What does Digital Health look like?
The New Year is famous for resolutions. Gym memberships spike, diet plans’ popularity rises and numerous self-improvement commitments abound. With Americans widely reported to spend more than seven hours a day online, the time’s arrived to also consider digital health.
The ways we interact with digital devices have a profound impact on our creativity, efficiency and productivity. Studies commonly tie technology behaviors to the quality of mental and physical health.
When reviewing the state of your digital health, and identifying areas for potential growth and improvement, it’s important to consider all related factors. Digital health elements include the devices you use, the software you employ and your technology habits and behaviors. Your cybersecurity, backup and disaster planning practices also contribute, in significant ways, to overall digital health. And those with children assume additional technological concerns.
Just what practices constitute healthy digital practices and behaviors?
Audit Your Equipment
Start by ensuring you work using contemporary equipment and software. The longer a device—whether a smartphone, tablet or computer—is left in service, the greater the likelihood the device will experience an unplanned outage, become incompatible with newer operating systems and applications and potentially introduce cybersecurity risks. Similar troubles plague older, outdated software.
Take an inventory of the software and services you use and the hardware upon which you are dependent. Older smartphones often cannot run the most current cybersecurity protections and features. For example, iPhone 11s cannot unlock the device using Face ID if you’re wearing a mask, a common practice as the flu, RSV and COVID combine to create a “tripledemic”.
The older a tablet, laptop or desktop, the greater the risk of software incompatibilities and security vulnerabilities, too. While cost consciousness is often a healthy habit, multiple sources suggest it costs more to maintain a computer after four or five years of service than it does to purchase a new replacement. Resulting unplanned downtime and associated support and repair costs justify replacing outdated equipment before a failure occurs or other issues are introduced. While you may not need a new device every couple years, remaining relatively current pays dividends.
Cybersecurity practices are another important component of digital health. Multiple government agencies and industry authorities recommend always using reputable antimalware software, filtering email to help prevent virus-laden attachments and nefarious phishing messages from being delivered to your inbox and protecting networks using firewalls that help filter and prevent malicious traffic from entering the local network.
The US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, commonly known as CISA, recommends all organizations adopt specific “foundational measures” to improve their digital postures, including implementing multifactor authentication (MFA), patching and updating known security vulnerabilities and suspending some common bad practices. Among the poor habits CISA recommends firms correct are the use of unsupported and end-of-life software, weak passwords and single-factor authentication.
The agency also publishes and maintains a wealth of information for individuals and organizations. The guidance is intended to encourage and guide healthier digital behaviors. The agency’s Cybersecurity Training and Exercises, Best Practices and Recommended Practice Documents are a sampling of resources individuals and organizations can employ to help protect digital infrastructure from unauthorized access, infection and corruption.
As an individual, if you travel or use public WiFi networks often, consider investing in a reputable VPN service, which is another step in improving digital health. Organizations should already be using VPNs for employees working outside the office, as a VPN encrypts a device’s communications and protects such sensitive information as corporate logins, proprietary and personal data, bank and financial transactions and similar prized information from unauthorized prying eyes.
Digital Work Habits
Focus is important, too. Yet our work environments and social media are proving to be increasingly distracting.
Robust digital health in 2023 includes considering your tech habits. Entrepreneur John Rampton, in an Inc. article, presents 15 tips for increasing professional productivity. In addition to recommending you stop multitasking, cease permitting incoming calls and email to dictate your day and disable notifications, he also presents steps for minimizing interruptions.
The Indeed job site’s experts concur. The recruiting firm‘s Mental Focus article reinforces the importance of eliminating distractions, such as by remaining offline, keeping your phone in another room and working alone in a quiet environment. The career site also cites many of Rampton’s same recommendations, including scheduling regular breaks and taking time to exercise, whether away from or at your workstation.
Social Media Impact
One digital element widely tied to heightening anxiety and depression risks is social media. A recent study published in an academic journal confirmed taking a weeklong break from social media often lowers feelings of anxiety and depression.
Those with children bear an additional digital health responsibility: providing healthy family technology guidance. The US Department of Education provides a free Family Digital Learning Guide to assist parents in monitoring and guiding the way children use technology for learning.
A Boston Children’s Hospital Digital Wellness Lab survey, meanwhile, revealed many families report having no rules restricting screen time and that, while adolescents view social media as a positive method of connecting with peers, they also admit social media interferes with sleep, family activities and schoolwork. The survey notes that, in many ways, the finding contradicts the pervasive understanding adolescents recklessly create, share and view information using their digital devices.
What can parents do?
The Digital Wellness Lab recommends parents, guardians and caregivers alike consider the survey’s findings and discuss digital device and media use with their children. The digital health foundation also recommends implementing a shared media use agreement to set responsible and appropriate digital health guidelines and expectations.
Backups And Disaster Planning
Integrating recommended backup and disaster planning routines is another element that directly impacts digital health. Hard drives fail. Laptops are lost or stolen. Desktops experience corruption.
Safeguarding your files, photos, videos and other information is an important component that should be approached purposefully and intentionally. It’s no longer enough to simply run an antivirus program and store data in the cloud. Ransomware—a scourge IBM confirms grew 41 percent last year—often eludes antimalware protections and travels to cloud storage and renders those backups unusable, too. In fact, IBM’s report noted 45 percent of cybersecurity breaches were cloud-based.
Subsequently, proper digital health in 2023 requires individuals and organizations consider maintaining “air-gapped” backups that aren’t physically connected to a network or, at a minimum, adopt advanced threat protection-powered antimalware, cloud-based services that guard against ransomware infection and data recovery and business continuity plans that permit recovering needed information as quickly as required, should a disaster occur.
As we become increasingly dependent upon technology, and as digital devices and services increasingly become more ingrained within our daily routines for work, school and pleasure, it’s important to regularly review and adjust corresponding behaviors to maintain a healthy balance. Should you have questions, reach out to Louisville Geek. We manage and support technologies in a variety of circumstances and wrestle with the same challenges as you. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned. You can reach our technology experts at 502-767-3855 or by emailing [email protected].