Tag Archives: mental health

Digital and society – true love or an unhealthy obsession?

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

Reflections from a bursary winner

In his book ‘The Rise of the Humans’, Dave Coplin  expounds that technology is neither good, nor bad. It is simply an amplifier of whatever we, as society and individuals, choose to use it for.

The media however certainly seem keen on amplifying the negative aspects of our relationship with technology, with often rather sensationalist reports of children as young as seven ‘sexting’ , a mental health “epidemic” in young people being directly attributed to social media usage, a decrease in the age and an increase in the severity of reported loneliness  an increase in divorces attributed to gaming addiction and claims of reducing memory and attention spans in young people and adults alike. Indeed it’s not just the media reporting these bad news stories. Numerous academics and researchers have produced literature reinforcing this rhetoric. I myself spent six months researching the impacts of digital technology and devices on ‘millennial’ learners and their ability to learn and retain information for my Master’s degree. Whilst my findings were not as negatively polarised as those of writers such as Nicholas Carr, Sherry Truckle and Susan Greenfield, I did conclude that there could be significant impacts on individuals and wider society if we fail to exercise caution, control and discipline when using digital technologies and if we fail to pass these skills onto new generations.
I feel I must defend myself a little at this point. I’m not anti-technology or anti-digital. I work in the field of IT, I have a passion for digital technology and I love the convenience of my digital devices and streaming services. I fully-support Coplin’s theory – it is our adoption and attitude towards and use of digital technology that is causing issues in society, not technology itself.
Positive applications of technology can save lives, help us to protect the planet, bring people together and introduce all manner of convenience and efficiency into our working, social and family lives. I don’t believe that we’re creating a new generation of zombie-like device-users incapable of building real life human relationships or employing critical thought. I have met twelve year olds that have astounded me with their common sense, intelligence, curiosity and yes, technical capabilities. The student who gave the opening and closing speech for Coplin’s lecture at Warwick School could have stood in front of any corporate board room and held his own.
I genuinely believe that today’s young people have as much talent, promise and potential as any other generation but that the technological advancements and the amount of information readily available to them, literally at their fingertips, gives them both advantages and disadvantages. Indeed Pew Research Centre concluded their in-depth 2012 research study into the future of technology with the somewhat inconclusively titled report “Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives“.
In my research, the evidence suggested that those who are able to efficiently use social media and other technologies and practice ‘multi-tasking’ when it is appropriate to do so, stand to do well in today’s digital society and workplaces. However, it is also apparent that if left unchecked and unmanaged, the issues we are seeing in society could continue and increase in prevelance and severity, creating negative knock-on impacts and detracting from the positive impacts.

I attended a talk by Adam Thilthorpe of the BCS at Business Analysis Europe 2018 in September courtesy of a UCISA bursary, in which he discussed what he termed the ‘unintended impacts’ of technology – those negative impacts discussed above. He raised the question of where the responsibility lies in pre-empting, identifying and mitigating against such impacts. When companies develop their media and communications platforms, I think we can fairly safely assume that they are not doing so with the intention that 11-year-olds will use them to send ‘sexts’; this is an unintended impact of the technology they have created. On the other hand, there are organisations who may exploit anxieties such as fear of missing out (FOMO), self-esteem issues and device addiction to market and sell products and services.
This raises a number of questions. Who should – or could – be responsible for identifying, pre-empting and mitigating against unintended and/or potentially unethical impacts of emerging technologies? Is it the responsibility of technology companies? Businesses? The Government? Educational Establishments? Parents? Individuals? Pressure groups? All of the above? And how do we begin to pre-empt such impacts when we are dealing with new, disruptive, previously-unseen technologies being released into an ever-changing society?
As a society we are experiencing an unprecedented rate of technological change. We are innovating incredibly quickly and have adopted digital technologies readily and intrinsically into our everyday lives. However, our legislation, regulation, educational systems and social and cultural norms are still changing at the same rate; comparatively slowly. It seems that we have been somewhat blindsided and as such have possibly not put in place measures to enable digital technologies to always be adopted and integrated into people’s lives in a productive, safe and useful manner. At the same time, we are so enamoured with our digital devices and applications and the convenience and opportunities that they bring, that we may not be pausing to consider the unintended and long-term impacts and effects of them.
In her 1979 book ‘Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love’, Dorothy Tennov coined the phrase ‘Limerence’, which she defined as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.” It’s that period of a relationship where your brain is producing a heady cocktail of Dopamine and Oxytocin and the object of your attention becomes your sole focus. It’s the stage where strange habits, bad behaviours and the wider impacts of focusing on one person to the exclusion of all else seem insignificant. That wonderful phase where their window-rattling snores seem adorable and your friends barely see you for six months.
It seems that as a society we are in a state of limerence with technology. We overlook the wider impacts, the bad habits, the potential problems, the metaphorical duvet-stealing, because we are hooked on those little hits of dopamine and oxytocin that are released every time we get a ‘like’ on a photo on Facebook or a connection request on LinkedIn – the exact same checmicals that are released during the limerance stage of a relationship. Indeed neuro-economist Adam Penenburg’s research centres on drawing parallels between the chemicals released when using social media and those released when falling in love. Interestingly, just like with limerence, there are also elements of addictive behaviour displayed when using digital platforms such as social media. Indeed Smartphone and gaming addiction are now recognised as distinct social issues with 73% of the 2016 OFCOM report’s 16-24 respondents professing to be ‘hooked’ on the device they use most to go online and ‘gaming disorder’ being recognised as a mental health condition by the World Health Organisation.
The question this raises is what happens when we fall out of limerence with digital technology? When we come down from that heady chemical rush, will we still be in love and will the relationship still be sustainable?
The media spotlight on some of the social issues in recent years and the acknowledgement by health organisations of some of the health impacts of unhealthy technology suggests that we’re starting to edge out of limerence and into the stark reality of our ongoing relationship with digital technology. Perhaps we’re starting to want to reconnect with our old friends ‘Walk in the Countryside’ and ‘Conversations around the Dinner Table’ who we dropped in favour of the alluring blue glow of our smartphone screens in the late 2000s. Perhaps we’re starting to assert our independence a little, creating screen-free times, rather than being slaves to our devices 24/7. Perhaps we are thinking about how we can strike a balance between our online and offline lives.
As Stephanie Sarkis states: “Time heals the intense pleasure (and suffering) of limerence… in a long-term relationship, it’s when things start getting real.” It’s safe to say that this is a long-term relationship, a multi-generational one in fact. That’s why it’s so important that, as with any relationship, we work out what we want from it, how we can manage and balance it and how to ensure that it is a long, beneficial, happy and healthy partnership for everyone involved.
This article first appeared on Rachel’s blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Open scholarship challenges

Alice Gibson
Research Publications Officer
Library & Archives Service
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Post-conference reflections on FORCE2018

Introduction

Further to my post ‘Planning to get the most out of FORCE2018‘, written before attending the conference through a UCISA bursary, I have been back from Montreal for over a fortnight now and have had time to reflect on the key points I have learned from the experience, as well as how I wish to integrate this into my professional work moving forwards.
I participated in a publisher-led conversation about what support we might want to see from them regarding open access books and was encouraged to submit a poster at the conference, which I found to be a beneficial experience. Standing by this during the poster sessions led to several engaging discussions with people from across the open scholarship environment, from a lawyer, a fellow researcher, librarians and publishers. I found it encouraging that people with a variety of outlooks, coming from a variety of professional backgrounds and personal interests, could also appreciate the positivity of Creative Commons licences and consider the ways in which their use can be extended beyond academia, in addition to across the research and teaching process.
In my previous write-up, I said I was particularly looking forward to Asura Enkhbayar’s presentation linking Wittgenstein and scholarly communications. I found this humorous and insightful, and it was great to see it appreciated by a room full of enthusiastic attendees on the first session of the first official day.

Asura Enkhbayar presenting ‘Throwing away the ladder. Wittgenstein’s philosophy and and scholarly communication’

Central Themes

Over the course of the workshops and presentations (from October 10-12, 2018), I was struck by the proportion of the challenges that were discussed in an international setting that are the same as those that we face in the UK. This convinced me that the move towards open scholarship is a global challenge that we must tackle from both local and international settings.
What follows is a brief summary, in which I seek to highlight my conviction that the academic reward structure must be revisited as a matter of priority to ensure that the effect of associated procedures are not detrimental to the progression of open scholarship or the mental wellbeing of academics. The failure to protect either of these is also the failure to ensure the flourishing of the pursuit of knowledge in our societies. It seems to me that one constructive way we might confront such a challenge is by doubling down on our efforts to further existing commitment for essential initiatives like the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

Open Access and Academic Reward and Recognition Policies

A theme that struck me throughout the conference was the need to ensure that mission statements of institutions and reward procedures align with initiatives prioritising open research.
Erin McKiernan’s excellent presentation demonstrated the extent of the disparity between academic promotion procedures and open research. I was alarmed by the results, which showed that words that appeared regularly within tenure review documents include ‘public’, ‘community’, ‘public engagement’ and ‘community engagement’, all of which have close affiliations with open research, whilst only 5% of analysed documents directly mention ‘open access’. Moreover, when such documents mentioned ‘open access’, they often did so with neutral or even negative connotations. This highlighted to me that the challenges we face in Europe are shared by institutions in North America, and most likely, also elsewhere. It consequently convinced me of the need to direct extensive efforts in this area, particularly towards encouraging a culture shift in those who are empowered to revise reward procedures.

Erin McKiernan presenting ‘A look at public engagement, publication outputs and metrics in the tenure review process’
We ought to combine this ongoing effort with those that guide researchers who are earlier on in their careers, who are most receptive to adopting good practice, which can have a ripple effect, informing the practice of their colleagues. As such, Dominique Roche’s presentation ‘Open data: nice people can’t share!’ (summarised in his poster to the left) touched upon a welcome topic by examining why researchers might be hesitant to share their work. An understanding of this can help drive a culture change that works from the ground up.

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

Returning to the findings of Erin McKiernan’s presentation, these led me to consider a theme that emerged at an open access meeting in London (known as the ‘London Open Access Network’, or ‘LOAN’ meeting) the week prior to the conference.
At this meeting, a colleague shared thoughts on an event that took place in September, ‘Mapping the Future of Research Assessment’ at Imperial College London. This event (#ImperialDora) associated the theme of review procedures with the need to consecrate the ethos of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) (of which London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a signatory) with institutional policies. Many stakeholders are working to improve good practice within this area, striving to promote real change in research assessment, but challenges remain. The Imperial College event highlighted, as outlined in Elizabeth Gadd’s post on the LSE Impact Blog, the need to ensure that such practices are not in conflict with the necessity to protect and foster mental health within Higher Education environments, amongst staff and students alike. This seems to me an area that we at LSHTM, a School that underlined our commitment to tackling stigma surrounding mental health by signing the Time to Change Employer’s Pledge, have to take seriously.

LSHTM Open Access Week – Screening ‘Paywall the Movie’

One event that LSHTM ran for our open access month series was a screening of the movie ‘Paywall: the Business of Scholarship’ (in which many attendees of FORCE2018 are featured!). In the post-screening discussion, one member of staff noted the continued and problematic use of impact factors in review procedures. This prompted an interesting discussion within the room similar to that which took place during many of the presentations at FORCE2018, notably, during the questions after Elisabeth Shook’s presentation ‘Thanks, Sci-Hub!’.
This too convinced me of the global commonality of such issues within Higher Education. The theme of impact factors (created by Eugene Garfield for selecting journals to include in the Science Citation Index in the 1960s,) which are no longer deemed credible, was examined in another engaging session at FORCE2018 by the bibliometrician Stefanie Haustein, who ran a metrics literacy quiz on Twitter during her talk. Within her talk, Stefanie highlighted that the impact factor is mentioned by one fifth of Canadian and US universities in review, tenure and promotion documents, despite having widely been recognised to cause harm to scholarly communication by causing ‘salami publishing’, ‘citation cartels’ and fostering a problematic ‘publish or perish’ mentality.
Overall, the event reminded me of the shared work that we have to do as a community concerned with open scholarship. It left me feeling lucky to reside in London (although Montreal was beautiful to see in the Autumn!) where participating in such a community can occur with relative ease thanks to networks like ‘LOAN’ bringing together workers promoting open research in various institutions. In the meantime, I would encourage individual researchers and organisations to read and sign DORA and express these values when they hear of the use of impact factors to make unjustified claims for the quality of research.
This blog first appeared in the LSHTM Library & Archives Services blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

We are all human

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Reflections on mental health from this summer’s conferences

Our users are humans, and so are we.

Inspired by some of the heartbreaking, challenging and thought-provoking stories I read on World Mental Health Day, here’s a breakdown of one of the themes that emerged from the conferences I attended this summer: UX Scotland, IWMW  and UX Week (the latter funded by a UCISA bursary).
These were my takeaways from the talks, case studies and throw-away lines that tugged at my heartstrings, and reminded me that before we can truly take care of our users, we need to take care of ourselves, and each other.

From Kevin Mears’ sketchnote for ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’

Know yourself and own it

“Introverts are ace​”

Half way through opening IWMW with her talk ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’, blew me away. Her voice cracking, she confessed to just how difficult and uncomfortable it was for her to stand up in front of us and talk. But here she was doing it anyway, and she’d done it hundreds of times before.
Her experiences were so much like mine it was uncanny: she’d faced crippling social anxiety, low self-esteem and depression; she was convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with her, and embarrassed by that, so the whole thing became self-perpetuating. She’d rarely dare speak up in meetings, so how did she transform herself into an articulate public speaker, and become Head of Digital then Head of Marketing?
The answer: someone believed in her enough to send her on a leadership course, where she learned from a speaker she respected and admired that he also struggled with nerves every time: turns out his distinctive relaxed-but-confident pose was actually his way of dealing with the discomfort and getting through his talks.
Alison took this revelation as evidence that, while it wouldn’t get easier, she too could find ways to put herself across clearly and inspire an audience. That self-belief led her to success.
I took three lessons from this:
  1. Believe in your introverted colleagues: shy-and-quiet doesn’t mean nothing-to-say.
  2. There’s value in being able to recognise yourself in others you admire and are inspired by, so look for it and be open to it.
  3. There’s value in openness: share your struggles and you will inspire others.
“For those of you that are introverts, I’ll not see you in the bar later!”

“Humans are cursed with human brains”

When stress overloads the human brain, it can become “deeply focussed, to the point of distraction” and reverts to pattern-seeking behaviour, as Laura E. Hall  explained in her UX Week talk on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond’ (which I briefly covered).
As designers, if we observe our users enough we can predict their stressors and mitigate them. And if we listen to them enough we can come to understand their behaviour and design for it.
It’s the same in self-care, with mindfulness — thinking about our thinking — as the key. Whether we’re intro-, extra- or ambiverts, and whether or not we’re also affected by poor mental health, the more we develop our self-awareness, and the more objectively we review and reflect on our actions, their causes and their outcomes, the less our brains can hijack us.

The problem of perfectionism

“It’s good to have ideals, but don’t be an idealist”

This was no. 4 in Alison Kerwin’s ‘10 Things’. Working in digital, we have access to an enormous amount of user data that isn’t available in other areas. Understanding this data helps us identify problems and what we might do to fix them but it’s just as important to understand the politics of our organisations and the interweaving priorities of our stakeholders.
For our sanity’s sake, we have to accept that we can’t fix everything. Instead we must be pragmatic and learn when to push and when to let things go.

“You will make mistakes”

And that’s fine, as Andrew Millar made clear in his IWMW talk ‘Stress…and what to do when everything starts falling apart. He pointed out that, whether the drive to achieve perfection is internally generated or the result of external pressure, the very concept of perfection is an illusion anyway.
Book-ending his moving personal story of learning to cope with a panic disorder, Andrew called for a culture change. There’s a lot we can do for ourselves, and for each other as teammates and managers, but employers must also take active steps to tackle work-related stress and its underlying causes.

One of many zingers from Steve Jobs’ 1997 WWDC talk

Beating imposter syndrome

Award-winning Hollywood Production Designer Hannah Beachler gave the opening keynote at UX Week. Hannah was headhunted by director Ryan Coogler to bring to life the Afro-futuristic nation of Wakanda for Marvel’s Black Panther. The $200 million movie was of course wildly successful, not least because of the entire civilisation she built, that persists in imagination beyond the edge of the screen.
How could someone who moves in those kinds of circles, and whose work is sought after and celebrated by so many people possibly doubt herself? But she did, and she talked inspiringly about faking it ’til she made it.
Meanwhile, another great point from Andrew Millar’s IWMW talk on stress highlighted the importance of both getting and giving an outside perspective: so that’s another vote for keeping yourself open to favourable comparison with your heroes, and for sharing your truth.

Possibly my favourite slide of the summer, from Andrew Millar’s talk on stress.
As for me, I’ve previously written about my in-the-moment tactics for beating imposter syndrome. I’m less affected by that now but still an introvert so, while keeping an eye on my energy levels and letting myself flop when necessary, I actively look for ways to trick myself into socialising.
For example at UX Week, where delegates get a notebook with a blank cover and there are prizes for the best designs, I decided to crowd-source mine by asking at least 20 random people to draw me a dog 🐕 It was a great conversation starter and I ended up with 27 dogs, a load more friends and contacts, and a runner’s-up prize — woot!
If you please, draw me a dog!

In summary

  • Know yourself and own it
  • Accept that perfection doesn’t exist
  • Share and share and keep sharing
  • We are all human.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.