What do Digital Dependency and Mental Health Have to do with Marketing?
The relevance, responsibility and urgency are greater than you suspect
What is the connection between the field of marketing and smartphone addiction, digital dependency and mental health? Turns out, far more than you would expect. It’s time to seriously reflect upon what we’re doing in marketing, and to take action, now.
I describe myself as an author, marketing strategist and innovation philosopher. Now, how did I — with a background in marketing communication and content strategy — become the author of a book on the impact of digital technology on our lives, to be nominated for the Hacker Noon Mental Health Advocate of the Year Award in 2020?
It’s because I have become inspired to deep-dive into the connection between what we’re doing in the world of marketing and tech, and how it relates to mental health — and a lot of other societal issues.
So, what does working in marketing have to do with a responsibility to the general population’s mental health? I’m glad you asked.
1. You’re human, and so are your coworkers.
Let’s assume that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in or work in marketing. In any capacity — be it that you are a social media manager, a content or brand identity strategist such as myself; a copywriter, (web) designer — or even if you’re just a scrappy founder or CEO who thinks about how to connect your customers’ needs to your offerings by herself.
If that’s the case, chances are, you’re a human. And so are most if not all of your coworkers, partners, and other direct stakeholders.
If you are a human, and you own a laptop/pc/smartphone or any other digital device, chances are — digital technology has a serious impact on your mental wellbeing.
You’re probably familiar — at least at an intuitive level — with a feeling of distraction, mental fatigue or even overload, in relationship to technology (over)use.
I personally have suffered from burnout, probably related to my smartphone addiction.
Turns out, I am not the only one. A lot of research has shown that the impact of digital technology on our individual lives is far from wholly positive — apart from its obvious benefits to our lives. Research indicates lower levels of focus, productivity, energy, and general wellbeing.
Next to that, various studies have shown a relationship (sometimes even causal) between technology usage, and symptoms or the occurrence of depression, loneliness, increased anxiety and in teens even suicidal thoughts.
The link between digital technology use and burnout has been reasonably established, along with a propensity for tech overuse to deteriorate the quality of relationships.
Now, why exactly would you think that you or any of your team members or other people that you work with, would be exempt and impervious to any of the above effects?
What actions are you taking to raise your awareness and the awareness of those around you, and to make sure digital technology helps and does not hinder your focus, productivity, and wellbeing?
2. You’re adding to digital distraction and clutter
What different digital communications do you use in your marketing mix?
If you work in marketing, chances are, again, that you use digital and other means of communication, a lot. To connect to your stakeholders, your audiences, and to try to “reach them with the exact right messaging, through the exact right channel, in the exact right moment”.
Ever stopped to think and wonder how many other people are doing the exact same thing to every single person you’re trying to reach on a day-to-day basis?
Tim Wu describes very clearly in his The War for Our Attention how since the advent of the commercial print press in New York around the beginning of the 20th century, huge profits are being driven by ‘attention mongers’.
If you’re in marketing, I am going to go out on a limb, here, and assume I don’t have to explain to you how profitable digital media and advertising giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. have become over the past few years, by dominating not only the advertising market, but more generally the market for information and attention.
My question to you, here, is: how are you taking steps to not just pile on more content, media, impulses, to a human population who has more information fired at their brains throughout the day than any generation before in history?
3. You’re helping to sustain the ecosystems that suck up our focus and energy, and monetize them
Ever wonder how the Facebooks, Amazons, and Google of the world became such power players? How did they, but also their predecessors in print, radio, and television, become such moguls in the war for monetized attention?
Because of marketers, of course.
We, as a professional group, fund these companies. We run ads. And the more effective these ads seem to be, the more investments we will pour into them.
It is exactly this mechanism, that, if you think about it, makes it so that we — along with people in tech, entrepreneurs in general but also political campaigners and more untrustworthy groups — have helped create the current digital ecosystems that;
- Soup up people’s attention and monetize it;
- Spread Fake News and add to worldwide political polarization, and;
- Make it possible to rig or at least unethically influence democratic elections — remember Cambridge Analytica?
Oh, but don’t worry about your personal responsibility too much. If your company is still using Google and Facebook pixels and the like to capture data about the human beings that interact with your content, view your website or take actions there, you’re up for relief. Pixel marketing is going to die.
The old approach where people’s data is being pretty much collected and monetized under the radar is — sooner rather than later — headed towards its last days. Why?
Because of the steep rise in the use and even in some cases integration of adblockers into browsers, software, and devices; movements like GDPR stemming from the general public and governments worldwide catching up to what is happening in data monetization; and new notions catching Steem (pun intended) —
Of “owning one’s digital identity and choosing which data to share, and when”, based on Blockchain technology and philosophy.
Now tell me, is your marketing approach ahead of, or behind this curve?
CTA: What are you gonna do about it?
I thought a little bit about the CTA or call-to-action I was going to leave at the bottom of this piece. I could give you a five-point plan, to raise your own awareness and that of the people around you about the impact of digital technology on us as human beings — and then to strategize, plan and act in such a way that you do what I think your responsibility would be.
But I realized it’s not up to me to talk about what I think your responsibility is — to yourself, your coworkers, the mental health of your external stakeholders and audiences, and the world at large.
It’s up to you.
So my actual, honest call-to-action is: what do you think the relevance, responsibility, and urgency is to you — when it comes to the relationship between technology dependency, mental health, and marketing?
And what are you gonna do about it?
My new book “Life Beyond the Touch Screen” is out now, you can get it here as an e-book or paperback. It’s a meditational booklet designed to increase our consciousness around the impact of digital technology on our lives as individuals, in organizations and society. A reminder to choose. Take back your energy, focus, and time.