Too much digital: Is it just as bad for us as over-eating?

Binge Watching

Germans spent an average of almost 4 hours a day consuming digital media in 2013. That’s enough time to take a cross-country train from Frankfurt to Berlin, complete a marathon, and in some cases, birth a child. Is this constant stream of content actually good for us or is it all just…empty calories?

“Digital obesity” is a relatively new term hitting close to home for many people. With so much information, data, and content inundating us on everything from our smartphones to petrol station TV screens it’s hard to know when we’re really “full.” Academics have been complaining for years about the pitfalls of too-readily-available information and the long-term result of a hyper-connected, inherently disconnected world.

Sure, all this digital consumption is a marketer’s dream. The public is glued to one screen or another for hours each day which provides endless opportunities for impressions, broader reach, and social sharing. Not to mention the adoption of Wi-Fi 4G in some countries, which has enabled many consumers to be connected at all times of the day no matter where they are and on numerous devices at the same time. This, in turn, drives the content-creation machines to push more and more empty bites (bytes?) into the marketplace for absorption. And so the cycle continues.

But just as physical obesity is now recognized as a global health issue, digital obesity is quickly making its way into the conversation. Physical obesity, a condition suffered by over 500 million adults worldwide, costs governments and employers hundreds of billions of euros to combat each year. However, many have started to wonder if so-called digital gluttony is not only part of the weight problem, but a serious issue in its own right. Most of these people dash off a quick Tweet about it then go back to gorging on YouTube.

Media companies are increasingly investing in “cravability” as a business model—feeding the public demand for more and more and more digital treats, from GIFs to infographics to videos of pandas falling down. It’s most often innocuously referred to as “user engagement” but in truth, it’s all just a measure of how addictive the product is, whether it’s savored via mobile app or ingested through a streaming video service. The question is, can all this digital snacking really be good for us?

As we all become morbidly obese with digital information, deeper issues arise over whether we should do something just because we can. For example, do we really need recaps of TV shows and comprehensive Twitterspehere roundups when we’re already strung out from watching so much TV while simultaneously surfing Twitter? Probably not.

It seems every day we inch closer to having Facebook-compatible microchips implanted directly into our corneas, but quietly, consistently the move towards offline interaction has begun. Ironically, there are now vacation packages, apps and websites that exist for the sole purpose of keeping us off the internet, providing self-control when it can’t be summoned internally. The good news is though, if you’re still hungry for data it’s always out there waiting for you to plug back in.

Originally published by OMG MediaPulse, April 2014



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