Digital Wanderlust: Staying Safe and Sustainable Online

I invite you to close your eyes and travel back in your mind to the last time you remember wandering. Where did you wander? How did you feel?

Some of my favorite places to wander are museums and library exhibits. I find a deep sense of calm joy looking through archives and pages for information. When looking through a library, I can see the physical shelves that hold archives of information. I know the information has been librarian-approved. I can see the walls, and I know that even though there is a lot of information to be found, I have to stop when I hit a wall.

Now imagine the same information and how ­­it’s presented online. Information overload occurs when people are exposed to too much information to process at any given moment. An abundance of available information online can make a quick quest to the internet feel more like climbing Mount Everest.

Online environments and social media apps cater to what is known as the attention economy. In this view, human attention is a valuable resource and scarce commodity. We pay for information and advertisements with our time and attention. Many digital environments are designed with hooks that cater to those of us humans who are prone to wanderlust. Intimidating places are still great to explore, but better to prepare the experience more enjoyable.

Where do the potential dangers lie in your technology interactions?

The same potential for the wanderlust of information exists online, but navigation requires a different set of tools. Digital Wellness is a lifestyle that integrates body, mind, and spirit to promote optimal health and well-being within the human, natural, and digital communities.

When traveling in digital spaces, we can use digital wellness to develop our knowledge and skills to experience a sense of digital wanderlust. Digital Wanderlust refers to the desire to safely and sustainably explore online environments.

How can you prepare yourself and your community to flourish while using technology, despite these dangers?

By simply recognizing that there will be dangers and learning how to prepare and react, we can move our lives from a feeling of digital overwhelm to a sense of digital wanderlust.

Chart your Course For Communications

While digital technologies exponentially increase our ability to connect, this comes with an unfortunate side-effect. Have you ever felt that feeling of always needing to be connected to your device?  This feeling is familiar to many, and it is a result of an Always-on Culture, where everyone expects everyone else to be available and online constantly. One solution to counter this unintended cultural shift is a proposed Right to Disconnect. The Right to Disconnect suggests that it should be a human right for people to disconnect from work and not engage in work-related electronic communications during non-work hours.

We all have a Right to Disconnect, especially when called to wanderlust, but sometimes there’s a catch. That right can often come with the responsibility to communicate before you disconnect. You wouldn’t up and go on a travel adventure without telling your most important people when and where they can reach you, but communicating via digital technology is not always effective.

A digital filter occurs with the weakened transmission of visual and auditory information during communication on digital devices. Nonverbal cues such as body language and eye gaze are especially vulnerable to being filtered out when using digital devices.

A great tool you can use to let other people know when, where, and how you will be communicating is a communication charter. A communication charter is a set of guidelines you can use to foster conversations and understand digital communications.

You create a communication charter by listing each person’s name in the team, whether it be work or family members or another group. Next, discuss which shared core values will help guide your communication and collaboration. Since everyone has different needs, a great practice is to set expectations on digital boundaries. What are each individual’s working hours, and when are they available or not available to talk? Next, write down how people prefer others to reach them. Finally, discuss accountability and what to do when issues and exceptions arise.

CLEAR Out Your Digital Environments

Every time I’ve set up a tent for camping, I have had to clear away a flat space so that I am not sleeping on rocks or puddles. It is similar to digital environments. When it comes to human environments, we can break them down into three areas of experience: Physical environments, virtual environments, and social environments.

Physical Environments

The Digital Wellness Collective suggests the “CLEAR” method to optimize your home office. The clear process presents five action steps you can take to prepare your physical environment for digital work. Clear stands for clear, lift, eliminate, activate, and refresh. To practice clear, start by clearing your desk and inbox of clutter. Next, lift your computer to avoid tension, Eliminate distractions. Activate a designated workspace in your home. and Refresh your space with nature.

Virtual Environments

While designers may have the best intentions, it is impossible to decide default settings that will work for everyone. When decluttering your virtual environments, consider your attention, as well as your storage space. For example, you can regularly reassess which notifications you’d like to receive or silence. You can also archive old emails to help you see and focus on the most critical communications and current to you.