Earlier this month, I was invited by Ehtesham Shahid, a journalist at the Khaleej Times, an English newspaper based in Dubai. He asked me questions about digital fatigue, and I talked about how this prolonged situation of uncertainty and our blurred boundaries online and offline influence our emotional, cognitive, and physical selves, and could reading books save us? You can read the entire piece here, there are interesting viewpoints from other experts as well. Below is the unedited and uncut version of my answers and thoughts on this topic.
Digital fatigue is a human state and it influences our physical, emotional and cognitive wellbeing. Starting from the current global socio-economical/political disruption to the climate crisis, prolonged uncertainty and isolation, a substantial increase in the internet consumption both for work and leisure time activities, created inevitably the collective digital fatigue. Especially now that we are living through collective trauma. Constantly required to be online, work on remote, with the video on, mute and unmute, plugged in, plugged out, on just a few steps from the bed, sofa, or the kitchen, paying bills, shopping online, ordering food online, communicating and socializing online. Additionally, we spend every free moment numbing ourselves with social media to avoid difficult thoughts and feelings. Our work-personal life boundaries are blurred. We lost the grounding structure. And both on the macro and micro level, all these continuous anxieties and uncertainties inevitably create digital fatigue that could lead to more concerning conditions such as digital burnout.
Is digital technology responsible for our (lack of) book-reading habits?
We shouldn’t blame technology and gadgets for not maintaining our book-reading habits. It is true that with accelerated digital technologies our attention span has shortened. We spend too much time on our mobile phones and the internet excessively consuming information. It distracts our focus from the things that are relevant and substantial to us. We are more consuming and less creating.
It also depends on how we structure and set up the space to read a book. It depends on our time management skills and setting up priorities for our self-development. Family and social surroundings represent very relevant factors for book-reading habits. If you come from a family or circle of friends that cultivate reading books, it will likely become an everyday routine for you as well. We are who we are surrounded with. Community power, encouragement and accountability play a relevant role.
We as individuals are responsible to create a space and a habit of reading and writing. For example, I am both a reader and a writer. Those who are avid readers are also potential writers.
We should realize that reading makes us curious and kind and sparkles our imagination. And that is an enormous quality in enriching our lives and the lives of others. It is a pleasure and a luxury nowadays.
We have seen that the number of digital book clubs via zoom grew exponentially during this global mayhem. Reading, talking about books and exchanging thoughts through online gatherings, book clubs, forums, book-reading websites such as Goodreads, et cetera, was the main dynamic in maintaining conversations about books. Those conversations often inspire a sense of community, identity growth, purpose, and connection.
For years now, I keep repeating that internet technology and digital tools are not a magic wand nor a necessary evil. At this moment of collective trauma that we are all experiencing, digital technologies maintained the connection between people and make them feel included. Other advantages of digital consumption are that we have dynamics of creativity, collaboration, community, exchange of ideas, small talk, humour, that entire realm of interaction and learning. The disadvantages of internet technology are obvious. We can become more distracted, less focused on daily tasks and not present in communication with others, attention span is shorter, we may feel isolated and pseudo-connected, develop insomnia, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, burnout. We work, communicate, play games, eat in front of our screens, we socialize. As an outcome of continuous digital consumption, we are less productive and our imagination and creativity stagnate.
Each one of us should find the golden mean and use the digital tools and technology for our benefit and not the other way around. The solution is in setting up the boundaries, creating the space for our habits and rituals, making the separation of our different roles, our work self and private self, digital and analogue. Digital sabbaticals are useful, too. I disconnect from time to time. We should limit screen time, limit hours on social media, spend time outdoors, in nature, reading a book, doing some creative work, contributing to the community. This is the responsibility of each one of us in order to keep our inner vertical of creativity, empathy, and integrity.
Full interview: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/long-reads/a-new-pandemic-digital-fatigue