Is there life after social media? – My digital detox month 📵

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

Have you ever felt like your phone was controlling you more than you were controlling it? That was me, until I hit a breaking point last year. Frustrated by the failed attempts to reduce my screen time and the feeling of being stuck in a digital world, I embarked on a digital detox journey throughout December – you can read about it here.

In this blog post, I’ll share my experience, the highs and lows, and the lessons I learned from reclaiming control over my digital habits.

👍 Positive changes from my detox

  1. Less, not more, loneliness. I never realised how much social media drained my social battery. After some time without it, I found it easier to go out and interact with people, and I certainly didn’t miss the FOMO.
  2. Better emotional awareness. I thought using my phone helped regulate my emotions, but it was just a distraction. After an unpleasant adjustment, I could recognise and process my feelings more healthily.
  3. A new morning routine. I thought I didn’t have one, but my morning routine was using my phone. Once I stopped, I found it easier to do other things, like journaling with a cup of tea.
  4. Effortless productivity & creativity. I could get a lot done in those little moments when I would normally pick up my phone. I also had the headspace to come up with my own solutions rather than seeking them online.
  5. Better rest. The quality of my sleep improved, and I found little breaks throughout the day more restful.
  6. Living in the moment. I found it easier to enjoy the everyday moments, and the time seemingly slowed down.

👎 Some of the downsides and challenges I experienced

  1. My digital habits migrated to other apps. For a while, I found it difficult not to replace social media with YouTube or even scrolling through my photos or messages. I found the ScreenZen app to be very helpful – read my review of the app here.
  2. The adjustment period. For some time, I felt irritable and bored and craved using my phone all the time. I needed to re-learn how to spend my time and be patient.
  3. The inconvenience. I was surprised how much I needed to use my phone to check the time, set the alarm or timer, use two-factor authentication, or pay for things.
  4. Missing out. Many events, such as local gigs or club and society events, are only advertised online. I found out about many opportunities after they happened, and even when searching proactively, most search results took me to social media sites, which often required logging in to access the full content.

My advice for those interested in doing a digital detox

  1. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Even if you need to use devices for work/study or if you slip up in your commitments, not all is lost – you can still majorly benefit from the experience.
  2. Tweak as you go. You may need to adjust your expectations if things don’t exactly go as planned, this isn’t a failure. Celebrate small successes and find what feels good to help you build sustainable habits.
  3. It’s not all bliss, but not all boredom, either. There will be moments when you’ll want to quit and moments when you won’t regret a thing. Your experience and everything you learn about yourself will be unique, perhaps the most valuable thing.

Take control of your phone with ScreenZen (before it controls you!) 📴

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Main positives: Free. Customisable settings for different apps. Motivating.

Main negatives: Take a bit of time to set up for each app.

Nowadays, smartphone users often find themselves in a losing battle when it comes to staying focused. Access to distracting apps has become so easy and habit-forming that we get lost in the digital world before we get a chance to make a deliberate choice. This is one of the reasons I decided to try a digital detox in December, and that was when ScreenZen came to the rescue!

What is ScreenZen?

ScreenZen is a configurable app that empowers users to set boundaries with their devices. Unlike traditional app blockers that restrict access entirely, ScreenZen introduces a novel approach by increasing the barrier to entry. By providing users with time and mental space to make conscious decisions about their digital consumption, ScreenZen naturally fosters mindfulness in the interaction with technology and, therefore, better digital wellbeing.

The app is entirely free and available for both Apple and Android users.

What are ScreenZen’s main features?

What sets ScreenZen apart is its remarkable customisability, and its main features are:

  1. Allowing you to choose a specific wait time before you open each app.
  2. Interrupting you whilst using selected apps after a set time (you can set different times for your various apps).
  3. Cutting you off when you’ve reached your daily time limit or pick-up limit (i.e. how many times you open an app each day) and even preventing you from changing the settings to get around it.
  4. Displaying a motivating message or remining you of more valuable activities to you.
  5. Introducing more mindfulness into your digital habits by prompting you to do breathing activities whilst waiting for the app to unlock, which also encourages you to reevaluate your need to use the app you’re trying to open.
  6. For the goal motivated, accessing streaks and other stats to track your progress and encourage you to stay on track, but only for the apps you choose, so you can still read ebooks or use your favourite meditation app without worrying about losing your streak!

My final thoughts on ScreenZen

Will I continue to use ScreenZen? Absolutely!

My favourite thing about this app is that it makes it easier to align my digital choices with my values and routines and can be useful to anyone. Whether you prefer strict limits or simply looking to cultivate awareness of your digital habits, ScreenZen accommodates these diverse preferences. The customisability features mean it takes a while to set up, but once set up, I found this app to be a valuable addition to supporting my digital wellbeing.

6 Tips for Successful Online Meetings 💻

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

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In today’s digital age, online meetings have become an integral part of academic and professional life. Whether attending a virtual lecture, collaborating on a group project, or attending a job interview, knowing how to navigate online meetings effectively is crucial for success.

In this blogpost I’m going to share some tips to help you navigate online meetings, and you can also visit this webpage for FAQs and training guidance on using MS Teams.

1) Prepare as you would for an in-person meeting

Online meetings provide the convenience of not needing to leave your house. This comes with the temptation to roll out of bed 5 minutes before the start of the meeting. To give yourself the best chance for success:

  • Dress as you would for an in-person meeting.
  • Give yourself some time to get mentally ready to avoid feeling rushed and get into the right headspace.
  • Take the chance to go over your notes, prepare any questions or gather any files you need to share.

2) Connect early

  • This will give you a chance to resolve any technical issues. Test your software, as it might require updates, causing you to have to restart the app or device.
  • You can use this additional time to ensure that you’re familiar with all the available functions in MS Teams, such as the chat, raise-your-hand, screen sharing and live captions functions.

3) Curate your visuals

Here are the top tips for making a positive, professional impression:

  • Choose a laptop over a phone or a tablet if possible. This can help with image stability, as well as allows you to take notes more freely. If you can’t access a laptop, consider using a device stand.
  • Position your camera at eye level, as this will result in the most natural-looking image.
  • Look at the camera rather than the screen when talking, particularly in group meetings. This is as close as you can get to making an eye contact.
  • Ensure that you have good lighting.
  • Choose the right background. Follow this FAQ for instructions on how to add a virtual background.
Screenshot showing the various virtual background that can be added in MS Teams
Virtual background and effects available in MS Teams

4) Optimise your audio

  • Opt for a carpeted and furnished room, if possible. This will result in a warmer, more natural sound without an echo effect.
  • If possible, use a headset instead of the built-in microphone to help improve with the quality of your audio.
  • Keep your microphone muted when you’re not speaking to prevent any unwanted noise.

5) Minimise distractions

  • Choose private, quiet spaces over communal or public spaces.
  • Silence notifications and inform others not to be disturbed if necessary.
  • There may be times when you need to step away from the meeting (e.g. if someone rings the doorbell), in which case let the people in the meeting know by leaving a brief message in the chat.

6) Mind What You Share

If you need to share your screen during the meeting it’s always better to share a specific window rather than your entire screen, but there may be occasions where this is unavoidable. In which case:

  • Close any irrelevant tabs.
  • Mute or close programs to avoid notifications or other pop-ups. Or alternatively, turn on the do not disturb mode.
  • Move, rename, or delete any sensitive bookmarks or files.
  • Consider deleting your cookies and search history if your browser shows previous searches or uses auto-fill.

Your Digital Identity Checklist: 5 Do’s and Don’ts 💼

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

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Taking charge of your digital identity is now more crucial than ever. Safeguard your privacy, strengthen your security, and unlock potential professional opportunities with the short guide below.

1. Review Your Privacy Settings

Take advantage of tools that allow you to display your content as it’s visible to your audience, customise privacy settings for individual posts or modify what information can be used to search your profile. You can read this article for more information on the privacy settings available on the most popular social media sites.

2. Share Thoughtfully

Don’t solely rely on privacy settings. Think before posting, considering the potential impact on your reputation and safety. Be cautious of content that could be misinterpreted or taken out of context, and don’t share sensitive personal information unnecessarily.

3. Monitor Your Digital Footprint

Regularly search your name online to assess available information. Consider setting up alerts for new mentions or content associated with your name.

4. Curate Your Content

Align shared content with your desired digital image. Remove or update outdated or irrelevant information.

5. Build a Professional Online Presence

Showcase skills and achievements on professional platforms, maintaining a professional tone and image in your communication. For example, you can add certificate of completions for LinkedIn Learning courses on your personal LinkedIn account. For multi-purpose platforms, consider creating separate profiles for personal and professional use. If you are interested in building a LinkedIn profile, a recording of the Careers Services’ LinkedIn session is available here.

For further information about managing your digital identity, you can watch the Careers Services’ session on this topic from the Digital Skills Festival.

Digital Decluttering: A Student Guide To Organising your Digital Spaces

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

Most of us engage with digital devices daily, and just like our physical spaces, they often become home to clutter, affecting our wellbeing and productivity. In this blog post, I will share the most effective strategies for reclaiming my digital spaces.

Preparing For Your Decluttering Journey

  1. Try approaching your clutter with curiosity rather than judgment. This will help you stay positive and better understand your digital habits. Visualise the positive impact decluttering will have on your wellbeing.
  2. Expect this process to take time. Sorting through years of accumulated digital content can be daunting, but sizing up the challenge and allocating the right time and space can make it more manageable.
  3. Start with the quick wins that will make the most immense impact with minimal effort. This will allow you to build up momentum and approach the more difficult tasks with empowerment.
  4. Consider any upcoming longer journeys as opportunities to make progress on your decluttering adventure.
  5. Deciding what to keep and what to delete may be challenging. Ask yourself what would happen if everything were to disappear?

Quick Wins: Small Actions Can Yield Big Results

Each of these 5-10 minute tasks is beneficial alone, but as you progress through the list, their impact compounds for greater effect.

  • Cleaning your desktop: Delete unnecessary files and find a home for the rest to achieve the bliss of an empty virtual desk.
  • Decluttering your apps: You might be surprised at the number of apps on your phone or desktop that you no longer notice. Uninstall any apps you don’t use to free up space and minimise distractions.
  • Customising your home screen: Make apps that you want to use often more accessible and hide ones that are likely to distract you by using folders. Consider adding shortcuts to quickly access lists such as shopping, gift ideas or business ideas lists, preventing you from adding to the clutter with every stroke of genius.
  • Reviewing your notification settings: Disable unhelpful notifications to avoid overloading your lockscreen.
  • Customising your taskbar and quick access bars: Delete or unpin features you don’t find useful to implement your organisational systems.
  • Cleaning your downloads folder: Eliminate unnecessary files and duplicates to free up space.
  • Decluttering your browser: Remove unused extensions and bookmarks to streamline your browsing experience and pin the tools you’d like to use more often. Consider clearing your cookies and cache to protect your privacy, keeping in mind you might get signed out or remove saved preferences on some sites.
  • Clearing your screenshots: The screenshot folder is often a catch-all for single-use files.

Read More

Digital Detox: Rebooting My Digital Lifestyle 📵

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

In my journey to digital wellbeing, I found myself at a crossroads, dissatisfied with the evolving relationship between technology and me. Once a source of joy for facilitating connections and enriching experiences, it gradually became a frustrating and anxiety-inducing presence. Attempting various strategies, from greyscale displays to setting reminders, proved futile; my devices continued to dominate my time, now laced with guilt and a sense of personal failure, far from the fascination of my early experiences with technology. What had changed?

Swipe Wars: The Smartphone Menace

In the early days of social media, logging in required a ritual—turning on the family PC, navigating through desktop layers, and patiently awaiting the slow progression of the digital world. That world could disappear at the press of a button at dinnertime or the first signs of an oncoming thunderstorm. Fast forward to today, and our devices are ever-present, always in our pockets, ready for instant engagement. The ease with which we unlock our phones without a clear purpose has turned habitual, a craving for the dopamine reward that digital interaction brings.

Initially confined to finite feeds, social media has evolved into expansive content platforms crafted to hold our attention endlessly. In today’s consumer-centric landscape, our devices are not neutral tools but deliberately designed to encourage frequent and prolonged use. While we seek engaging technology, the allure that captures our interest can sometimes work against our best intentions.

From Whoville to Screensville: How the Smartphone Stole Christmas

While invaluable in connecting us during lockdowns and holidays spent at a distance, our devices have also altered the nature of our in-person interactions. I vividly recall the post-pandemic Christmas spent with family, surrounded by screens, each of us engrossed in our digital worlds. It was a far cry from the planned festivities but a reality shaped by the omnipresence of technology.

My once-positive relationship with technology has now turned toxic, and breaking free from my phone’s grasp requires more than just free will.

Read More

Navigating Digital Wellbeing: A Personal Journey in the Digital Age

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

As a Student Digital Champion, I embarked on a quest to better understand our digital world and its impact on our lives. Despite acquiring knowledge about the tools and resources it offers, I was discontent with my relationship with technology. This discontent prompted deeper introspection and a lot of research, leading to a profound realisation: Digital Wellbeing isn’t a fixed destination but an ongoing journey demanding a diverse set of skills for navigation.

The Digital Revolution: Embracing Change Through History

Technological progress in recent decades has reshaped our lives. We’ve transitioned from clunky landlines to sleek, multifunctional devices that fit snugly in our pockets. This shift isn’t solely about convenience; it’s a fundamental change that has redefined how we communicate, learn, work and unwind. It has also brought concerns – digital reliance, information overload, and the impact on the health and wellbeing of digital natives.

Although not entirely novel, our current experiences echo past technological revolutions. Similar anxieties existed during historical milestones, such as the reading panic caused by the printing press; back then, the world grappled with an information explosion, much like we face today. Understanding this historical perspective sheds light on our contemporary challenges.

Unravelling the Intricacies of Digital Wellbeing

Digital wellbeing encompasses all facets of life affected by technology. Its complexity is fueled by the pace of digital evolution, individual differences in how we respond to technology and diverse circumstances. Thriving in the digital world demands a nuanced and continually adaptive approach. It’s not solely about restricting screen time; in fact, challenging the superficiality of such limitations might prompt us to engage with our devices mindfully and with empowerment.

Our Digital Wellbeing Matters

In a world where screens are omnipresent and connectivity is perpetual, our digital habits can profoundly impact our mental, emotional, and physical health. Harnessing the advantages of living in a digital era with healthy boundaries ensures technology enriches rather than overwhelms our lives. Prioritising digital wellbeing is an investment in our overall quality of life, empowering us to navigate the digital landscape with resilience, mindfulness, and a sense of control.

Exploring Digital Wellbeing Together

This blog post initiates a series focused on digital wellbeing. In the upcoming blogposts, we’ll delve into specific aspects, including maintaining ergonomic practices while using devices, understanding the impact of technology on mental and emotional health, and strategies for enhancing productivity in a digitally driven world. Our aim is to equip you with insights and tools to navigate your personal journey.

We hope to inspire you to identify the areas where improvements are possible and those where you find contentment. Let’s navigate this digital landscape together!