talkhealth meets... Dr Rachael Kent

One thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us is more time with our tech. With people pushed to digital detoxes and others combating loneliness with instant messages, we wanted to understand how the pandemic’s reliance on tech has affected our health.

One thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us is more time with our tech. Ahead of her webinar, Dr Rachael Kent answers our burning questions about the pandemic and tech...


When did you realise that you were interested in the relationship between Covid-19 and technology?

As we transitioned into lockdown 1.0 in the UK lots of our lives started to be managed from inside the home. We became digitally saturated as so many of our life domains became mediated via our digital devices. I wanted to explore this new saturation, and how we as individuals, citizens and users of digital tech navigated this tech overload. I was interested in both the opportunities and the challenges that would evolve because of this tech overload.

Why is tech so important to modern healthcare?

Health has become such a diverse and intangible concept in the current digital age. Technology affects how we see and understand our own and others health and bodies. Our health is mediated via social media, health tracking tools and online health guidance. It is almost impossible to remove technology from our daily health practices in this pandemic and algorithmic age.

How can we deal with the increasing digitisation of society?

It is important to remember that we’re living in a digital economy that wants our attention across as many converging platforms as possible. It is also very important to be aware of the fact that regulation has not been able to keep up with the exponentially expanding personal data economies. In the context of COVID-19 health guidance, algorithms have continually driven us back to seek more ‘guidance’ whilst we have to simultaneously navigate a tsunami of misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories. My job as a researcher is to recognise the increasing integration of technology and health, and how to evolve with this whilst always recognising the techno-commercial infrastructure of digital platforms.  

In your opinion, what have the pros of technology been throughout the Covid-19 pandemic?

Digital technology is helping connect people during isolation by creating new intimacies. But it is also creating pressures of productivity and performativity towards others online. The findings from my research identify how social media screen time has dramatically increased in lockdown. There has also been a shift in the etiquettes of sharing online which reflects increased intimacy and bringing one’s online network into the home. These interactions have dissolved some work-place hierarchies between senior and junior staff members, creating what some participants in my study referred to as a democratising of professional dynamics and exchanges.

What are the cons?

Increased digital consumption usually means more physical and mental stagnation, which can lead to more scrolling on social media. This inevitably translates into lifestyle comparisons that are damaging to our self-esteem and mental health. Additionally, I think more and more people are reverting to an ‘always on’ culture whilst working from home, particularly during lockdowns. There is also pressure to use this time to make up new hobbies. This pressure is resulting in a pandemic of ‘toxic productivity’ which has been exacerbated by digital behaviours during COVID-19. These new practices have pushed people to learn a new language, renovating or becoming an artisan baker and to present these new skills as an overnight achievable #lifegoal which can be damaging.

How do we combat digital fatigue in lockdown?

What is important to remember, is that we are experiencing a process of collective national trauma. Combine that with technology overload and digital fatigue from mediating much of our lives via the screen and it has all increasingly taken its toll and had a detrimental impact on our mental and physical health, placing us in a permanent ‘fight or flight’ anxiety-inducing state. To identify when social media compulsion and technology fatigue are damaging our daily lives, we need to create a critical and reflexive relationship towards it. This is very challenging in the current climate of our tech-reliant quarantined life.

How effective are digital detoxes? 

Digital detox means very different things to different people. Simply going cold turkey will unlikely yield positive results. As my research identifies, those who attempt to mass detox from all platforms, often feel an instant sense of neglect to their online networks and their devices. In time, they return to their previous screen time practices with sincere apologies towards their digital tools. Therefore, we need to define what our achievable goals are for a digital detox. Consider what practices are damaging to your physical and mental health; social media lifestyle comparisons perhaps, or work emails that slip into personal or family time. As well as the aspects which nourish you; connectivity with those you cannot see every day or sating your curiosity of reading into a new disciplinary interest. By critically identifying these things we can constructively reflect and reshape our daily digital practice. 

Do you think that the pandemic has changed our relationship with technology forever?

It has normalised the integration and use of digital technology for so many areas of our lives. Digitally induced stress and anxiety are on the rise as people struggle with the challenge of managing multiple digital life domains for sociality, communication, health-guidance, retail, food delivery, entertainment and professional commitments. This increased digital consumption is blurring the mental and physical division between labour and leisure time in the home. This presents itself in technology compulsions, digital saturation, and an inability to detach from the online world.

What are your top five tips for enabling a healthier everyday relationship with digital tech?

 Remember that ‘extra time’ in lockdown isn’t real - Don’t subscribe to the ‘always on’ digital communication culture. You shouldn’t be worrying about doing anything other than prioritising your mental and physical health right now.

Delete work emails from your phone - This simple and effective strategy creates a division between leisure tech tools. Just delete the app, and everything work-related on your phone to avoid working at 11 pm on your sofa. Get an alarm clock and go to bed without your phone.

Get out in nature without your phone - Physically getting outside and away from our digital devices helps us to switch off and reset our habitual digital behaviours. Walking or exercising in nature helps us to have some respite and boosts mental and physical health. Leaving your phone at home helps you to stop scrolling whilst outside. If you need to take your phone with you for personal or professional reasons, turn off your data to restrict the temptation to check notifications.

Pack away your home office on the weekends - This is super important for those with no separate office space at home. Yes, it takes time on Friday night but if it’s not visible when you’re trying to switch off, it creates a mental division between work and relaxation/family time.

Take time to really switch off from the digital world - Find time to really switch off from screen time. Your phone is not your companion, so try and stop picking up your phone as a habit. Decide before you pick up your phone what you’re using it for. If this is too hard, putting it in a different room or out of reach breaks that scrolling and dopamine cycle. Try doing something offline as downtime from work instead, such as reading a book.

Dr Rachael Kent joined us for an expert webinar on Covid-19 and Digital Behaviours - watch it here

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 24 March 2021
Next review: 24 March 2024