Digital fatigue as a disease – check yourself for signs of illness


The term “digital fatigue” in Russia does not sound very often; in our country it is used in a purely utilitarian aspect, for example, when discussing the outflow of customers of online cinemas who suddenly decided to spend time on the street and not buried in the screen. Digital fatigue is perceived by many as being immersed in information on device screens, filling your day with information that you might otherwise have safely missed. And everyone can easily explain this term to you.

But in its original version there is no digital component, but there is information fatigue syndrome (the concept appeared in 1996, it was introduced into everyday life by the American neurophysiologist David Luce). He described a person’s reaction to an excess of information that is constantly and daily coming from the outside, which leads to the paralysis of analytical abilities. A person begins to “overeat”, the received informational food is not assimilated, and he tries to cram more and more into himself. A person’s behavior changes, as he consciously searches for information and tries to get as much information as possible, even those that he does not need, are unnecessary in everyday or professional life. This is gluttony at the buffet, where the taste of dishes is often not so important, but attracted by their very presence and variety. This syndrome manifests itself in increased anxiety, often accompanied by insomnia. A person cannot stop and continues to consume information, which leads to paralysis of critical thinking, as a result, his actions are impulsive, do not have a minimum degree of comprehension. There is no time left for processing information, since the flow fills a person’s consciousness and he tries to cope with it.

In almost a quarter of a century, information fatigue syndrome has transformed into digital fatigue, as this phrase more accurately describes the process, takes into account the devices that are associated with it. When we talk about information, we mean, as a rule, our smartphones, which are capable of splashing this stream on us at any point and at any time of the day or night. Digital fatigue and implies that people are tired of devices, want to abandon their use or limit it. That will automatically lead to a decrease in information flow, as if we turn off the tap.

Is there a digital fatigue issue or is it contrived? You just need to look into the settings of your smartphone to see how often you receive notifications, how many times during the day you unlock the device and how much time you spend with it.

Digital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illness

They often write to me that the batteries in smartphones work very little, since a person has to charge the battery from time to time during the day, and on average he spends 5-6 hours behind the phone screen. To understand the magnitude of this figure, you need to remember that we have an 8-hour working day in our country, and it turns out that some of us spend all the time on the phone. It is impossible to imagine that this is any one event. A smartphone has everything you can imagine – chatting with other people, videos, books, browsing the Internet. And all this is information in its purest form. We consume information much faster and in greater quantities than our parents, they simply did not have access to such a volume of data that they are always at hand. In theory, this means that our generation should be erudite, possess a variety of information that we consume. In fact, this is not at all the case, because most of the information can be called digital chewing gum, which fills our brains and does not carry anything new.

For example, on Instagram there is an opportunity to see what other people “read”, to whom they follow, what their interests are. Statistics show that American users spend almost an hour a day on Instagram (data for 2018, fresh data from other sources is the same).

Digital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illness

For me, Instagram is an opportunity to see what my acquaintances are doing, where they are, and virtually keep in touch with them. There are also those whom I personally do not know, but whose photographs I like.

Digital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illness

I looked in the profile, I am subscribed to 384 accounts, and this is a lot, since I do not have time to view the entire feed, I almost never have the strength to do this. Just like in other social networks, my feed has turned into a fairly selective viewing of information – by searching to see events in the accounts of specific people, but not flipping through everything that appears in the feed. There is no time, energy and desire for this.

But there is another scenario for the consumption of content on Instagram, people follow strangers who like to upload their images. I don’t know what the beauty of viewing other people’s photos is, but while preparing for this article, I looked through dozens of accounts where all subscriptions are clearly strangers from all over the world. Involvement in someone else’s life? Viewing bodies and pieces of bodies that their owners are posting?

The same “stories” on Instagram are an attempt to retain attention, to make the service more attractive, because the photos in such stories disappear, they last no more than one day. It forces people to come in over and over again, watch all the stories so they don’t miss anything. This behavior perfectly describes the syndrome of information fatigue, sooner or later this dish becomes boring, people get tired of looking at the same type of things every day. By the way, in the Instagram settings you can see how often you use the application on your smartphone. I average about 15 minutes a day, which is not much. And this is taking into account the fact that I manage to post several photos during the day, also a kind of form of digital exhibitionism and the opportunity to share moments from life with friends and acquaintances.

We are overwhelmed with information, my day begins early in the morning with reading the news. The first device I pick up is a smartphone. Not really waking up yet, I check what happened overnight, read the news feeds and gradually come to my senses. As for me, this is absolutely wrong, but for me it is the cost of the profession. I also fall asleep under the smartphone screen, reading the last letters and planning an action plan for the next day. I, like many other people, can be safely called a slave of the lamp, only it is high-tech and not devoid of a certain charm, sometimes useful.

The only time when I am not immersed in the phone so often is on vacation, I try to abstract myself from the flow of information, to emerge in order to get emotions from real life. On vacation, I limit communication with a smartphone, since there is always something to do, where to go, what book to read. In everyday life, work is tied to a smartphone, and it is impossible to get away from it. As I write these lines, the line from the Erasure song “I love to hate you” is spinning in my head. This is approximately the same attitude to a smartphone, without it anywhere, but you get tired of it. The same digital fatigue that has imperceptibly entered our lives.

I used to read the entire Twitter feed, it took a couple of hours during the day. But now I cannot afford such a luxury, and information is often secondary, in some ways it is information noise. This is a great way to while away five to ten minutes, like leafing through a magazine on the table. But this is not a way to receive information from the outside. On the other hand, when I write something, I always read the answers and comments, as I am interested in feedback. So for this material, I asked about how you understand digital fatigue, and received four dozen answers on a given topic. Many answers were very interesting, I will cite some of them.

Digital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illnessDigital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illnessDigital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illnessDigital fatigue as a disease - check yourself for signs of illness

Please note that the answers accurately describe the very same information fatigue syndrome, we consume too much information, and often it is meaningless for us and our life.

The main question to ask is what to do? Manufacturers build time control into smartphones, you can set restrictions on applications and the time of their use, but these are all crutches. You need to try to change your life, your approach to information and what is important and what is not.

Easier said than done, it must have flashed through your head. In fact, it’s not that difficult, you just need to prioritize. What is more important to you, the news feed on your smartphone or your children, which are nearby? The answer does not imply ambiguity, the majority will answer unambiguously and simply. But then what about those 5-6 hours of screen time? The truth is that we rob ourselves and lose the best moments of real life, which is happening here and now. It is not on your smartphone screen, not behind your computer screen. Life is around us, and smartphones should be just an assistant, but not a substitute for this life.

If you have a headache, insomnia and other signs of digital fatigue, then it’s time to get some sleep and reconsider your outlook on life. Do not change your habits in one fell swoop, change gradually and tell yourself exactly what you are doing and why. What do you want to achieve. In my experience, there is no point in wasting time on social media and reading the entire stream of information. This is a wasted time that could have been lived in a completely different way.

Tell us about your tricks for dealing with digital fatigue, and whether you have it or not.

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