digital wellbeing

CONTENTS

CHANGES IN THE BRAINRECLAIM YOUR MINDDECLUTTER VS DETOX
DATA AND PRIVACYGOING OLD SKOOL
THE TOOLBOXMY BLOGS
last updated: 24/04/22

introduction

welcome to digital wellbeing. this page is intended to be an accessible resource for anyone out there who has concerns about their relationship to technologies and the internet - whether this is your first brush with the concept of digital wellbeing, or if youre numerous years deep into trying to reclaim your mind like i am. this page refers to general internet usage, social media use, and smartphones/other portable devices with internet connection, but this can also apply to things such as video games or television.

while these things are incredible inventions and provide us with amazing benefits, i believe it is important to realise and combat when our usage is becoming addictive, and inhibiting areas of our lives such as mental health, relationships, hobbies, work, and general day-to-day. ive been an active user of the internet, social media, and smartphones since i was nine, from around 2006. the speed at which these things have developed, coupled with the lack of foresight and awareness about how addictive these things can be, has led to development of behaviours akin to addiction. i observe these behaviours in just about every single person i meet. ive grown frustrated and tired of these behaviours and i am trying to change my habits for the sake of my future.

i want the internet and my devices to be tools to help me navigate, communicate, and create. i dont want these things to be places where my psychology is transformed and used against me to benefit large companies.

CHANGES IN THE BRAIN

who remembers adverts warning parents that their children will get squared eyes if they watch too much television? the idea of too much screentime has always been a worry no matter what form it has taken. where the internet has developed so rapidly over the past thirty years, and how smartphones with their instant access to the internet at any time and place have developed alongside social media over the past fifteen years, humanity has allowed itself to be whisked along its growth without any foresight into how these things could be affecting our psychology - as the benefits for business, connectivity, and knowledge are too great to try and subdue. if i turn on my television today, i will watch an advert where UK mobile networks promote endless social media scrolling.

[[endless social media]] [[zoom in of the guys face]]

as a teen, i was using the internet in a pocket of time where parental controls did not really exist for smartphones and social media. my parents couldnt control how much time i spent on these things, or what i was looking at - in fact, they were too busy falling down their own pool of addictive behaviours as a result of unchecked internet use. no generation is taught how to keep the internet and devices that can access it at arms length, as tools - and so everyone can, and almost certainly will, form a negative relationship to these things. i fear what will happen to those who cannot even remember a life without social media or smartphones. for the past decade, children have been growing up watching their parents and general public fall into this addition, and some are even starting to begin their very own terminally online addiction too.

as an adult, i suffer from behaviours which i perceive to have a direct link to my development alongside the internet, smartphones, and social media. specifically, i have difficulty with concentration, focus, and a fragmented attention span. when i am at my job, or i have implemented the various tools i have explored on this page, i am capable of very deep focus - but in the presence of the internet, i have extreme difficulty not falling into a mindless spiral and fragmenting my attention. i found that this started to happen around the time i started using smart devices. this is because instead of waiting until i was seated at a computer to use the internet, i could use it the second i woke up in bed, on the toilet, while eating food, waiting for the bus, on the bus, at school - i could use it anywhere, and thus far more frequently. i saw my screen more than i saw my actual life.

this fact is dangerously coupled with how social media and most aspects of the internet as a whole is structured to keep you looking at it for as long as possible. when people refer to negative aspects of social media, this is often limited to the 'dopamine hit from getting likes', but it also applies to the simple act of scrolling and consuming. intensified by endless timelines, explore pages, top posts, recommended for you, which are tailored to you by gathering data to keep you looking, the mind learns to crave new posts which scratch a dopamine itch for something funny, scary, opinion-affirming, or whatever youre unconsciously seeking. the more often you do this, the harder it is to scratch that itch, and the easier it is to fall into mindless scrolling. this can manifest itself as:

  • ☹ unconsciously opening new tabs and going to frequently visited pages
  • ☹ having the ability to search/google unimportant fleeting thoughts or queries that threatens to fragment your attention
  • ☹ endless scrolling through news, shopping, blogs, and videos.
  • ☹ mindlessly checking emails and direct messages
  • ☹ i even find myself doing similar things on neocities, mindlessly scrolling around hoping to find a new site that will excite me.

    the issue is that i now do these things mindlessly, unintentionally, and endlessly. common issues such as procrastination of work or anxiety inducing tasks or situations lead my mind to see doing this as an easy way out, especially as theres a slight guarantee ill get a positive reward. its gotten to the point where even the slightest amount of stress or anxiety experienced when i have access to the internet is enough to trigger some kind of mindless scrolling as a distraction.

    this is only one small facet of the ways in which an excessive use of the internet can affect a person. ive not even touched on aspects of doomscrolling, bingewatching, comparison, self-esteem, misinformation, echochambers and cult like groups, cancel culture, etc. perhspas in the future, i will expand this page to explore these other aspects in more detail. i also think that too much screentime overall leads to issues with connecting to the real world. as i mentioned, most of my free-time as a teen was spent looking at a screen, and i ended up with dissociative-like symptoms for a long time until i started to conciouslly force myself away from excessive screen use. it has been suggested that screentime is negativly impacting childrens capacity for mental imagery. of course tv existed before smartphones and tablets, but the issue is some children rarely experience time without them now. i work in retail and i have seen countless toddlers and children in prams being wheeled around holding tablets and watching those god awful passive "learning colour videos" from youtube... many children are spending more time on screens than away from them. if i think i have issues connecting to the physical world due to screen usage as a teen, how will it affect humans from infancy? this problem is already starting to arise through the playing of video games in virtual reality, and now mark zuckerberg himself is investing in the so called "metaverse", described by him as 'the suceesor to the mobile internet'.

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  • RECLAIM YOUR MIND

    "theres a hidden goal driving the direction of all the technology we make [...] every news site, TED, elections, politicians, games, even meditation apps, have to compete for one thing - our attention - and theres only so much of it." - tristan harris

    focus and attention

    • turn off all notifications. not just on your phone, but on your computer. comb through every app, software, and website and make sure youre only receiving critical notifications. if you use a smartphone, this is essential and id reccommend keeping your phone on silent/do not disturb by default - even hearing or seeing a notification is enough to fragment your focus.
    • block time away from screens, or the internet, while trying to focus on a task. if you know you need to complete a task, give yourself a set time (for example, 30 minutes) away from the screen/internet using a timer or one of the tools. itll always be there when the time is up, and youll have completed or focussed on something important without a distraction.
    • try using website blockers. on smartphones, most OS now have a 'downtime' feature or something similar. this will help you stay focussed when you unconsciously try to open sites or apps that you are trying to get a dopamine hit from. for desktop, many browsers can install website blockers. i have a couple listed in the toolbox, and i especially recommend leechblock. as a last resort, you may simply turn off wifi.
    • ♥ check out the declutter section for more ways to remove unnecessary digital distractions.

    embracing the ways of the old web and pre-smartphone times

    • leave social media, or drastically reducing your use of it. this tip will show up in just about every section. i left instagram and only use twitter/tumblr to post artwork professionally, and i find its easier for me to concentrate as using leechblock i can no longer access these sites. if you will keep social media, remove these apps from portable devices like smart phones.
    • if you post online, consider making your own website. this allows you to control every aspect of the design and content of it, and there are no restrictions if you choose to learn various coding languages. in the toolbox, there are resources to help you get started.
    • changing to a featurephone - feature phones are generally slower to connect to the internet (if theyre capable of it) and have less distracting functions. if youre anxious about making this switch, maybe try using one when you go to familiar places or with friends. you can read about my own experience doing this here. if this is not a possibility for you, try leaving the smartphone at home occasionally, or when in the house, keep it stored in one location of the home only.
    • bring a book - replace larger periods of time you might spend scrolling through your phone, for example before bed, or on public transport, with reading a book. i read on my commute to work, which totals 1 hour of reading per day. in the UK, you can join a library for free.
    • try some things on paper - instead of journaling, making to-do lists, or brainstorming in your phone, try doing it on paper! i carry one small notebook with my everywhere, where i can jot down ideas or check train times without risking falling into a mindless scrolling rabbit hole. at home, i have a couple other notebooks - one as a planner, and another to journal or plan ideas. most of this page, and the designs of this website, were all done on paper. for artists, try keeping at least one physical sketchbook, even if it is just for sketches, studies, and thumbnails.

    general time apart

    • having hobbies outside of screens and that connect you to the physical world is important. find something youre super passionate about that has the ability to override the temptation of a screen. this can include walking, exercising, sewing, gardening, reading, dancing, repairing, socialising...
    • promise not to pull out your phone unless in emergencies around friends and family. we are humans and we are built to connect with the people in front of us. even in moments of silence, stay away from the phone. when you start doing this, you might feel salty at first by seeing others using their phones instead of paying attention to you. try and encourage them to join you and explain why, and remember that theyre going through the same addictive problems as you.
    • make dedicated time away from technologies. similar to the tip in 'focus and attention', except apply this to times in your day where you use screens/internet mindlessly. this could be while eating, waiting in lines, on public transport, before/after you sleep, etc. consider experiencing these times as they are without the additional source of attention.
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    DECLUTTER VS DETOX

    to detox, in the context of digital wellbeing, is to spend time away from technologies. to declutter is to permanently remove unwanted aspects of technologies. in cal newport's 2019 book digital minimalism, he outlines this difference, and how to declutter your digital habits using a 30 day digital declutter. to do this, you identify your critical technologies - for example, work communication - and abstain from the rest for thirty days. you must fill this empty space with leisure, solitude, and the discovery or further clarity of your values, wants, and needs. at the end of the thirty days, you reintroduce technologies ONLY IF they align with your refreshed sense of your values, wants, and needs.

    this is only a brief summary of the book. in september of 2020, i attempted this declutter. in my account of that month, a big takeaway for me was that i needed to treat my devices and online accounts more like the tools they were intended to be, rather than the unwelcomed external body parts that had slowly grown into. i needed to think of how i can use them to benefit me, as a creative who loves to share things and discover - rather than have them be used without an intention and have the companies behind them instead benefit from my mindlessness.

    in my general life, i embody something similar to the konmari philosophy - to only keep things in your life that spark true joy- and this is also something that is associated with newport's own digital philosophy. minimalism is off putting to people as they misinterpret with a visual of a grey, empty room, but for me to be minimalist is to only keep things in my life that are useful or that 'spark joy'. i dont keep things that mean nothing to me, are inessential, or cause me problems. newport defines a digital minimalism' -

    "a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else"

    while newport was referring mostly to digital habits, i also think theres a second way to go about a digital declutter. imagine your desktop, or phone, is actually a room. in my life, my room is a very organised place. everything has a home and a purpose, and i ensure it is tidy everyday so that when i return home i am welcomed by a space i love that offers me a peace of mind. i think the digital homes we create should invoke a similar feeling, especially if they are places we spend a significant amount of time. consider this a thirty minute version of newport's declutter.

    • organise and regularly purge files, bookmarks, and downloads. i used to have an extremely messy desktop but every month i have a day where i clean both my physical and digital space thoroughly. i get rid of anything thats not useful or important to me, and organise what i have left into relevant folders.
    • uninstall applications or software you no longer use. if they have accounts attached to them, try and remove those too. you can use justdeleteme to aid in the removal of accounts.
    • unsubscribe from all the useless shit in your email inbox. again, the link above may help.
    • curate your feeds. on any site or app where you "follow" others, without looking at these sites, write down every account youd like to keep up with. once youre done, go to these sites and unfollow any account that didnt make it onto this list. you can write down accounts for future reference, for example, i have a list of creators on youtube who make royalty free music - but i visit the channels when i am in need of the music, im not subscribed. if you must, most sites allow you to mute accounts. consider creating an RSS feed, or a bookmarks folder, that allow you to visit these sites without having to visit some kind of timeline.
    • if you havent already, download an adblocker to remove these unnecessary extra visuals while browsing.
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    DATA AND PRIVACY

    advertising is nothing new - in real life, theyre everywhere and are placed to target a group of people - but online, it becomes a little more sinister as adverts target you personally. the majority of websites can record everything you do. they record what you search, where you are, your device, your basic information, how long you spend looking at something, what you click, and more, and use this information to build a profile on you and target adverts towards you. this is how social media tailors its recommended feeds towards you, but this data collection and targeting is used across the entire internet.

    this is just a small fraction of the profile google had built on me over the years.


    (if you have a google account, you can view yours here. almost all of mine was accurate. except for blues because i dont listen to that shit lol)

    this profile, as stated on the page, is formed using basic information id given them upon sign up (my name, birthday, location, and gender), how id used their services (the things i googled, or watched on youtube), and from how i browsed sites that 'partner with google' - which looking at this profile, seems to be just about every site id ever visited. ive since turned this off and am making moves to mostly remove myself from using their services, however even after you turn things like this off, they are still collecting this data. i realised this years ago when on youtube, they had started showing me recommendations even after i had the setting turned off. i have found that shopping online leads to these products i had viewed appearing on other unrelated sites as adverts. when i used to use instagram, i found that a lot of art, vegan food and sustainable products, video games, lifestyle adverts, makeup and clothes adverts where finding their way into my feeds. this was based off of who i followed and what i searched, and the posts i was viewing and liking, and the information they already have being that im a young female. sometimes, i didnt even realise they were ads. i occasionally got ads based on my location - even though i had this setting turned off.

    im pretty sure everything im saying here is common knowledge, and is actually included in most site's privacy policies and terms and conditions. for most people in fact, this isnt even a point of worry. however, i find the gathering of personal data in this way to be a cause for concern as it feeds extreme consumerist habits of those who are susceptible; and its also been shown that this data can be used to change people's way of thinking, particularly politically. the 2019 documentary the great hack, and facebook whistleblower sophie zhang suggest that the data collected on people had allowed certain organisations and groups to use this data to help sway political views and elections, by targeting certain profiles theyd identified.

    though big tech companies, such as apple or meta, promise that they do care about our data and privacy, i am still vary wary of what could become of the information that has been gathered on me since i was a teen, and likely until i die. though the information is quite generic, algorithms are constantly getting smarter and more specific. our names, ages, emails, passwords, addresses, and other details are scattered across the web and could be used against us should they fall into the wrong hands.

    as i learn more, i hope to add more information and resources to this page. for now, here are some tips:

    • dont share anything online that isnt absolutely necessary. especially if you are young. ive seen too many bios, tumblr about me pages, carrds, and even now neocities pages filled with excruciating detail on a person, listing everything from their mental illnesses to their job and family history. youre not a fictional character, you are a real person and you deserve privacy. if you feel pressure to reveal personal information, this is a red flag and you need to leave that community.
    • leave or drastically reduce the use of social media, especially meta services. facebook, instagram, and whatsapp are all owned together and can transfer data about you between the apps, making targeted ads and your data profile more specific.
    • stop using google services as much as possible. as explained, google is linked to just about every website on the net and is a data magnet. consider using a different web browser to google chrome, and no longer using google as a search engine. visit the toolbox for various alternatives. stay logged out of google services as much as possible, and if you can, move services. this will knock a big dent in what is recorded about you. (more to come hopefully!!)
    • do not use smart assistants. do not use things such as cortana, siri, amazon home, google home, alexa, or whatever "smart assistant" that can learn from the things you are asking it.
    • use a VPN (virtual private network) - a vpn helps keep your data private. more info here.
    • turn off any permissions for microphone access and camera, and only allow access when you are to use it.
    • avoid logging into/signing up to sites unless you are using the service (ie to checkout, to post, etc.), and if you can, use services as a guest. wont necessarily do a whole lot, but it can help add a bit of a filter to how much information ends up stored into your account about you. not signing up means less companies have a hold of your email address, name, address, card details, full name, and phone number.
    • avoid buying and browsing from big companies - try and buy from small and independent business who dont have the power to sell your data to big companies and follow you around the web.
    • ♥ if you havent already, download an adblocker.

    the reality of using the internet in the 2020s is that you will never be completely safe from tracking, data collection, and privacy violations. in short, i feel that avoiding large search engines, social media, and shopping online is a good way to cut back on how much is gathered about you.

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    GOING OLD SKOOL

    consider this section a short follow up to the previous section about data and privacy, and is a little bit of a tangent on how to stop consuming and buying so much online which can feed into the collection of your data and be a cause of attention fragmentation

    my recommendation is to overall go a bit old school. write on paper, abandon cloud services, download instead of stream...because sometimes, convenience is the enemy...

    theres also a collection of tips in reclaim your mind which fall into this category, and vice versa.

    • stop using streaming services like netflix and spotify. the convenience of these services is alluring, of course. however, these services are unpredictable and remove content all the time, and spotify is notorious for paying artists dirt (allegedly, itd take over 263 streams of a song just for an artist to earn $1USD). still working on this one myself. what did you use before netflix and spotify? well...
    • use physical media, or download media online. by physically owning something, or having downloaded a file, you now OWN THAT THING FOREVER. it wont disappear off an unreliable streaming platform, and you can share with friends :o) i personally tend to buy either second hand, or from the artist directly. whether you choose to go down illegal or legal routes to access certain entertainment is up to you, of course... all you need is a little time, patience, and skill.
    • in general, learn more about consumerism. reduce what youre buying and consuming, as chances are, you dont need or truly want 90% of it.
    • avoid earphones, and dont constantly listen to music. maybe a strange one but if youre at home, try and listen to music through speakers. i have been trying this recently instead of blasting my ears everyday for 5 hours with music while i work. im doing this to give my ears a break (they get blasted enough at concerts and parties), and to be in touch with the environment around me while enjoying music. i have found that im much less likely to mindlessly skip through music. i also am a person who finds it helpful to my workflow to have music on in the background, but ive learnt it has to be a very specific style and genre for this to be an aid over a distraction. i also no longer listen to music on walks, so that i can firstly be aware of my surroundings, but also so i can spend time with my thoughts.
    • avoid using cloud services, or uploading online to transfer files. this is something im still working on and didnt mention in the privacy section, but i think im stating the obvious when it comes to how unreliable cloud services (such as icloud, google drive, etc) can be. these services can come down at any point, your files are at risk of being hijacked and stolen (how many leaked nude news stories have we witnessed over the past few years). i wouldnt rely on these services to hold your files. i try to keep everything on at least 3 separate harddrives (including the ones already in my computer/laptop), and some other bits on a couple USBs. if i need to transfer files, i use these drives. i have an iphone and can transfer photos/videos by connecting by USB to my computer. other types of files i have to email to myself.
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    THE TOOLBOX

    a round up of the links provided on this page, as well as some other bits. if any links are broken please let me know!

    website blockers

    • leechblock - a FREE website blocking browser extension. it is highly customisable and flexible. it works on chromium based browsers and firefox.
    • forest - a smartphone app with a browser extension version which allows you to pick an amount of time to focus. in this time, you are growing a virtual tree. if you leave the app (or on desktop, access a banned website) your tree will die. brutal. student me owes this app a lot lol
    • hide twitter trends - removes "whats happening", "who to follow", and "topics to follow" from twitter. for chromium based browsers.
    • unhook youtube - allows you to remove features such as recommended, comments, likes, and more on youtube. for chromium based browers, firefox, and edge.
    • ublock origin - blocks adverts, popups, and some tracking. you can also use it to block elements on a page, for example, follower counts. works on a variety of browsers.

    privacy

    • nordvpn - a well trusted but paid VPN
    • free VPN services + some to avoid
    • spyware watchdog article catalogue - while i dont necessarily agree with this sites definition of spyware, i do think its worth checking out their list of web browsers, search engines, messaginging clients, social media, and other services and how they collect and use your data.
    • data big tech companies have - a simialr link to the one above, its good to check out the detail theyve collected about the data google, facebook (includes instagram and whatsapp), amazon, apple, and twitter collect on an individual
    • how to install and configure ungoogled chromium - ungoogled chromium is what it says on the tin...google chrome but without all the google tracking ur whole life
    • duckduckgo - private search engine alternative
    • 10 minute mail - a disposable email address
    • temp-mail - a disposable email address
    • justdeleteme - a directory of websites and how to delete your accounts from them... well, if that site allows you to, of course...
    • alternatives to big tech platforms and programs - a compilation of alternate OS, search engines, browsers, and many other facets of everyday internet use. i hope to check out more of this stuff myself soon.

    making a website

    • htmldog - html and css beginner tutorial
    • w3schools - amazing site for html, css, and other languages tutorials and tools
    • ezgif - gif maker, and how every gif on this site was made
    • image colour picker - upload an image, and get the hex code of any colour in the image
    • website inspiration - check out these sites i follow on neocities and get inspired :o)

    read/watch/listen list

    • the social dilemma - a documentary with commentary from many ex-big tech workers and outlines the consequences of social media's design. mirror 1
    • how a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day - tristan harris aka my favourite whistleblowing master of human persuasion ex-google employee
    • ★ cal newport's digital minimalism - how to philosophically approach how to have technologies in ones life
    • the dangers of data collection - a brief summary of what can happen to the data you put online
    • the great hack - an exploration of how data company cambridge analytica used social media to help influence the 2016 US election. mirror 1 mirror 2
    • ★ an introductary video with olia olania on archiving the early internet and some history if youre new to neocities and dont know about geocities...maybe send 2 friends who dont know shit
    • join a library - (UK only) in the UK, you can get a free library membership and take out books for free. you can also get books in from other libraries for £1. you only have to pay this fee, and any late fines. might vary across UK

    • ☆ james clear's atomic habits - a book about how to build and breakdown habits. useful not only in a digital wellbeing context, but in all aspects of life.
    • ☆ marie kondo's konmari method - i mentioned how i follow her philosophy of discarding anything that doesnt spark a genuine joy inside you, and though her philosophy is mainly used in decluttering homes, i believe it can be applied to anything in life, including one's digital habits. she has videos, a best selling book, and a brief explanation here on her philosophy.

    further reading by fellow neocities neighbours

    • sadgrl.online's cyber cafe - an excellent starting point for anyone looking to change the way they use the net. includes resources on building a site, archiving sites, bypassing paywalls, and a shit load of links
    • make the web great again on koshka's kingdom - has an amazing explanation of what the web once was, and a selection of other articles such as boycotting big companies and alternatives to them, site making resources, and some other interesting pieces.
    • that white hand - a site with a wealth of articles on helping one regain some of their digital privacy back.

    other

    • playlist randomizer - a site that you can input youtube playlists and have them actually be shuffled as youtube seems incapable of doing it well. the playlist must be set as "unlisted" or "public" in order to work.
    • youtubemp4 - a site to convert youtube videos to mp3 or mp4 files. you can also input playlists - you cannot download the playlist in one go, but you can see all the videos so it frees the time you would've taken finding each individual link.
    • ytmp3 - another site to convert youtube videos to mp3 or mp4 files.
    • yt1s.online - another converter cos u can never have enough. use with an adblocker.
    • wayback machine - visit snapshots of websites throughout history, including sites that may no longer exist
    • video game music - a place to listen to and download video game music. you can download individual tracks free, but for entire albums, you need an account.

    THINGS IM LOOKING FOR/PLAN 2 DO

    • ? software or sites to make cool playlists on a couple years ago, my brother who is into older tech got me an mp3 player. i have been using it a lot more recently and it encourages me to download more music. i have been using musicbee to make my playlists on, and sometimes i even write them down on paper!
    • ? alternatives to office as i cba to pay and want to avoid google docs/sheets/slides i have been using openoffice!
    • ? change operating systems, and avoid windows 10/11 like the plague
    • ? have a feature-phone, and keep my iphone SE (2016, and is my current phone) as a backup. i changed to a feature phone! you can read about this here.
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    R U AN ARTIST ON SOCIAL MEDIA??? CLICK HERE!!!!!!!!

    UPDATED AS OF 13/03/22!!!

    MY BLOGS

    these blogs document in detail my personal experience with trying to improve my relationship to technology and the net.

    thank you for reading this page. i hope that is has been useful or provided some food for thought. if you would like to contact me about anything on this page, i would love to hear from you. my email is lauren [at] omoulo [dot] com, but you may also message me on twitter or through my guestbook.

    if you found this page useful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi.

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