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.
I had an interesting conversation in a bar last night with a young man concerned about the mental health of his younger, teen brother. Despite a very heated discussion (him: against social media based on media-fed fears, me: pro-social media based on recent research), I have managed to at least make him question his own assumptions. I am really concerned about the level of our general assumptions about the real impact of digital technologies on young people and as a consequence, the lack of dialogue between generations. In this particular situation, just after a short chat, I have identified at least two other reasons why this young person would struggle – not related to the tech at all. But that is a job of a counsellor and bar is not a place to address them. Not with a family member – with the young person themselves.
I came home and reflected on the tonality and the flow of that conversation. I have realised that I was really emotional and I really need to lean into people’s realities even more in order to find a base for a dialogue with them. Because work with assumptions and biases needs to be really careful and respectful, most of all.
This morning I woke up to a new link from LSE leading tot he 2017 Global Kids Online study which I could have quoted the night before, but even with the numbers, I am not certain if I would come across as helpful. The study identified few core issues:
- “Most of the hurtful behaviour occurred offline, not online.” This point means that young people still experience bullying, mocking, isolation, economical disadvantage, aggression offline a lot! But young people are smart and join safe online spaces where they can switch off unpleasant experiences and report the abuser. Most kids choose private chatting rooms and manage their emotions in a peer group rather well.
- “Only a few 9- to 17-year-old internet-using children (between 1 and 11%, depending on age and country) experienced hurtful behaviour online in the past year; most of this occurred just once or twice.” – This is a surprising piece of data for many because no one really talks about the digital literacy of young people, their ability to create their safe online identities and to surround themselves with trusted friends.
- “Children find a wide range of online experiences upsetting. Between 14 and 36% of internet users aged 9–17 experienced something upsetting online in the past year” – this is a very important point. The current media and legislation discourse are focussed primarily on cyberbullying and “harmful content” exposure but the actual negative experiences can really vary and every single person is different. For example – when my son was smaller, he was for a while terrified of trains after watching a YouTube video of a burning train – something I personally really did not feel would affect him at all. If we focus on one particular form of harmful impact of the web on our kids, we miss out on a lot of problems, we simplify a very complex area of young people’s lives and most of all: we do not engage in active conversations with them about what is really upsetting them and how we, adults, can support them in thriving digitally online.
And I know that many parents reading this will probably get stuck on my last point – “thriving digitally online” – as something completely irrelevant to kids. However, we must not forget that access to information, to innovation and to connect with peers is the basic human right of our children. We need to finally accept it. We need to look very hard at ourselves and reflect on our relationship with our kids. We need to learn to talk to them and work on their online safety with them!
This is a quick update on our 5K walk done on Sunday for OTR Bristol. Laura and I met at 9.30am in the Castle Park with our families. Park was busy and really, really hot – just look at the state of grass!
We have agreed on the tactics – it was a super hot day so we have decided to focus on catching Pokemon, not so much the fast speed of our walk. We have started tired, but excited!
But The challenge of walking 5K in an hour (average speed of walking) became tricky, dangerous almost. Walking in the sun was OK, but not easy. We had to shift between sunny areas and the park. The place was on fire! And truth to be told all other hunters decided to hide in the shadows very fast.
It was fairly easy to catch the first 50 Pokemon though – it took us 30 min to do so. Here is the proof – before and after screenshots of our mobiles:
Knowing that I am not much of a PokemonGo geek you can probably guess which screen is mine;) After the first 30 minutes of our walk, we have decided to review the situation. Even with the constant supply of water and a backpack full of snacks, with the support of our families, we would not be able to walk 5K in an hour in this heat. So we have decided to compromise, be sensible and adjust the goals: walk 2 miles in an hour and then walk another mile afterwards, without timing. So here are both distances from my Strava:
To complete the walk we took a little group photo, sat down for a picnic and rested.
I really enjoyed the walk, even though it was full of challenges. First of all the weather was terrible for any physical activity and all of us were tired after Saturday work too. Secondly, walking and catching Pokemon is really not easy and requires high levels of focus – which in a park full of geeks is a bit of a challenge.
Additionally there were interruptions too: my friend called me, our allotment association called to tell me that we have won a prize from a summer social hosted the day before (I know, right?), towards the end of the walk people from the Bristol PokemonGo group started recognising us and chatting to us too. Luckily the connection was good and the app worked well for both of us.
I loved the walk through – it was full of fun and collaboration. We had to focus, document it, discuss tactics in real time and work with the circumstances. I really did not expect the PokemonGo Community Day to be so complex, but it really was. We have marked the 1 mile, 50 pokemon and final milestones with photos to remember the journey:)
I would like to thank Laura for joining me on this bonkers assignment! It was so much fun to walk with her: she is the most positive person I know!
I would like to thank Kathlin for sharing our walk plans with the Bristol PokemonGo group – it was nice to feel even more part of the community than before.
A huge thank you to our families for supporting us on the day! We couldn’t have done it without you all!
And last, but not least: thank you to all the lovely people who have donated over at our fundraising page – we have reached our goal and we are leaving it up for another month. If you haven’t donated but feel inspired to do so, please click over here.
Thank you all so much!
- I find it difficult to talk about social isolation but I think my current fundraising challenge and new work at OTR Bristol is a good opportunity to start this topic on my blog. It’s also prompted by a comment I have posted two days ago in response to the new Facebook “WhatWeDoTogether” video served to some of us about the value of Facebook community. (Which is positioned to support your sense of community but really links to setting up new groups – Facebook’s attempt to take over the market of LinkedIn groups).I am a tech enthusiast and I believe in the power of positive psychology even though many therapists still cringe and dismiss this fairly new field. I agree that our positive outlook on life defines just how easy it is to cope with challenges. I just worry about the automated algorithmic solutions that most of the time get us but now and again simply hurt.I personally found the Facebook’s community video really painful to watch. Instead of featuring my friends it featured my selfies surrounded by stock photography. It reminded me of my long period of social isolation which I really don’t like to go back too. It triggered the memories of a small conservative town I lived in for ten years with hardly any friends there, and mostly very shallow, artificial friendships. Also a controlling friendship too, which did not help. (I also must add a bit of context: when I saw the comment about the Facebook video I was thinking about grief that day, which made matters worse, I might have overreacted a bit). But the responses and follow up discussion was very meaningful and bonding. Showed just how meaningful and supportive Facebook friend can be. They reminded me that beyond my town I really had a lot of valuable relationships that took me through that dark time, saved my sanity.But I still worry about social isolation. One can be ever so lonely in a large group of people, in the crowds even. We talk so much about the need to disconnect when what we really need is re-connecting: to ourselves, to each other and to our communities. I moved away from talking about politics but that does not mean that I have no political views anymore. I come from a childhood under Communism and lived a few changes of systems so I see and feel the times when the leading, privileged group of people aim to manipulate and control the “poor folk” (i.e. us) simply by turning us against each other, by making us feel less and weak and lonely. Because in a thriving community we feel empowered to ask, question and demand. Communities increase civic engagement and that’s not exactly what a leading party or any individual country leader would like to see. I just don’t think Facebook is here to solve that, we need to do it offline.But here’s the thing: social isolation only hurts if you are truly on your own. A fellow blogger posted a response to my comment which was kind, supportive but also firmly reminding me of other aspects of online social networks: by doing that she actually proved me wrong and reminded me about the power of validation. When we hurt and others listen, respond and act – it makes all the difference. We had an interesting training at OTR Bristol this week on why we do what we do and why we are a social movement not just a charity. I think new times are coming because people are getting fed up with being expected to solve all their problems on their own. I think social media contributed to isolation but also the realisation that individualism has its benefits but also pitfalls. We need to have time for ourselves, but we also need strong, supportive groups and communities. We need to thrive and remember about self-care, but we also need to allow others to take a good care of us when we are in need. We cannot and should not live in complete isolation.This is something that is most painful when you are young, so if you agree with the sentiment please support my 5K walk in support of @OTRBristol who tackle it already. Thank you!
It’s been over a month now that I have joined the OTR Bristol. Time flies! I still feel very overwhelmed with the kindness of people in the office and I still catch myself thinking: I wish I had this support when I was young.
I set up my own fundraiser page about a week ago and I was aiming to promote it, push it, ask for money and talk about OTR work a lot on my blog too. But life got in the way in a most ridiculous way and made this fundraiser truly relevant to me: I have received bad family news. I started grieving. Not really grieving for the people who are slowly slipping away, but for myself – for the childhood, I had or did not have. And so I have stopped my bereavement volunteering for now (I am obligated and quite frankly too close to the topic at the moment) but I know I can go back anytime. Things got a bit emotional in my private life and I started to think a lot about the reality of my childhood. I stopped posting and took time to rest and think. I spent a lot of time with my friends and family reminding myself who I am today and how I got here, but also where exactly I have started from.
We all have stories, you see, stories we do not want to talk about. I am always open about my controlling mother, ex, past friends and I am not worried about the current contacts assuming the role of an abuser – because a long time ago I have learned that I was never really a victim. E. Rosevelt said once: “One cannot humiliate you without your consent” and I think she was right, but there is more to power in a family set up. People who are close to us tend to assume they know us and can or would take advantage of our weaknesses. However it is their version of our relationship and we can still have our take on it, and that take can be very different. We can stop the power game simply by not getting involved. We can define our own boundaries and lines of safety with or without the involvement of the abuser. We just need to be clear on our self-worth and our own goals. This way, instead of hardening, we become even kinder and more empathic. It works. But we also have to keep our darker stories in mind and must never forget – because there are other people, young people, out there who need help today.
I did not have OTR, but I had teachers, priests, literary role models, friends and positive outlook on my future. There was always a part of me that knew my worth. I have experienced a kind, bonding fatherly love and I have received a great compass of values (not always applied, I’m not perfect, but at least known!). So after a week of contemplating my own, complicated childhood and a week of grieving the one I did not get to have, I have also realised just how far I have come thanks to all those good people in my past life. I wish I had a space and people like the OTR folk back when I was a young person – my own battles would have been much faster, stronger, more – but I had others who were there for me in smaller, slower experiences. I had hope and I knew kindness.
So today I have just one message to my readers: let’s stop for a moment and think of all those young people who need help, but also those who do not even understand the idea of hope, love and kindness. Let’s just for a second imagine how their reality must feel like.
And let’s have a very good look at our life, count our blessings and convert our experiences into hopefulness. I took my new Canon camera out and treated myself to time for photography. I took a few photo walks in this amazing sunshine and streets of Bristol, admiring street art and warm, friendly people. I planned another two walks with friends this week. I made time for art which always makes me feel a bit better. But here is the thing: I can do it because I spent 40 years of my life coming to this point, fighting and constructively converting my hate and pain into work and action. Which is why I love OTR so much.
So this is my first ask – I kindly ask you, if you are able to do so today, to donate to our 5K walk to help OTR teams help those who might just be young and hopeless now. Thank you!
Here is the full link: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/5kpokemonday – I will be walking, catching Pokemon and supporting an amazing organization! 🙂
The timing of this post is important to me: I have started my work as a Community Champion for OTR Bristol (Off The Record – the Bristol-based organisation and social movement supporting, promoting and defending the mental health, rights and social position of young people). I am still working in social media. I am still studying and volunteering in counselling. I am still running my own projects (BIGOS UK and Cyber-Wellness Podcast). I am still posting and actually, after a long time of exploration and learning, I am coming back to sharing through this blog too. I am still a mum, a wife, a dog owner, a friend. I have time for all of this and each and every one of those areas of life makes me really happy and fulfilled.
This new job, however, marks a very important moment in my life. It is a culmination of an exploration journey I was on for quite a while and it almost feels like a result and summary of everything I did so far in my adult life. I cannot even explain how it feels – it’s still too overwhelming. All I can say is that I feel it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. It is also a very natural, obvious next step of my journey and all the choices I have made in my life.
Aware choices are extremely important and I think that’s what this post is all about. It is really well timed for me for two reasons.
On one hand, it is the day before the European GDPR law becomes mandatory and so there is a lot of discussion about how companies, organisations and individuals are to become more aware of how they handle our data. Even though some of us know that this conversation is really delayed and some of its aspects are still really damaging (especially the real impact of the law on young people’s empowerment and voices around tech), I believe it is important to have the conversation around aware, informed decision-making process when it comes to how people use the social web – both as users, as well as service providers. It’s about time we spoke about it.
On the other hand, it is the anniversary of my most favourite speech which pretty much sums up my attitude towards life – “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace. You can listen to the full speech in the link behind its title or watch the shortened, really good visual interpretation of it here, embedded below.
This speech always moves me. It reminds me of my father and the way he raised me into this world: as an aware, emotional and critical thinker. My dad explained to me the importance of awareness, questioning, making time to think but also staying kind to myself and to other people. He showed me ways to restore my energy by learning and feeding my curiosity. He explained to me the power of acceptance so I knew from early on that if I do so: if I accept my limitations and push myself one more step on my journey I will create the most empowering habit of them all: the habit of hopefulness. David Foster Wallace was really relevant at the time of his speech and remains even so today.
We are seemingly facing a crisis in mental health, in technology, in politics, but actually from what I can tell we are really suffering from disconnection and in our isolated self from helplessness. But life and our outlook on it really does not have to be this way. Each and every one of us has a potential to think differently about what we have and what we are deprived off, for any reason. We all have the power of thinking, of awareness, of questioning and that of asking for help.
Which leads me to the main reason why I am writing this post. This week I have joined an organisation and a social movement of people who get this. I’ve met people (young and older) who really care for each other and commit to words, but also actions. My friends tell me that I am perfect for this job, but I think it’s the other way around: this job, these people are the place I belong to. At OTR Bristol people understand that our mental health is not a set of disorders but the water – the invisible, but the crucial power behind how we all function and hopefully flourish too. OTR Bristol is a place of kindness, openness, growth and hope. It’s not a place for naivety, nor ignorance – it actually requires a lot of critical thinking, commitment and self-growth. It helps ideas, but more importantly, it helps people thrive. In the first three days of my work there I have learned a lot about people and about myself. My attitudes, my ideas, my input were accepted and multiplied. And I have not even started the actual hard work just yet. I know that this is the perfect time for this step in my life – thanks to all the mentors in my life and thanks to my own aware choices. I know that the results of my work will benefit many young people and ripple out to many more out there. I really hope that I can do my best to turn those ripples into waves. I really hope that I will be able to create currents that will help those stuck in the void of helplessness see the water and its benefits. We are all capable of this, it’s just that some of us might need a little help to make it work. That’s why we need to work towards togetherness and connection, and we really need to look out for each other. The unique places like the OTR Bristol are already doing it and so this is my little contribution too. I hope I will do it well.
You might have seen on social media channels that I am currently working on a podcast investigating the impact of digital technologies on our wellbeing.
Here is a little bit more background I have written for the podcast blog – the full article is here.
Cyber wellness is a combination of two concepts: digital literacy and wellbeing. The concept is currently widely used in Singapore by the Ministry of Education for digital literacy projects for young people at schools to ensure that they are all using the web safely but also proactively make the most of it.
There is a lot of discussions now, in 2018, about the increasing importance of mental health and the negative impact of the web on our health, but we feel that conversations are not balanced. On one hand, we have technology developers and providers, practitioners and fans promoting and enjoying the digital landscapes. On the other hand, we have regulators, educators, health professional and parents who worry about the impact of technology on children,m young people and on adults.
In January 2018 WTO introduced gaming addiction as an official disorder. America’s Association of Psychotherapists included the Internet Gaming Disorder in its DSM-5 pointing out the need for further study. Health practitioners warn us about the impact of screen time, FOMO, isolation and gaming addictions. New game addict retreats appear on the market all around the world.
Technology is used to improve our health and mental health. We see smart tech and health monitoring devices entering our everyday lives. We see health data collected via the main mobile platforms and used to improve research. We see medical field benefiting from various areas of tech innovation. We use apps to improve our every day health and wellbeing: fitness, diet, mindfulness, gratitude and creativity.
The common discourse is focussed mainly on the negative impact of digital on health, but it is based more often on myths than actual findings. Scientific research on the impact of digital technologies on various aspects of our wellbeing is still very rarely considered in the public discourse.
Cyberpsychology is a relatively young science studying important themes like comparison and low self-esteem, depression, social isolation, negative relationships, FOMO (fear of missing out), sleep deprivation, addictive behaviour, eating disorders, social media and ADHD, positive correlates of social media, social media and memes, psychotherapy in cyberspace. Since 1995 we can read about it in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Since 2007 we can enjoy their findings in the Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychological Research on Cyberspace. There is also the Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation, as well as Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking journal.
The impact of the Internet on our wellbeing is also included in our very own UWE Psycho-social research here in Bristol and specific areas of UWE work – for example, work done by Dr Amy Slater and her team around body image.
In Oxford, Dr Andrew Przybylski researched the impact of online games on children. His research showed that a moderate amount of online gaming resulted in better-adjusted children that those who did not play any games at all – which can be linked to the new media but also lifestyle our children grow up in. Sonia Livingstone described the changes in family life and the new media landscape in her 2002 book: “Young People and New Media: Childhood and the Changing Media Environment” describing area of family life we sometimes discard but that have a significant impact on our media consumption: for example the fact that our children grow up in isolation from their peers in the offline world (driven to school, taken to groups, not allowed to socialise freely offline) so the online channels provide them with new, alternative ways of connecting with peers, playing and learning. Susan Greenfield (also based in Oxford) wrote a good summary of the relevant research in 2014 in her book “Mind Change: How Technologies are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains” only to conclude that way more research is needed to understand this topic. She herself continues her work in this area.
Sonia Livingstone based in London is since a few years now involved in the EU wide study on the impact of tech on children and families. The research results are published in the regular EU Kids Online reports and impact the way the International Safer Internet Day is celebrated. In the recent few years, we have noticed the purely negative sentiment shifting towards the need to build strong digital skills amongst both children, as well as their parents. In February 2018 Livingstone and team published finding showing the positive impact of technology on the quality of life in families but also increased the need for parents to know that their children are actually safe online.
Dana Boyd, an MIT researcher focussing on teenagers and their use of social media, points out that we need a good definition of what we mean by “safe Internet”. She published her findings in her book in 2014 “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” describing her extensive research in important areas: privacy, online identity, addiction, dangers and bullying, inequality and literacy – and generally asking young people how they manage their lives in those new channels. Her findings are certainly not as negative as the discourse in the mainstream media.
Jane McGonigal, American game designer advocates the use of digital technologies to channel positive attitudes and explains a lot of positive effects of games in her 2001 book “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How they Change the World” tapping into findings from also a fairly new field of positive psychology.
At the same time, the public discourse around mental health and wellbeing increasingly mentions the negative impact of digital technologies: information overload, need to rest from screens, fear of missing out, online bullying, addiction to online games and the overwhelming sense of increased social isolation. We do also see increased levels of addictions related to the Internet and studies showing that the social web tends to exaggerate the tendencies we already have (if they are positive, the impact of the web is positive too; if our habits and tendencies are harmful, the social web might make them more impactful too).
In the marketing and business world, it is widely recognised that addiction to mobile and other tech devices is fuelling stress and burnout and has been linked to anxiety and depression. Increasingly, a number of research and partnership initiatives are being put in place to address the positive and negative effects of cyber-overload and how to achieve a state of cyber-wellbeing.
April 2018, saw the Pew Research Center launch their extensive report: ‘The Future of Well-being in a Tech-Saturated World’ which explored at length the positive and negative aspects of digital life on people’s health, mental fitness and happiness. While in May 2018, Thrive Global, set up by cyber wellbeing pioneer, Arianna Huffington whose mission is to end stress and burnout, announced an important partnership with MindShare Partners, whose mission is to ensure that those suffering from mental health and burnout conditions in the workplace get heard and helped to thrive. Just these two key areas of activity in the cyber-wellbeing arena from Pew Research and Thrive Global in Spring 2018 – let alone myriad other similar initiatives – are a clear indicator that the complex topic of cyber-wellbeing is driving an ongoing debate around the world. As podcast authors of Bristol’s Cyber-Wellness Podcast, we hope that our own podcast findings can serve to make a small contribution, from Bristol to the global debate around cyber-wellbeing.
The mental health provision in the UK is based on the 2008 New Economics Foundation report “5 Ways to Wellbeing”. The report outlines core recommendations for improving our overall well being and serves as a basis for the overall provision of talking therapies around the UK until today. Connect, keep active, take notice, keep learning and give are recommendations resembling core findings of positive psychology. The report also mentions the value of nature, healthy diet and meaningful work. Many of those recommendations are aligned with findings published by Johann Hari in his book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” about underlying causes of depression. Harri suggests looking at the roots of our mental health problems and instead of disconnecting, even more, finding ways to reconnect with our communities, meaningful work, values and with nature. We do not really know if digital technologies would play a positive or negative role in this process.
- So it’s time to comment on Facebook’s changes marking (for many) the first signs of the social media bubble bursting. Most of my clients and friends are asking me for my opinion about it so here it is.Mark’s post is here. In this post, the word “well-being” seems to be at the core of his sentiment but I fail to believe in this – I still see the videos interrupted with adverts and intrusiveness of advertising all over my stream. So this is obviously PR talk and we need to take it with a pinch of salt, but what is Facebook really trying to convey? Mark’s post does contain clues as to what will happen to brands and users in the upcoming months – and for the organic users, it’s not good news, for those who paid for ads, well, not good news eighter. Facebook will promote more user interactions and less organic content from brands – that is clear. To some extent, it was something they have always tried to do already, it’s not new – the scale of the change might be though. Pages will definitely see a drop in organic traffic, some pages will see a huge drop – that is clear. Posts from pages will not move all together to a separate feed on our Facebook walls (as per their test in some countries earlier this year) but we will see less of those organic posts from pages, so brands will suffer in organic visibility, ergo they with HAVE to pay for adverts. Posts from brands with no reactions will disappear from users feeds. Mark states the aims of their new strategy – “focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions” – a strategy which will still connect users with relevant brand content, just differently. The way, we social media marketers see it is this: Facebook wants us to pay more money for the advertising. (Here is a good summary of Mark’s post in this context, one I agree with).I looked at some of the initial reactions. Social Media Examiner’s panicky video represents the view of marketers and it is fair to say that it is a huge blow to those who post over ten posts/day on their pages with limited reactions and focus mainly on organic posts (no advertising). I am attaching a similar reaction to mar’s posts explaining that impact. Jeff Jarvis also wrote a post about the impact of this algorithm change on news sharing organizations here. Robert Scoble already has the new version of the feed and posted his first post initiating a series of interesting comments here – I recommend some of the comments there. But ultimately what we see in here is the end of the organic reach on Facebook as we know it. We will see some of it, but I suspect not much.I also see that Facebook pages now offer groups as an option and in the last few days, the options there improved significantly. So we will be pushed to set up communities at the back of our fan pages to increase the organic feel of our brands. Is Facebook trying to compete with LinkedIn groups? Because at the same time LinkedIn is rolling out major changes in those – adding group posts to the main network stream and improving groups as they are?I don’t think this announcement helps Facebook’s reputation at the moment but considering an average network user, it might just work. I have received two nudges to check how “safe” my Facebook is (with a link to the usual privacy settings) – this type of user manipulation does not work for me but will work for many. We see interesting times when companies providing the major social media channels need to re-think their models and we are all watching. There is a lot we don’t know and it’s not a good feeling. I liked Facebook and other tools much better without any algorithms. I want my old Twitter and Instagram back – it was fun and it made sense to see everything in chronological order. Now, we are working a bit in the dark and we all need to make choices that are safe and sensible for our brands but those choices are becoming harder and harder.Putting ethics and politics aside (one for a separate post) at the end of the day, as users we are trading our data and our conversations in exchange for free networking opportunities and new connections – so it’s down to each and every one of us to make them smart and care for our own wellbeing. I really don’t think Facebook should be in charge of those choices – I do not need their help. I do not have to be on Facebook, yet I still benefit from using it. We will see for how long. We will see if the Facebook team will ever learn that the path their taking (the money driven one) is not sustainable forever. And we will see what else is on the horizon. It would be foolish to invest in just one channel.
What a start to the year. The World Health Organisation added gaming addiction to their list of disorders due to addictive behaviours defining it as follows:
Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.
Hazardous gaming can be also found in the section on factors influencing health status or contact with health services:
Hazardous gaming refers to a pattern of gaming, either online or offline that appreciably increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the individual or to others around this individual. The increased risk may be from the frequency of gaming, from the amount of time spent on these activities, from the neglect of other activities and priorities, from risky behaviours associated with gaming or its context, from the adverse consequences of gaming, or from the combination of these. The pattern of gaming is often persists in spite of awareness of increased risk of harm to the individual or to others.
Both definitions are quite sensible as they contain the limitations and definitions of healthy and unhealthy gaming habits, related to both online and offline gaming too. The initial reactions are obviously varied, but it’s a very brave step – one which is really difficult to judge at this stage because we simply don’t seem to have enough of research on the impact of online gaming and because online gaming is a very complex topic – one which is often demonised, but rarely taken seriously.
When the Americal Psychiatric Association contemplated adding Internet Addiction Disorder to their fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM–5) it became apparent that we are dealing with a complex set of potential mental disorders altogether. I strongly recommend this short but insightful summary by Mark D. Griffiths. In the end, after a consultation with the industry and look at available research (for example some here) they decided not to include the Internet Addiction Disorder in the DSM-V, but made a strong recommendation that the further research is needed. They also changed the definition of the gambling as a behavioral addiction rather than as a disorder of impulse control which also allowed them to include the internet gaming in this area. Internet Addiction Disorder does have a wiki page and is not a new term but it is still handled carefully by health professionals and the relevant bodies.
So today WHO announcing a new definition of gaming addiction and adding it to the list of mental disorders send a strong message to the world.
In this entire discussion, you will see three groups of voices. On one hand, there is the gaming industry, Silicon Valley, tech enthusiasts, and professionals, but also researchers who see a positive impact of online gaming (on kids in the UK you will find Sonia Livingstone doing a lot of work with EU too, in the US for research on youth online check out Danah Boyd, for positive impact of gaming Jane McGonigal and her twin sister Kelly, both here). On the other side of the spectrum, you will see media, governments, legal institutions and the general public using the online gaming as an easy scapegoat for issues that are complex and often unaddressed (problems with social isolation, self-esteem, anxieties, toxic relationships, aggression, poverty etc). And in the middle, you will find health professionals (GPs, therapists, youth workers even) who are expected to provide support to the community with a very little good research and stand from leading organisations, oftentimes simply not knowing what to do.
Gaming is not exactly a tabu topic but the opinions about it are divided and not always informed, which does not help the actual individuals who enjoy gaming and feel a positive impact of it, nor the gamers who struggle with addictive behaviours but simply cannot seek professional help. There are increasingly more and more reahbs, camps and other ideas to help, but an average parent or spouse might suffer and struggle because the web and the mainstream media scare us, terrify us even and simply don’t offer any practical solutions.
So when I mention that WHO’s move is brave I am really worried because an average web user or a member of the general public will most certainly now use this fact to demonise the online gaming even more and leave the suffering, addicted individuals to their own devices or simply switch the wifi off. This is not helpful as it does not address the roots of the problem. It makes it worse. On the other hand for the health professionals and researchers, the WHO’s decision opens the doors for more research and more action to offer professional support and almost forces governments to actually look into this and provide funds for that support. Initially it will be directed at the overall gaming disorder, of course, but the more we study it, we will realise its complexity and learn to separate the old problems (anxiety, social isolation, bullying etc) from the new ones (addictive feedback loops of some games, social media related complex reinforcement of self-esteem issues etc). We will learn how to talk about both Internet addictions and gaming addictions too.
I remain hopeful. I really worry that a lot of kids and adult games will suffer from a lot of negative labeling, but I hope they have networks to support them in this first phase. In the long run, I think this is a good move, a natural step in the process of unpacking something new. Something that has an impact on us but it’s so early. We simply don’t know what impact it has on us. It might be that one day we will realise that the web is just like the street – an avenue on which other mental issues, the already known ones, are born. It might be that the technologists are a bit blind and we will discover new mental disorders and learn to support people suffering from them.
What we all need to remember is that every one of us is different and we all react to new stimuli differently (well but also badly). Those of us who suffer from bad habits and see friends and children falling into the abyss of useless gaming really need to have a good look around to identify the why’s and help but also look at the positive impact of online games and accept it – which is not easy. Those of us who work in tech, gaming industry or simply are advocates of innovation, need to learn to accept the fact that every new piece of innovation can come with its curses. We cannot pretend that we don’t know people (of any age) who have suffered from too much gaming in their lives in some way.
So I do like the WHO’s definition as it defines the scope of the impact of the actual disorder – it looks at the negative impact on health and it does give a year to diagnose an individual too. But we have to remember that every new definition can very easily turn into a label and labels are not nice. They stop us from seeing the human behind it. Let’s hope we won’t go down this route. Ultimately it will boil all boil does to how open those discussions are going to be and how informed and research based the choices of decision makers are going to be.
As a student therapist, I am happy to see that the health professionals will hopefully receive more support in this new and already fast-changing area of our lives.
#2017bestnine was a busy hashtag this year and I am noticing that many people posted those visual annual reviews way earlier than in the past, some even before Christmas. I am still trying to oppose the trend of earlier and earlier celebrations so my best nine visuals were posted today.
This year was really busy and a lot has changed in our lives. I finished a school. Moved home. Re-connected with close friends. Started new studies. Re-connected with reading more than ever. Still loving nature and dog walks.
I do have my shoeselfie #2017bestnine too because those images remind me to be grounded in reality and aim for the stars;)
I had wonderful moments over coffee, tea, hot chocolate and those photos always remind me of the friends and family I am blessed to share those wonderful times with.
I have spent some time on a creative Instagram project too. @Mylittlecoffeeblog is a reminder that little treasures are all around us, we just need to stop and remember to be playful, childish but also grateful for nature. I used to bring small tokens of it home when I was a kid and this year I started to do it again. But when home I would drink a cup of coffee and capture the moment for this Instargam account.
But the entire year was full of flowers, fruit, trees…we said goodbye to our lovely allotment 108 and started 2018 with a Bristol allotment application, although I am told this can take a while. I cannot wait for spring because our new home has a lovely garden too. We were lucky that we could bring most our plans from Wantage to our new home. This year I focused on plants, fruit, and veg from my childhood. I grew blueberries, wild strawberries, apples even. I grew plants that in the past would be so exotic – like passion fruit for example. It always makes me happy to create those new forms of life.
And finally, the most important development of this year was reading. I was always reading but since university, I did not really make time for it so now I am back to a lot of reading due to my studies. Like with any other habit, the more I read, the more time I find for it. I read a lot about death and love this year. I wonder what core topics for 2018 will be. We will see, but I think 2017 was so rich and so much has shifted that I will carry all those moments in me for quite a long time.
Thank you to each and every single person who made this year so rich and who was there with me and my family.