Book Review: Dear Digital, We need to talk by Dr Kristy Goodwin
Phones, laptops, computers, smart watches, internet enabled TVs – we are living in an increasingly technological world. The buzz and pings of notifications are all pervasive and all distracting, creating a sense of urgency and increasing cognitive stress.
The Covid pandemic and the subsequent move for a lot of workers to remote and hybrid working has conflated the workplace and the home, making it hard for anyone to truly ‘switch-off’. The ongoing impact of this is that more and more of us are OUSTED: Overwhelmed, Under the pump, Stressed, Time poor, Exhausted and Distracted. Digital burnout is increasing and our physical and mental health is suffering as a consequence.
Enter ‘Dear Digital – we need to talk’. This book covers the neuroscience behind why we react to digital stimuli in the way that we do, discuses the micro-stressors that permeate our days without us realising it, and shares all important micro-habits that anyone can adopt to reduce the negative impact that digital technology is having on our lives.
I found it very ironic that I read ‘Dear Digital’ cover to cover on my smartphone! Like most people, I have multiple devices, both for work and home use and am used to switching between them as my attention gets pulled in multiple directions. I know that my relationship with technology can be unhealthy at times, and have a basic understanding of the neuroscience behind how tech companies (particularly social media) design their apps to demand and keep your attention. However, what has been less readily available has been the simple ideas and tips on how to mitigate the impact of constant notifications, alerts, and implicit expectations of being ‘always on’. Most of the advice that I have previously seen has either been impractical to implement on a regular basis or genuinely impossible to achieve when considering the nature of my work and day to day life.
I therefore wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading ‘Dear Digital’. Another book advocating that we lock our phones away on a near permanent basis, or completely re-arrange our home office or working day? Not at all!
Dr Kristy’s conversational style and the easy read of the book hides the seriousness of her message and the impact of being swamped by the technology that is supposed to make our lives easier. This book is full of practical advice and techniques on how to reduce your digital load, without locking your phone or laptop away permanently.
Within the book, Dr Kristy has provided a number of micro-habits to help with different aspects of your digital life. Alongside these are different hints and tips to help build that habit. Not all of them will be practicable for everyone, depending on circumstances and working environment (I have limited ability to adjust the lighting in my corporate open plan office, for example), but if one tip doesn’t work, then there will be another which will be really easy to implement – it took me just a couple of taps to stop getting immediate email notifications on my phone. There are also ideas for different tools that can support you and other resources to investigate.
I’ve loved the way that implementing even the smallest micro-habits have changed my relationship with technology and improved my wider well-being. Setting my phone to turn to black-and-white half an hour before I’m aiming to go to bed was really easy, and it is a good visual reminder that it is time to wind down and put the technology away. Muting almost all of my WhatsApp and Slack notifications has dramatically reduced the interruptions I get during the day, and as an added benefit has led to me checking my phone less, as I know that there will be nothing sitting on my home-screen calling for my attention.
This is definitely a book that you will want to have by your side to pick up on a regular basis, and great reminder that small changes can make a big difference.
Review by Jo Toon FCIPS, Commercial Portfolio Manager, Ministry of Justice