments as they perfectly complement each other, but you will see me writing and talking more about digital wellbeing from now on. I hope you will find those explorations useful.
I am eternally grateful to each and every single person who was there to support me in this journey – you know who you are. Also, for those of you who were experiencing my quiet blog – thank you for waiting, reading and joining in. Voxel Hub would not be possible without you.
(Digital wellbeing is new, and so I hope many will be inspired to take it and make it their own. However, in the Voxel Hub format, it feels precious to me, so I would like to take the liberty to dedicate it to the men who shaped me: my Dad, my Brother, my Husband and my Son. I love you all with all my heart.)
Thank you! If you are reading this in the week following my skydive you are one of the lovely people who supported my crazy charity challenge.
As promised here is the video from my skydive (forgive the quick editing, I am still recovering from the jump, but I hope the transitions are fairly OK)
Here is a quick write up from the day followed by my overall impressions.
We woke up early and left home at 5.15 am, which in itself was a bit of a challenge on a Sunday morning. I was quite excited though, and apprehensive, of course. I expected cloudy weather in the morning but upon arrival, the conditions were still quite nice. The GoSkydive area of Salisbury was still closed, quiet and peaceful. It was so calming to arrive at a quiet airfield and ground myself before the opening (it can get really busy out there!).
After the initial morning registration and check-in, we were invited to an induction session which honestly calmed me down. I think sitting in one room with over 20 other people doing the skydive that day made me feel calm in itself. The intro movie and briefing were clear. If it weren’t for the panic swiping through my body in waves, I could even say it was a lot of fun. We were then told to wait for a few hours for our turn to get on the plane – because there were five people jumping for OTR Bristol we were moved to one plane, which also meant we had to wait for a few groups of individuals to go ahead of us. Just as we have reached the waiting area the rain interrupted the schedule. So we had to wait a bit longer, hoping for the conditions to improve (thanks to the weather forecast apps we were quite hopeful!). To me personally waiting was difficult – I was OK most of the time and then for a few seconds the reality would hit me and I would panic a lot. I was trying to do my best to stay calm, but I was annoyingly chatty (my way of easing off anxiety).
Finally, around 10.30 am our names were called to the dress up and training tent. I was really keen on promoting OTR in my video recordings from the day so I put the branded t-shirt over the GoSkydive gear (which by the way was super light and comfortable).
We were then asked to move on to the training area where a really confident and funny instructor showed us the three important ways of diving: the jump out of the plane, the free fall and finally the landing. We practised those but also slowly grew together as a group as well. I noticed the emphasis on gear safety during the training 0 a really good way of making us all feel a bit less worried about the jump.
Once trained we were asked to move to the plane area. Here’s all of us, OTR morning team, all geared up. From left: Anthony, Tom, Dominique, my nervous grin and Susan from OTR.
Waiting was so nerve-wracking for me that at this stage I really just wanted to get on with it. I wanted to get on the plane and go! We just had to take a few family photos…
…a few group pictures…
and recorded our first past of video updates with GoSkydive filming crew. You can see in my video just how lovely the weather was by that point – I could not look directly into the camera, it was so sunny!
Shortly after that our instructors arrived, introduced themselves, checked our gear again and took us to the plane landing area. I was flying and jumping with Ed who completed over 2K jumps and Adam, a video maker (I still cannot figure out how they can time the recording just so well!)
From there it was time to go! On the plane, we had a great view and a lot of fun. The crew’s team spirit really got to me too and so despite my inner terror of this situation (the higher, the closer to the actual jump with only one way back to my husband) I really loved the plane ride. I was obviously super nervous, but also aware of the fact that my video is dedicated to my supporters and to the charity. I hope we can use it in the future campaigns so I kept as cool as possible. In the end, it was indeed a very extreme but also a unique experience. Not my usual Sunday morning, I must say.
I was told to jump out of the plane after Anthony and Susan. This was the step I was really worried about – the boundary of the plane and nothingness. A year ago I could not cross the Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Two years ago I was trembling when sitting in a car or crossing the road. So this was a big thing – testing if moving to Bristol (a kinder place to live) combined with a year of therapy and caring for myself helped. It was a challenging year. While I was recovering from the trauma of social isolation, I was also losing my roots – both of my parents died. I was also studying counselling, writing my entire autobiography and shedding layers and layers of my identity – which is a natural process for counselling students but it is deep. It leaves us raw and new and very sensitive to the world around us. Luckily I was also learning about resilience, self-care and boundaries. All of this combined was about to be tested in that jump. I was terrified, but I was ready and I knew it. I was back to my old, resilient self.
Sitting on that plane with people who clearly knew what they were doing and cared for the quality of my experience was really lovely. Anthony’s jump was smooth and fast, so was Susan’s and by that point. I trusted my instructor Ed entirely, especially that he has spent most of the plane trip checking all my gear one more time and really making me feel safe. I trusted Adam, the filmmaker because he was engaging, confident and fun.
I was really worried about the complex dive but our jump was super smooth and steady.
Shortly after the jump, I locked my eyes with Adam, the video maker. The tapping from Ed to remind me to spread my arms and Adam’s calm look really made me feel peaceful. Actually, for those who really fear the skydive, booking filming is a good tip – you do not have to feel entirely alone as you have an additional skydiver in front of you all throughout the free fall part of the jump. We connected in the air and I completely relaxed into the fall. I actually did not feel fear whatsoever, just ease of the fall and calmness around us. Additionally, I was so so glad we had lovely weather for this!
Later, when the parachute opened, I started feeling very sick – probably due to the tight gear and really strong winds. The sunshine was actually quite misleading – it was so windy we had to do two circles around the airfield to get the landing right. I did not want to steer myself, because I could feel that Ed had enough of a challenge to get us safely to the ground. We did look around though and even though at this stage my stomach was really distracting me I was doing my best to focus on the uniqueness of this experience and the fantastic views. We recorded my OTR message and slowly landed on the airfield.
You can actually see in the final section of my recording that I am finding it quite difficult to speak after the landing, praying for quick access to mint tea – but I managed it. We waited for everyone to join in and got into the minivan which took us back to our friends and family. And for the last group photo.
On the way back home I was high on adrenaline but also exhausted, working on calming down my stomach and my nerves. As well as reliving every moment of our adventure.
People asked me today a lot: how was it? would you do it again? I had to admit that for me personally it was a unique experience and I am really glad I did it, especially for OTR. I am glad that the level of my anxieties is down to a manageable state and my old resilience is back. I am just as confident and grounded as I was a few years ago. I am sure that the upcoming days will result in a lot of journaling about the meaning of this experience and its impact on my life moving forward, but at this stage I am mostly noticing the immense power of the skydive as a metaphor to what the OTR Bristol team does on a daily basis and what young people experience when approaching us.
You see, to admit that you are not OK in the current times and then to have the courage to want to get better and to actually ask for help in a reality which really does not favour young person’s voice nor place in society can be ever so terrifying! I see it on the faces of young people coming to our offices every single time I am at work or at our events. It takes courage and a huge amount of effort to walk through the OTR Bristol door. I actually think even for an adult it takes a lot of bravery to ask for help. So just imagine how it feels to someone 11 to 25 who quite possibly is already in a bad, vulnerable, uneasy place. And who possibly might think of themselves as not deserving help in the first place. So once a young person crosses that immense bridge we are there to hold them with trust and competence of a good skydive instructor: we create a safe space for them to gear up, train up, fly higher up and then jump, let go of their worries, to free fall and to land safely, hopefully in a better place. It is almost always a challenging but formative growing experience and so I also see a lot of happier young people, happier parents and educators coming to us every day. I also see a lot of supported young people staying with us to volunteer, work or launch their career in the sector too. They are at the core of the current and future services provided by OTR. We, the instructors and the witnesses of their challenges, are there to calm them down, to validate them as humans and to build more and more platforms for safe jumping, flying and landing.
I have dedicated this skydive to my dad. His generation did not have this kind of support. I was lucky to be born an early Millenial, so I did. I found it and I have no problem asking for it. Unlike many OTR clients, I can afford therapy. My son has a loving home but his reality comes with immense new pressures (no, not social media or tech but the most test-driven one-size-fits-all school system, exploitative economy, PR & marketing practices making us feel less and never good enough, de-humanising and divisive politics, ignored climate change and overworked, disillusioned adults who do not give their very own youngsters a voice). My son and his friends have so much to put up during such a formative period of their lives.
And so I am immensely proud of OTR Bristol. It is a treasure with more than half-a-century of experience and impactful work in the area for generations of young people to come. I am also proud of myself for joining the skydive and for completing it fairly smoothly with a mix of extreme feelings and an overall score of “FANTASTIC”. More importantly, I am proud of all my family, friends, clients and colleagues who supported me on this journey and donated to OTR.
The money we have raised will already pay for hours and hours of support for young people. The campaign runs at least until the Mental Health Day (10 October) and if we reach £775 on JustGiving we will cover counselling programmes for ten young people – people who have never experienced unconditional positive regard and kind space for opening up and working through their problems with professional support. It seems like something every young person should have access to, but they don’t. I am often angry about this, but more often than not I prefer to focus on making my little bit of a difference to change that. Thank you – thank you so much for doing something about this too. You are brilliant and you have already made a difference to someone young and lonely out there in Bristol. Quite possibly you have saved a life.
Thank you for supporting OTR Bristol.
Thank you for believing in me.
Thank you for reading.
I am doing it. I am terrified, but I am doing it. OTR Bristol did a SkyDive last year but I wasn’t brave enough, because last summer I was still unable to cross the Bristol Suspension Bridge. Today I still sweat climbing the attic ladder, but I have conquered the bridge at least. I am obviously really worried about it but I also feel that is it exactly what I need right now to process all my grief connected to the losses of this year and the experience of severe social isolation from the past few years too.
There are a lot of reasons why this project is emotionally challenging for me. Doing the SkyDive is one thing, but I am also managing the OTR project, which means my role is to support others doing it too. I am also fundraising at OTR, which means I feel at least a little bit obligated to meet the fundraising goal – which after a move to a new city seems a bit hard. We do not have many friends in Bristol just yet. Basically for the next six months I will live and breathe the OTR SKyDive.
There is also a good chance that this fundraising event will distract me from a lot of emotional processes going on for me at the moment as I am emerging from the next counselling course and a pretty difficult year of Brexit and loss of both parents. I think that is exactly why I have decided to document my SkyDive journey publicly – to ensure that I am immersing myself in this emotional journey but also remain very kind to myself. Being actively engaged in this, but at the same time taking it easy will be my personal goal. I hope to heal, really. I healed a lot in the first year of our life here in Bristol, so this my next stage. I hope to move away from the anxieties and get back to the more adventurous and opinionated self. I hope to think about my dad a lot and celebrate the best of his legacy.
So here is what I do. I set up my SkyDive page, you can see the plans for the day below.
I set up my JustGiving page where I share updates on my journey:
I was very honest in my story description because I think I owe it to my supporters too:
This summer, a big group of OTR’s supporters are taking part in a skydive! This is exciting but also TERRIFYING!
I will be joining the team in memory of my Father, Hubert Korsak, who died this January. I really wish there was something similar to OTR Bristol when he was young to support him through his difficult marriage. My mother was a narcissistic abuser but their generation did not speak about mental health. They had to “get on with things”.
Despite his times, my Dad was a good man. I was raised by a kind, carrying Father so I appreciate the importance of good emotional support in difficult times. I became a resilient and steady adult.
In the last few years of my life in Oxfordshire however, I have experienced severe social isolation and (for the first time in my life) racism. Few years of that Brexit infused hostility resulted in newly acquired anxieties.
It took me 12 months of living in Bristol to collect the courage to cross the Suspension Bridge. I still sweat when I climb the attic ladder! My relationship with fear is very new and very strong. So this challenge is going to be really difficult. Very emotional. Very difficult. But also very healing.
I joined OTR Bristol exactly a year ago, shortly after my move to the warm and welcoming Bristol. I have started feeling better and trusting people again. Losing both of my parents in that period was extremely complex and difficult but I was held by a wonderful group of people who really were there for me. Who show up for young people every single day.
So I have no doubt that my dad would have liked the idea of the SkyDive and if he was here, he would have donated the first sum. I miss him, but I know he would be proud of what we do at OTR Bristol.
I am hopeful that my father’s legacy will continue in my son and that my son’s generation will talk about mental health openly. OTR Bristol is already making a difference in his school so I am pretty sure he will be open about it and supported.
I set up my Facebook fundraiser with similar updates because many of my friends work in social media so they will find it easier to support me there.
I also set up a YouTube live journal which is here with the first video recorded last Thursday to kick it all off.
I will record my second video tomorrow – which in itself is terrifying, but good. It makes me feel slightly uneasy but also happy to have the technology to openly share my journey. I have lost my voice so now I am thinking this is a great opportunity to let go of my newly acquired anxiety, let go and enjoy the journey.
I hope you will join me on this. I hope you will learn something from my explorations as well.
Thank you for reading!
This blog post is long overdue, I am sorry. I was distracted panicking about my summer SkyDive. I have, however, talked to John about Internet Addiction term over on YouTube. Here it is:
As a follow up to that chat, I would like to write up my take on it just in a bit more detail. What do I think about Internet Addiction? I think it is a problematic label at the moment although I hope the context of it is going to change in the upcoming years.
First of all, let’s remind ourselves that every person will have a different definition of Internet Addiction. Those personal interpretations of the term will range from media fed assumptions made by people who hate change, technology or both and assume that anything to do with the Internet is evil. Those clearly lack critical thinking but affect all of us. Walk into any mental health training and you will hear that social media is the first example of factors of bad mental health. (Why and who said so is never stated – we simply repeat what we hear). Media outlets have been scaring us with Internet Addiction since its first years and yet in reality how many of our friends actually suffer today? (some people do, I am asking about your personal average here). The problem with those personal, media-fed interpretations is actually political. Internet Addiction is very often combined with conversations about online safety. I know that at first, it seems like a very irrelevant connection because it should be. But that’s not the case. Not many average web users know that authorities of many countries have managed to restrict access to the Internet under the excuse of safe Internet practice (without defining what “safe” really means).
Midway on the scale, you will find the official definitions by APA and WHO with pretty specific criteria. Those definitions are new and problematic (see below) but at least attempt to define the concept of Internet Addiction. Acknowledging Internet Addiction as a mental health condition paves the way to open conversations about the negative impact of compulsive Internet use. It helps mental health professionals prepare to support their patients. It justifies the funding of related research. It allows support for individuals who suffer from addictive behaviours. There is a problem with the term though. The diagnosis, if given, is based on a term which has not yet been confirmed and researched enough. In the history of APA’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the Bible for mental health professionals) it is probably the first term of this kind). One which enters media and political discourse without the clause stated in the DSM that it still needs way more research to be confirmed. I repeat: it is NOT CONFIRMED. Labels are helpful but can also be political. Rumour has it, I will put it gently, that some governments would prefer their citizens to stay offline and in separated networks so they have lobbied WHO to introduce the term. (I am yet to see a government happy for its citizens to have access to free information, education and collective thinking). Of course, we will never know for certain. What we do know is that many mental health professionals and new startups are starting to make a brilliant amount of money on curing people of Internet Addiction – without a clear explanation of what it really is.
Finally, at the end of this spectrum, there is also common sense, which of course is very individual. When I asked my son what the term means to him his first reaction was to ask for clarification: “Internet is a bunch of tubes and cables so what do you really mean?” – my son is 13 and yet so many adults fail to ask that question. If you ask a counsellor, you will probably hear a description of a classic addiction (withdrawal symptoms, impact on daily life and obsessive thinking about the cause of addiction). But there is a problem with that application of addiction – a lot of forms of Internet use are actually pleasurable and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the social web is the extension of who we are than it is perfectly OK to crave learning more, finding out more, connecting more, missing chats with friends etc. What I am saying is – the addiction treatment model does not help!
I do not think we know just yet what Internet Addiction is. I think we need to be really careful and specific when talking about Internet-related addictive behaviours and use those, not the general term. I am really glad to see the Wikipedia definition of the term finally listing different, more specific formats of addiction: gambling addiction, gaming addiction, communication addiction, VR addiction. I think we need to specify it even more and treat each and every single person experiencing addictive behaviours with very individual, tailored but also contextual support.
The behaviour itself is usually a function of something else going on in our lives. Games are full of elements of positive psychology – they make us happy, achieved, connected. They can also be really much more fun than a toxic boss and a boring job. Online gambling can be the extension of our offline gambling habits or a deeper unfulfilled need. Communication addiction can be a result of being abandoned, isolated, alone. And even this is not explicit enough. Because the place of the Internet in our lives is complex, it works together as an element of our reality – something happens online, affects our offline behaviour, we go back online, our habits online escalate, our online contacts respond one way or another, we react or not.
Internet Addiction as a term is problematic. For over 15 years of the Safe Internet Practice Day we have been talking about the impact of the Internet on us in purely negative terms without even considering checking the facts. We have been telling our children that screens are detrimental to their health when it is now proven to be a myth, not a scientific fact. We have been over-using the term addiction without really exploring the meaning of it. And the problem lies in overused, meaningless terms. Because we take those labels and label ourselves too – without any critical thinking.
The bottom line is this. As it is today we do not know what is the impact of the Internet on humanity. It is a complex issue and it needs to be researched contextually with as much objectivity and critical thinking as possible. It’s not enough to state that teens are affected by social media, because we know from good research already that some groups of teens (women, poorer or isolated individuals) suffer, while others thrive. What we need to do is dive into a good set of data with a very contextual set of neutral assumptions and questions. We need to focus on what is said and what is on the other side of the coin. Here is a recent example from Sonia Livingstone’s research here in the UK:
- “Nearly half of parents (46%) and teens (44%) describe themselves as ‘addicted’ to their mobile device; also, a third of teens (35%) and two-thirds of parents (63%) think the other is ‘addicted’ too.
- Half of teens (54%) and parents (51%) say they get distracted by mobile devices at least once a day, and 72% of parents say their teen gets distracted.
- Screen time conflicts are common in today’s families with children – ranking as the third most common source of conflict for parents after chores/helping around the house and bedtime/sleep, and ranking fourth for teens (after chores, sleep and homework conflicts).
Yet 86% of parents say their teen’s use of mobile devices has not harmed or has even helped their relationship; and 97% of teens say the same of their parents’ mobile use. Further, most UK families do not think mobile devices disrupt meal times, most parents allow their teens their privacy online, and most are optimistic about the benefits. “
Even though we are not technically addicted, we think we are. Because the term was so overused for more than a decade. So how do we start to approach this topic with more care? Here is my personal suggestion. Next time that red dot of notifications on your screen calls for you stop for a second and think about the following:
- How does it make me feel? Am I addicted or do I want to know if my friends are OK, have an opinion about my recent post, plan to go out to a nice local event?
- Do I need to do it now or can I do it later? Which is better for me?
- Why do I rush to check it out? Is it because I have time and want to feel connected with other people online? Is it because I am busy at work but also bored? Is it because I am ill and stuck at home? Is it because I have time and I feel lonely?
- Is it OK to feel this way with those motivations? I suspect you will judge yourself, but think about it carefully – is it really bad to seek contact with your friends? Is it really affecting your work or supporting it?
- What is the actual impact on your health and on your relationships? Are you thriving, functioning or struggling?
When I see the red notification dot I know my friends are active and I can check in with them in the evening or at lunch, or I simply have something to do for a client. I plan my day work well to allow myself for online check in and keep an eye on the time I spent online. Usually I spend so much time online for work that I do not rush to check notifications anyway – I treasure the time off screen. But I also love to chat to my friends and love the feeling of online connection, so I make time for it. It does not affect my health or work or life.
Think about it carefully. Question what you read or what you are told on the topic. Next time you say or even think that you are addicted to something related to the Internet I urge to review it carefully in the context of what makes you happy and what impact it has on your health and social connections. Do not overuse the “addiction” – reserve it for the very few who really struggle because their lives are falling apart. Yours probably is not, you might just need to tweak your habits or accept that watching a YouTube movie is meaningful for you right now. And that’s OK.
In the meantime there are a few wonderful people out there who are pushing for the change in the actual Internet Addiction diagnosis and that change is coming. So we will know more soon enough. For now, we just need to look out for each other and keep calm. There is a lot online to read, learn, do and enjoy and that’s perfectly fine. We are actually quite OK.
Good luck and let me know how you feel about Internet Addiction.
Today marks a day of a very long journey for me. Since June 2016 I was quiet, I lost my voice. Back then, a few days before the Brexit referendum, I posted a quick note about the meaning of the vote. That post marked an end to an era in my experience of technology. It was also an end of a difficult 6 months of watching the pre-Referendum campaign unfold in front of my eyes and feeling really helpless. Even really social media savvy people took on sharing posts promoting lies about EU not realising that this actually helped the reach of those messages. Discussions about echo chambers only really started when Trump actually won. We have started to learn the truth about social media: its landscape and underlying mechanisms reflect how we work as humans. With the help of algorithms but also very basic human biases, we forgot about echo chambers. We became vocal when some of our opinions should have remained offline. I know many of my friends do not agree with this still up till this day, but I see we are finally learning from Facebook’s scandals. In the recent reactions to Christchurch events, for instance, I have, for the first time, noticed a lot of sentiment around NOT MENTIONING facts not to promote them towards biased audiences.
I call this process resistance. It’s a new word in our new digital reality but I think it works. We do not have to tolerate racism and the divide our political leaders are aiming to cover up their own mistakes. We simply have to resist sharing all our points and think a bit more strategically how our opinions travel in social networks. Do not forget that in social media marketing a mention, any mention (even negative one) is marked as positive for a brand – because any mention is better than none. So the best thing we can sometimes do is…remain silent. Not speaking can be an act too.
Today also marks the day when I am coming back to my more opinionated self. I spent months, years by now, learning more about digital wellbeing. I dived into psychology again to understand our biases. I started figuring out how we communicate online and what is the essence of our digital humanity. Today I know it is the choices that shape us. We all have the ability to act or to remain passive, to speak or to hold silence, to hurt or to protect others. And so as we are going through the really difficult part of the Brexit process I am wondering: what are we learning today? I personally start to see the value in both speaking up and in remaining silent – but both in the right times, strategically. In resistance, but also in active response to abuse and in risking to take a stand.
In the spirit of this new realisation I have visited the Bristol Museum to see the old Banksy work – a very relevant artwork indeed. It was brought back for the tenth anniversary of Banksy’s museum takeover, but it is pretty obvious that it is yet another response to the current political events. I am really glad that some people do take a stand, in a smart way. I really hope that that the next few weeks will bring kindness and unity back to the UK and to Europe, because we are ever so divided. I personally am really fed up with it and will blog on the mental health impact of those events more.
For now I would love to know what you have learned from the last few years of Brexit and the rise of less tolerant movements in Europe and what was the role of social media in this process?
I read something really good today over on BrainPickings, something I aim to explain to most of my clients, but also something that defines my personal networks:
“We reflexively blame on the Internet our corrosive compulsion for doing at the cost of being, forgetting that every technology is a symptom and not, or at least not at first, a cause of our desires and pathologies. Our intentions are the basic infrastructure of our lives, out of which all of our inventions and actions arise. Any real relief from our self-inflicted maladies, therefore, must come not from combatting the symptoms but from inquiring into and rewiring the causes that have tilted the human spirit toward those pathologies”
More often than not my clients ask me to support them with “Internet addiction”, “Fortnight obsession” or other digital wellbeing concerns. Most of which in the end can be narrowed down to behaviours connected to our basic human needs – the need to avoid feeling lonely, the need to have fun, the need to spend quality time together or simply rest after a long day of stressful work. Some of those statements are overused and should not be taken, nor mentioned lightly. I think they should really be explored in more details with our actual context in mind. So today I would like to start by having a look at the three most common things I hear from my clients and friends. Here we go!
- Internet addiction or in other words obsessive, automatic, prolonged time online can often be used lightly. Everyone seems to have it nowadays, but what does it really mean? It is generally a very overused term but in some cases can stand for an actual problem. Spending a disproportionate time online is often a combined result of our inner need for genuine human connection and life in the world which is increasingly lonely. So it’s worth asking yourself some honest questions: why am I doing this? what is missing? what do I gain from going online? and finally: does it actually help? do I feel better? If you feel that going online does bother you it is really worth exploring the real, deep reasons for your concerns. Does it affect your health, work and relationships? It’s really worth exploring all those questions and if in doubt, having a chat with your GP. The Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) was now added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (the bible of official mental health conditions) but with a clear note that it is still not fully confirmed – a lot of research is needed to fully confirm it as a condition. I would recommend this article which explains how it is measured and diagnosed at the moment, but also what challenges lie ahead of us in pinning down the exact impact of the Internet of our mental health. Example: a single, middle-aged, financially independent and fairly fulfilled woman asked me once for a tip on not checking her emails on her mobile first thing in the morning. When we explored her morning routine in more detail something very sad became apparent (she said it but I had to reflect it back at her, she was not even aware of stating her own truth): she was lonely and hated the feeling of waking up in bed alone. In the end, she decided to get a dog to keep her company and tackle her sense of loneliness and stopped checking her phone in the morning.
- Fortnight/Minecraft/(any other game)+ obsession is the first thing I hear from many parents or partners of regular gamers, but what does it really mean? Google defines obsession as “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.” but let’s just very quickly look at its synonyms: “fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, enthusiasm, infatuation, addiction,..” As you can see some of those words are indeed negative, but what would happen if we were to replace the word with some positives? What if our child has a “Minecraft passion”? What if our partner has a “preoccupation with playing Call of Duty”? Does this term also describe their actual feelings and state of mind? In some cases, gamers might and will overuse their time online and that habit might and will affect their health, real-life performance and quality of their relationships. But in other cases, in most cases, really, their gaming habits will be a result of something fairly easy to explain: the need to connect with peers (since we cannot really hang out in the street anymore and the youth clubs are shutting down); the need to rest after long day of work/school – simply a quick way to relax or maybe simply wanting to have some fun? Is that really so bad? I would like to add something to this mix: each situation is unique but our personal feelings about other people’s gaming habits might reflect our own issues or needs to. So I would recommend asking ourselves some questions too: am I missing this person? do I want to spend more quality time with them? do I want to join in and feel excluded? do I judge them without having a chat about it? and finally: if we did not have games in our lives, what would be our alternatives? It’s also worth noting that Internet Gaming Disorder is defined in DSM-V but it is also mentioned “that gaming must cause “significant impairment or distress” in several aspects of a person’s life.” You can check the proposed symptoms of the actual disorder but it is still an area that requires a lot of research. Gaming disorder has been also listed last autumn by WHO so you can find more information about it here. It’s worth having a chat with your GP if you are concerned. Example: I worked with a dad who initially was so worried about his son’s “Minecraft obsession” that he decided to ban him from the game for the entire summer holidays. Needless to say, this particular idea backfired. The boy was struggling with fitting in any way and was left with even more reasons to be bullied and misbehave. We have worked with both dad and his son on creative ways of using the game to build, invent and present ideas. During that process, dad learned how the game works and how it can be used for fun, for creative ideas but also for studies (of maths, science or even hand-writing). At the end of our work both dad and son shared the same laptop and both came up with new ideas for creative use of Minecraft. Both found a way to talk to each other and collaborate – within and outside of the game.
- The negative impact of screen time on our health is a myth and after 15 editions of Safer Internet Day, we are finally openly talking about it with a bit more grounded and academic context. My son is 13 and through his entire life, he was told by his teachers, health professionals and other adults that spending the time of screens has a detrimental effect on his health. Despite the fact that we did not even have good, extensive research into this topic (all but impact of TV screens, to be honest), we have been telling our children and ourselves that screens are simply bad. Here in the UK that exaggeration became officially demystified this January by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: “The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time.
Evidenceis weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children’s screen time overall. Many of the apparent connections between screen time and adverse effects may be mediated by lost opportunities for positive activities (socialising, exercise, sleep) that are displaced by screen time.” We now need to admit that most of us were wrong: it is not the actual screen time that can be damaging, but lack of movement, sleep or human connection. If used wisely and negotiated with our children in the context of its value and benefits for the family, screen time can actually be educational, relaxing and bonding. There is also another danger in making this assumption: by focussing on the mere technology of screens we are moving away from discussing the reasons behind our activities, feelings evoked by specific online activities and their meaning to us individually and as a group. It is a huge simplification to look at our screen time – we really have to think about the why behind our time on screens. Example: I met a mum recently who was worried about the screentime of her son so she decided to introduce a “no screens in the bedroom before bedtime” rule. The rule was discussed together so that her son and all other members of the family could have their opinions expressed. It was agreed that like with all other house rules, everyone would follow it. This small, but collaborative change to their habits improved the quality of everyone’s sleep but also opened up a channel for discussion around other areas of technology used in the house. Let’s face it, screens are really not the next big thing;)
I hope this very short introduction to the core three questions I am working with nowadays will provide a bit of context to how complex the digital wellbeing of our lives can be. Please remember that the research in this area is still new, but already substantial. We now know that our digital activities are complex and there is not one size fits all solution. We need to explore our motivations, impact of our activities on our lives and keep having honest conversations to nurture our relationships: with each other and with ourselves as well.
(Please note: these are my experiences and my understanding of the above-mentioned topics, if you have other experiences, I would love to hear from you – please leave a comment!)
It’s been a very intense university term for me here in Bristol so I was really quiet on all my blogs. I am still here and I am learning so much about human nature. I am starting to put my new counselling skills into practice already. Supporting people with mental health issues and challenges is the most humbling work I have done so far. I feel really privileged to be in this place in my life together with all our friends, colleagues and family.
It’s been a strange, very intense and grounding year. Full of major gains and major losses. So I am spending this Christmas resting, meeting friends and re-evaluating my life. Our university homework is to write an autobiography in preparation for psychoanalysis studies in spring, which gave me an opportunity to start something I have been meaning to do for a long time: write up my life experiences in form of a private book.
It seems to be a Korsak family tradition to write and self-publish books for friends and family and so I am glad that I can continue it. It’s draining. It brings up a lot of forgotten, darker memories, but it’s also very healing. Sometimes it’s also fun – hugely thanks to the Internet browsing for long lost places, people, stories. Reflective writing and reminiscing are said to be good for us – I strongly recommend it.
I am using this time of the year for reflection. It’s quite astonishing how much my boys and I have achieved just in 12 months of living in Bristol – it’s quite overwhelming to look back at those months without getting dizzy. We are all really happy here, surrounded by people who actively react to the UK and world events with kindness and everyday validation of our humanity.
I hope your year was good and I hope the next one will be even better!
Happy Holidays from all of us!
So there is this image that I have seen on Twitter which really bugs me since over a week now. I read this exchange of tweets between my academic and life hero, Sonia Livingstone, and one of her readers. For those who are not aware of Livingstone’s life work, basically, she is one of the thought leaders of actual academic research into the impact of tech on young people and their families. She wrote books, studies, numerous articles and blog posts about the topics doing her best to demystify the current, very simplified discourse of mainstream media around tech and kids. The discourse which in many instances aims to scare parents, ban children off tech and preferably shut us down in a dark room with books and a fountain pen until we are about 18, at least. I am exaggerating, but seriously. Isn’t it about the time we look at our sentiment of conversations around the use of digital technologies of children and young people and simply calm down? Isn’t it time to finally move the tech into the category of tools and focus on the important parameters: education, parenthood, play, actual landscape young people grow up in? Not just tech, all of it together. In all its complexity.
So there is this image that I have seen on Twitter. It has really haunted me. I know something was deeply wrong with it since the minute I saw it in the rather trolling tweet-response to Livingstone’s original tweet. Look at it and think about it for a second. Do reflect on the feelings this image provokes in you. Does it bother you? Does it upset you? Does it feel balanced and every-day?
What is wrong with it and what really enters your mind the moment you look at it? I had mixed feelings. Anger to see such simplified point. Someone took a lot of time to set up this scene and we all know it’s not the reality of modern parenting. I really do not know a small child that could sit so far away from fluffy toys are would not love to mess around with paints. (I do not think so young they would go for crosswords on paper, they would indeed try it on an iPad, I agree with that). There was also guilt – because like many parents today, I do wish I had more time with my son and I do wonder if sometimes his gaming is a result of my lack of time for him. I know it really isn’t, but I still feel guilty when I look at this image. There was a lot of anger about the stupidity and ignorance of the comments included in the tweet but I have this rule: when I drink or when I am angry, I don’t tweet. I did make a note of the tweets and decided to think it over a bit.
So here is what really bothers me about this picture and the answer came the following day. I went to work (Off The Record, Bristol-based mental health charity for young people) and happened to chat with a colleague about my upcoming counselling studies. Somehow our conversation navigated towards the changes this career path tends to evoke in people, sensitivities and new radars for feelings. He actually mentioned that since his new counselling courses started, he is way more cuddly with his mum. He really appreciates the physical touch, the love shared through a simple hug. And that comment made me realise that what really bothers me about this picture is the lack of the parent. Here we are, preaching about the roots of problems with kids when yet again, we are not really talking about the role of parents in the process. Some studies conducted by Livingstone show that parents in the UK increasingly do worry about tech and kids, but also try to look for solutions. I think the sentiment of those discussions is changing. But I really do not think we need oversimplified images of children abandoned with an iPad and toys, regardless of their location. What we really need to see, are images and stories of people who sat down with their kids, made time and discovered how those new technologies can benefit their parenthoods, childhoods, family lives together. And working out boundaries, risks, pitfalls too, of course.
This picture bothers me, because it is seemingly balanced, where in reality it shows a way the deeper problem with have with our perception of technology for children and young people. We, many of us, think that it is there to be added to the toy basket and kids will work it out themselves. Yes, I am sure many of them will. But just like with crafts and arts, fluffy toys and books, so with technology: they will never ever learn to enjoy the togetherness of human connection if we do not teach them, show them, lead them by example. Us, parents. It’s on us. Not on kids. It’s time we get this and start including those young humans in our joint technological discoveries. It could possibly prove to be quite a powerful way of sharing, playing, learning and connecting even more. I know it can.
This weekend means resting after the intense holidays for my family. I don’t have problems with my tech-life balance but this quiet weekend made me think more about my personal tips for healthy, balanced weekend offline. So here are my tips:
- Prepare. Warn your friends that you will be mostly offline and important updates can wait till Monday. They could alos call you instead. If you work in social media or need to have content our in your branded channels, plan it in advance. Most tools allow social media scheduling. If you do not like scheduling, plan light posts – for example sharing your weekend morning reads to your social channels. It will only take you a second.
- Check in but don’t surf. Unless you have a specific project in mind or need to switch off and want to surf the web and social media channels on purpose, don’t allow yourself too much time online. Check in in the morning or in the evening, or as often as you think it is really necessary (if your friends or family members are travelling you might wish to follow their updates, obviously). Be strict and sensible about your screen time. Stop for a second and think very carefully about your weekend alternatives: maybe a book or just cloud gazing from your garden bench would be much more fun right now?
- Manage incoming messages thoughtfully. To get things done and avoid a long to-do list on Monday you might need to address some emails or messages now, on the spot. If tasks are small, do it now and forget about it. Relax. If tasks are larger, manage people’s expectations and warn them that you might need a few days. You don’t have to get everything done on Monday and you do not need to think about those tasks over the weekend.
- Manage notifications. Check in, untick, forget about them. If they are still bothering you, move the relevant apps with a lot of notifications to the second screen of your mobile – this way you will not see them each time you glance at your phone.
- Relax and have fun. Screen is just a sign of your connection. Connection is actually really good. Having a chat with an old friend can make you smile – there is nothing wrong with virtual collective happiness. As long as it works for both of you. Play games. Choosing your task and completing it means achievement – those make us happy and proud. In a good way. Choose a game, choose your level, complete it. Focus on your feelings – if you are still relaxed and a bit cheered up, it’s a sign of fun. Fun is OK. Fun can be addictive, but is that really such a bad thing? Research a new topic or a household hack. Learn something new. Brain stimulation with news and learnings is good for you. Browse friend’s travel photos not with envy but with admiration and a bit of dreaming: why not aiming to go there one day too? Dreaming is what makes us human. In all this remember that screens and Internet connection do bring us together and expand our horizons, but there are other ways to connect with the world. Use them all for your own benefit.
I have to admit it: I did it too. I focussed on the negative impact of the digital so much recently that I stopped looking out for positive stories. Stories of inspiration. Stories reminding me just how wonderful, life saving even, digital worlds and online connections can be. Today I came across this story of Lauren, a chronically ill teen girl, describing how technology and online connections helped her through her really difficult and challenging (to me quite unimaginable!) times. Careful, it is a moving but also shocking read for those of us who do not have a lot of experience with hospitals or doctors. The reality of this girl is not something I can relate too, but I do know the overwhelming feeling of reaching out to new friends online and meeting them after years of online conversations. I know that feeling of knowing so much about the other, even though you have just met for the first time now. Because here is the real truth behind our online and offline lives: in both worlds the relationships we build can be quite real and deep. It really depends on our honestly, our willingness to share and to work towards a thriving relationship. Each connection can be different – some are stronger than others. But we cannot assume that the offline connections only will matter in the end. Because it is really down to us to give all those connections meaning – regardless of their channel. Sometimes a coffee shared in a local bar means a lot, of course. But so does a giggle shared over a silly photo of our pet at times when even smiling is can be hard. Our shared experiences of our communication are the glue of our relationships. We must not forget that.
I am so glad to see platforms like Narratively reminding us the less trendy, but incredibly important stories – where tech and digital are just tools helping us find humanity in each other.