Digital wellbeing and privacy

Aims and objectives

This module will:

  • explain how online technology can affect your wellbeing
  • identify how to access support and services for your wellbeing at UQ
  • explore ways to be safe and responsible online.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the potential positive and negative effects of your digital activities
  • reflect on your use of online technology and use strategies to control it
  • understand the causes of inappropriate online behaviour and what actions you can take
  • control the information you provide online to protect your privacy.

1. The effects of digital technology

Our wellbeing affects how we think, feel, develop relationships and learn. Digital wellbeing refers to the impact that digital technology has on our wellbeing. The Internet, computers, mobile phones and online networks, entertainment and games are all a part of our everyday lives. Working, learning and communicating online can have both positive and negative effects on our wellbeing.

Don’t hesitate to access Student Support services if you are concerned about your health and wellbeing or want to know more. If you are in crisis, please seek help immediately. Student Support Health and wellbeing has emergency contacts, as well as programs and services to support your mental, physical and emotional health.

The good

Digital technology can improve our lives by making tasks and activities more convenient and efficient. We go online to get information, learn and get things done, like shopping and paying bills. We can communicate, connect with others and be entertained. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the three most popular online activities in 2016-17 were entertainment, social networking and banking.

In recent years there has been a rapid increase in the use of smart devices. These devices check our health, monitor fitness levels and track our location. They connect household equipment, like lights and coffee makers, to the Internet. In the future, Artificial intelligence and machine-learning may allow devices to learn our habits and adjust settings automatically. These devices are part of the Internet of Things (IoT), a network connecting traditionally non-digital devices to the internet and to each other. Read this explanation of the IoT from Forbes by Jacob Morgan.

The bad

Even though digital technology can improve our lives there can be some downsides that affect our wellbeing. These negative effects can cause us to feel distressed and anxious. They include:

Distraction

Many apps and online platforms compete for our attention, sending notifications and recommendations to draw us in. We interrupt what we are doing to see the latest post or message from friends or online networks. Stop letting push notifications ruin your productivity explains how notifications might be preventing us from doing our best work.

Think about the notifications you get when you are trying to focus. Try this task:

What can you do to manage distractions?

Professor Blake McKimmie’s Tip 1 Reducing distractions (YouTube, 36s) provides tips on how to reduce distractions while studying online.

Think about what distracts you and ways you could limit the distraction when you are trying to focus. You could:

  • Turn off your phone or place it in another room
  • Use an app or browser extension to help improve your focus. Some recommended tools:
    • Stay Focusd — a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites
    • AppBlock — download this to your device and then select applications that distract you when you are doing important jobs and keep their notifications off for a certain time
    • Pomodoro timers — This technique involves focusing for lengths of time, with breaks in between. Learn more about the Pomodoro technique
    • Forest — available as an app or Google Chrome extension. You click to plant a tree but if you leave before 30 minutes is up, your trees dies.

Sleep problems

Blue light from computer and phone screens has been connected to problems with sleeping, and long periods of computer use has been connected to eye strain, a condition which can cause problems with eyesight later in life. When looking at a screen we tend to blink less because of the way we concentrate and this can also cause eye problems.

What can you do for sleep problems?

There are steps you can take to reduce eye strain and blue light exposure:

  • Take regular breaks from your screen
  • Use inbuilt features to change the colour temperature of your screen automatically —
  • If you don't have an inbuilt feature, download a program such as f.lux to change the colour temperature for you
  • Consider getting a physical blue light screen filter for your device, or, if you wear glasses, blue light filtering lenses

Think you might not be getting enough sleep?

Read strategies for managing sleeplessness from Student Support.

Study/work/life balance

Multitasking on the Internet and constantly dealing with emails and social media messages can cause stress and anxietyAustralians spend nearly 40 hours per week online. That is roughly the same amount of time as a full-time job. Most courses at UQ expect 8 to 10 hours of work per week so that becomes 40 hours of study for four subjects. With study, shopping, paying bills, online gaming and online networking you are likely to have to spend much of your time online.

What can you do to get a better balance?
  • Try to set aside time to do online activities you enjoy or that are relaxing so it is not all work and study
  • Do activities away from your screen when you can, like walking, playing sport and cooking
  • Check the relaxation techniques recommended by Student Support.

FOMO or the Fear Of Missing Out

FOMO Horror Movie trailer (YouTube, 2m18s) from CollegeHumor is a humorous look at FOMO.

FOMO is an anxious feeling that others are having good experiences without us and it leads us to want to stay continually connected with what others are doing. FOMO is associated with lower mood and life satisfaction. FOMO can make us want to keep checking our phones and social media in the middle of lectures or assignments, when we should be focusing.

Social media platforms are designed to trigger FOMO in users. Even when we are connected, we feel anxious when others don’t respond, leave us on ‘read’ or don’t ‘like’ our posts. Others have more followers, likes and shares.

Social media can have a negative efect on our wellbeing when we compare it to our own lives. People post about exciting things they do and have. Everyone seems to be living their #bestlife and your own life can feel inadequate in comparison. We forget that social media posts are often highly edited, show just the highlights and don’t reflect the true reality of anyone’s life.

What can you do if FOMO is affecting you?
Feeling lonely

Student Support recommends strategies for loneliness to help you view your situation differently and improve your social support networks.

Get a balanced view

Beyond Blue recommends a balancing act. Follow people and content that informs or inspires you or makes you smile. Unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel good.

Check for content or groups that might interest you at UQ:

  • UQU Clubs and Societies — many clubs and societies hold online events and discussions
  • Virtual Village — a new version of UQ Mates, where you can connect with people in online forums, group hangout spaces and set up and attend online events.  
Digital nutrition

In the past experts recommended the digital detox but when a large part of our lives is conducted online it can be difficult to do. Digital nutrition aims to promote a healthier relationship with digital technology where we become “more mindful and intentional" about our online activities. Some tips for promoting digital nutrition include:

  • Check how much time you spend on apps and websites. Try —
  • Do a digital declutter — unfollow people or pages that “don’t spark joy” and unsubscribe from email lists that are no longer useful
  • Set a digital curfew — decide what time you will stop looking at your phone at night and stick with it.

Trolling, cyber abuse and privacy breaches are also negative effects of using digital technology and will be discussed in more detail in the next sections.

Duration:   Approximately 20 minutes


Graduate attributes

Knowledge and skills you can gain to contribute to your Graduate attributes:

Effective communication Effective communication

 Critical judgement

 Ethical and social understanding


Check your knowledge

Check what you know about this topic:

Take the quiz

Support at UQ

Access UQ services to assist you with personal or study-related issues.