This means our schedules have fewer outings all the time, more meals at home and it has reduced commutes to next to nothing. But, in some ways, the pandemic has sped up the world and has had an impact on well-being.
The rapid adoption of new technologies over the past year and a half may have been tiring, but it has also forced new possibilities to emerge.
How many technologies are we consuming?
The short answer is: too much.
Before COVID, about three percent of Canadians worked remotely. Recent data from Statistics Canada indicates that the figure is now 32 percent. This increase alone will make us consume infinitely more technology.
For example, in December 2019 there were 10 million daily active Zoom users and now it’s around 250 million. Microsoft Teams has 115 million daily active users, a 53% increase since the start of the pandemic.
A report from Sandvine, a company based in Waterloo, Ont., Found that overall internet traffic increased by more than 40% between February 1 and April 19 of last year, almost all of that increase s ‘being produced in March and April – just at the onset of the pandemic.
The number of minutes of general online news consumption for Canadians increased by 95% during the pandemic. The number of minutes spent on catering sites increased by 45%.
Social media platforms gained 490 million users this year (a 13.2% year-over-year increase) and social platforms gained 15 new users every second in 2020.
As you can see, the time we spend on virtual platforms for work, consuming digital news and lifestyle content, as well as the time spent on social media is astronomical. It has certainly been a year of massive adoption.
Impact on welfare of excessive use of technology
Yes, in many ways it is unhealthy.
Take the example of video conferencing: Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours a day on these platforms. He shares four reasons why technology leads to burnout:
Excessive amounts of close eye contact. Bailenson suggests that when someone’s face is so close in real life, the brain interprets it as an intense situation that will lead to mating or conflict. This keeps individuals in a hyper-awake state for long periods of time.
Spending all day looking in a mirror is exhausting. And that can have negative emotional consequences. According to the Canadian Society for Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery, plastic surgeons and dermatologists cannot meet the demand. Some call it the “zoom boom”.
It is more difficult to pick up non-verbal cues. People are exhausted trying to assess facial expressions or gestures. There are also so many distractions for the presenter and the audience – you can talk and see someone pick up their phone or answer a family member in the background. On the other hand, people are in a meeting with millions of distractions that did not exist before.
It’s sedentary. One study found that we spend four extra hours every day sitting at home, with 18% adding more than seven hours of sitting time to their days in 2020.
Hacks to solve videoconferencing exhaustion
While some of us will return to work in person in the next few months, some will continue to work virtually. To combat the negative impact on our mental health, here are some easy ways to reduce digital fatigue caused by all that time spent on video.
- To stop staring too much at other faces, remove the image from full screen and reduce the size of the faces.
- To stop staring at yourself, try Hiding the Sight which allows others to see you, but you don’t need to be distracted by your own face.
- To stop sitting, the answer is simple: get up. Specialty standing desks can be expensive, but now there are simple desk accessories that mimic one for a much lower cost. If possible, organize a meeting on the go, a walk-n-talk instead of a video conference. And, I’ve also seen trends where companies encourage staff to take meetings on exercise bikes and treadmills.
- To reduce the stress of reading facial cues, turn off the cameras to hide your distractions. (Also, presenters don’t like to see someone take a call while they’re giving feedback.) Make sure you’re on mute and use emojis and other forms of visual aids to express your interest and reaction to what’s being said. Thumbs up!
The bright spots
As people have embraced more chatting and meeting technology in recent months, there has been an increase in adoption in previously overlooked areas of physical and mental health technology. Take, for example, our comfort level with telehealth and teletherapy.
In the US National Library of Medicine’s “Telehealth as a Bright Spot of the COVID-19 Pandemic” article, academics found that within just a few weeks of the onset of the pandemic, telehealth went from less than 5% of patient visits to nearly 93 percent. And as CBC previously reported, 91 percent of those patients said they were very happy with their experience.
Teletherapy has also increased significantly, from 2% of people using it to 85%. I’ve seen many organizations I work with add it to their benefit packages – products like BetterHelp and TalkSpace included in their wellness portfolio.
In addition, during my interview with a start-up, I learned that they had built a new Slackbot tool named Freud. The chatbot allows people to ask mental health questions anonymously while other employees (as well as Freud) will answer those questions or simply provide support. These mental health chatbots are growing in popularity with a lot of development and funding in this area of mental health technology.
Adopting these innovations is valuable because they provide increased accessibility and reduce stigma – two specific barriers that prevent people in need from getting help. However, teletherapy still has a long way to go due to its lack of affordability. The virtual therapy tools I mentioned earlier can range anywhere from $ 300 to $ 500 per month.
Artificial Intelligence: new era of well-being
Perhaps the biggest leap forward for wellness technology is advancements in AI.
Examples of pioneering companies include MetLife and Humana, which have deployed new applications for call centers.
An application “nudges” the call center agents by displaying instant clues. For example, a heart appears when a client’s emotional state changes, indicating a need for empathy. It guides agents during conversations to be more emotionally intelligent, which takes some of the cognitive burden off them and helps them better control conversations. It also helps them guide clients through difficult situations without taking on the emotional burden.
Affectiva is the AI for carpooling staff. It analyzes drivers’ facial expressions for signs of burnout and sends messages to the driver about ways to reduce their stress levels, thereby reducing road rage and crashes.
Mental health chatbots are growing in popularity. Woebot, for example, uses natural language processing and sentiment analysis to interpret a user’s input and generate personalized responses. Then, it relies on cognitive behavioral therapy to help users change their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to improve their mental health.
For healthcare, AI is a great tool to prevent burnout, as it reduces the workload of doctors and decreases what is called pajama hours: that time at home where they try to sleep. ” perform administrative tasks. AI is trying to tackle the burden of electronic health records, a massive cause of burnout in healthcare.
As with any true cultural disturbance, the pendulum swings very hard to one side, but over time it springs back to itself. I think this year we had to go through everything so brutally that it was overwhelming.
But I also believe that once the pendulum straightens, we’ll see how the pandemic has brought the future of wellness into the present, and that will inevitably be a good thing.