The Reading Room

Digital – friend or foe?

As print newspaper sales and associated ad revenues inexorably decline in much of the west, the media industry has for some years put its hope for the future in digital. While Pew Research Center reassures us that in the U.S. 93% of adults get news online, that the space has become a host for both legacy news outlets and web newbies, and digital ad revenue continues to grow, there is a new worry in town.

It is that our digital addiction is making us miserable. With the NHS dishing out record numbers of antidepressants and the World Health Organisation saying 4.4 per cent of the global population is suffering from depression, Robert Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist with a background in neuroscience, in his book The Hacking of the American Mind, published next month, believes this digital contribution could be key. Apparently we need to put down our phones and sleep.

Contemplating this and Lustig’s book in the FT, Izabella Kaminska, says: “This state of global psychological misery runs counter to the message that greater digital connectivity, faster access to goods and services and instantaneous gratification through frictionless systems is the pathway to universal happiness. Have the peddlers of high-tech systems, in their obsession to quench our short-term desires for their own profit, inadvertently become part of the problem rather than the solution?”

Founder of digital detox specialists Time To Log Off, Tanya Goodin, who is also an author, speaker, and, heaven forbid a digital entrepreneur, tackles this in her new book OFF which offers us all “a digital detox for a better life.” She tackles the modern phenomena of people picking up their phones 150 times a day and spending more time on screens than they do sleeping. Eyestrain, raised anxiety and stress levels, neck and back pain, and yes, apparently they make you depressed too, she says. But, writing in Female First, she opts for the moderation-in-all-things approach: “You don’t need to give up your phone completely to make some improvements in your health. A regular digital detox – a short period of time where you don’t use screens at all – will help you reduce any of the symptoms that you may have been noticing. Good luck!” Which is good news for all of us who enjoy our digital news fix, and the media moguls who have put their trust in this path to a sustainable future.

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