Between conducting business and pursuing personal entertainment, our reliance on the internet is at an all-time high. Whether it’s keeping up with our favorite shows, following the news, logging on for virtual meetings or taking a livestreamed yoga class, having an online presence has become nothing short of an almost constant necessity. Yet for many of us, our virtual lives aren’t something that we devote much thought to. We scroll through newsfeeds, we enter credit card information, we provide our email addresses and birthdays, we struggle to come up with creative passwords, we post our photos, and we remain somewhat out of touch with just how reliant we are on our phones and other smart devices. Being online has become almost as routine as breathing but adopting such a complacent attitude can be dangerous. While the rewards of having an active online presence might be high, it’s important to stop and assess the potential risks of our digital behavior and make sure that we’re acting as safely as we can.
Stay conscious of how much time you spend online.
Even before COVID-19, Americans were spending an average of just under six hours a day on their phones. When you add in the digital hours spent at work as well as time spent streaming TV shows, playing video games, participating in virtual classes and more, the average person can easily log double-digit figures for hourly screen time per day. With COVID-19 keeping us more homebound than ever before, being conscious of just how much time we’re spending online is critical. It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of endless scrolling and clicking and reducing your daily online time can be challenging. A great place to start is checking your phone’s Daily Device Usage. By keeping tabs on how many hours per day you’re using your phone and which apps are snatching up the most of your time, you can start taking steps to balance your screen time with “unplugged” activities like walking, reading, and more.
Actively monitor how your internet usage impacts your mental health.
The internet allows us to stay more connected than ever before but connection isn’t always a good thing. Having hundreds of thousands of apps and websites at our disposal means that we’re subjected to an endless assault of information and this “digital clutter” can significantly impact our mental health. Taking steps to prevent overwhelm can be as simple as turning off push notifications for certain apps, temporarily deactivating social media accounts, unfollowing or unsubscribing from sources or users that tend to rant or fixate on negative subjects, deleting apps that you haven’t used in a while, or simply being more attuned to how you’re feeling while using your devices. Are you scrolling through your newsfeed because you want to check in on your friends, or are you bored and on auto-pilot? Does the content being shared by certain accounts or websites bring you more anxiety than information? By monitoring why you’re online, you can begin taking steps to live an online life that’s less stressful.
Be aware of how much information you’re providing.
Nearly every action you take online requires you to provide personal information. This information, also known as Personal Identifiable Information or PII, includes everything from your email address and phone number to your credit card information and username/password combos. If this information falls into the wrong hands, the results can range from mildly annoying (receiving an influx of spam emails) to financially catastrophic (having your bank accounts hacked). Leading a digital life without divulging any PII is unrealistic, but there are easy steps you can take to make sure that your PII is protected.
With Americans’ internet usage increasing substantially every year and COVID-19 pushing us into the digital world at a much faster pace than we ever anticipated, our online lives are here to stay. By balancing our screen time with unplugged activities and prioritizing the protection of our personal data and our mental health, we can live those lives in a healthy, conscious manner.