Digital technologies are taking the world by storm, offering unfathomable opportunities that enrich our lives and propel unprecedented economic prosperities.
On the upside, digital technologies have delivered ubiquitous and profound benefits. Instant connectivity has been strengthened via multiple platforms, nurturing social connections and global partnerships.
At the tap of a button, people can access vast reservoirs of information via the internet, enabling them to remain informed across diverse subjects. Technological advancements have contributed to breakthroughs in health care, education, commerce, and the entertainment spheres — stimulating economic growth across various sectors.
However, digital technologies have also become a sinister source that directly impacts people’s mental and physical well-being. For instance, excessive digital device usage and its incessant notifications have been linked to various health issues, including sedentary lifestyles, increased risk of obesity, eye strain, headaches, burnout, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Moreover, the constant exposure to social media and online content has contributed to heightened stress levels, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy as individuals compare themselves to unrealistic standards presented online.
As digital technologies continue to evolve and shape our lives, many governments and policymakers around the world are recognising the importance of digital well-being as a key component of public health and social policy. At its core, digital well-being encourages individuals to maintain a healthy and balanced relationship with technology, ensuring that it enhances rather than diminishes from their overall quality of life.
For instance, the OECD released a report titled “How’s Life in the Digital Age?” which explores the interplay of digital technologies and various dimensions of well-being. It examines issues such as quality of life, health, economic opportunities, digital inclusion, and privacy and security.
By exploring these aspects, the report aims to inform policymakers, researchers, and the public about the multifaceted effects of digital transformation on society, facilitating evidence-based decision-making and fostering informed public discourse.
In 2020, the UAE government established the UAE Council for Digital Wellbeing, tasked with crafting and overseeing policies and programs to safeguard citizens’ digital welfare, fostering digital literacy across society, and promoting mindful technology usage. Since its launch, the council has spearheaded signature initiatives and programs aimed at enriching digital quality of life for the UAE population.
Promoting digital well-being
An interactive and comprehensive online portal was launched to enhance the digital skills of the community, with a particular focus on students, parents, teachers, and senior citizens. The platform offers a wealth of awareness content and essential resources on promoting digital well-being, including tailored tips and guidelines that touch upon important subjects, such as cyberbullying, pressure from social media consumption, online safety, and online gaming.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Education’s Digital Wellbeing Curriculum Initiative aims to integrate digital citizenship into educational curricula, targeting students from kindergarten to grade 12. Furthermore, the “Sannif Platform” empowers parents to familiarise themselves with electronic games, their content, and their suitability before introducing them to children.
As digital landscapes undergo a rapid transformation, leaders across all sectors need to collaborate to promote digital well-being in order to maximise positive outcomes for society and enterprises. One of its key levers is promoting digital literacy and responsible technology use from an early age so that students can safely and ethically navigate the digital landscape, while making informed decisions about their digital behaviours and interactions.
Discussions with students should revolve around setting acceptable screen time to prevent excessive device usage and instead, promote an active, engaging lifestyle that includes both online and offline activities. Further discussions should address how digital interactions can affect mental well-being, while also encouraging an active, healthy lifestyle to reduce the physical strains arising from prolonged device usage.
Reskilling and upskilling
Fostering meaningful relationships, offline and online, is essential, while understanding the basics of protecting one’s personal information during online interactions. At the same time, students should also be encouraged to pursue a plethora of online learning opportunities to fuel their curiosity and upgrade their skills.
The digital landscape is rife with cyber risks that disrupt individuals’ well-being and financial security in multifaceted ways, including breaches on personal data, online scams, identity theft, and cyber threats.
In light of these challenges, policymakers and legislators should look into introducing regulations that protect and regulate the collection, processing, storing, and using individuals’ personal data, while cybersecurity laws should safeguard against cyber threats and online exploitation. Guidelines should govern contents generated by online platforms and social media companies.
It will be increasingly important to ease workers’ relationships with digital technologies and that would require sponsorship from enterprises and oversight from their talent departments. On the one hand, employers have a responsibility towards driving workforce agility and performance through rigorous reskilling and upskilling initiatives.
A great example comes from IBM via its Skills Build initiative, which provides over 1,000 cost-free courses in 20 languages, aiming to address the digital skills gap and foster diversity within the technology sector.
In tandem, forward-thinking employers can foster digital well-being in the workplace by promoting work-life balance, imposing digital boundaries, implementing flexible work arrangements, and educating staff about key triggers of digital stressors. Additionally, corporate wellness programs can encourage staff to prioritise self-care. Many countries and enterprises have been creative in implementing this aspect.
For instance, in France, companies with fifty or more employees are prohibited from sending emails to employees after standard work hours. Australia is set to implement legislation granting workers the freedom to disregard unreasonable calls and emails from their supervisors outside of their designated working hours.
As countries navigate the unfurling innovations and complexities of digital technologies in the coming future, imposing a healthier and more balanced dynamic with technology will become indispensable. This will ensure that it serves as a powerful instrument for empowerment and enrichment rather than a source of harm.
Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature