Reimagining Digital Well-Being. Report for Designers & Policymakers

Report for Designers and Policymakers (2024)
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This report aims to offer insights into cutting-edge research on digital well-being. Many of these insights come from a 2-day academic-impact event, The Future of Digital Well-Being, hosted by a team of researchers working with the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in February 2024. Today, achieving and maintaining well-being in the face of online technologies is a multifaceted challenge that we believe requires using theoretical resources of different research disciplines. This report explores diverse perspectives on how digital well-being can be actively cultivated, while also emphasising the importance of considering individual differences, societal contexts, and nuanced cultural factors. We aim to offer a holistic view of the future of digital well-being, one that will inspire the next generation of designers of online tools, as well as policymakers who will regulate these tools. We start by asking what digital well-being is – how we can best define a concept that is used by diverse stakeholders and researchers from many disciplines in various ways. To do this, we explore the classic ethical theories of well-being, showing how they can give us insights into how the term digital well-being is currently deployed. We then move to look at the existing strategies that have been proposed to actively cultivate digital well-being, exploring the business models that threaten digital well-being and the relative advantages of the digital and non-digital solutions that are currently proposed. On the one hand, digital tools – such as Apple’s Screen Time and app blockers such as Opal and Forest – integrate seamlessly with the digital lifestyles of users. They also create precise metrics for digital well-being, which facilitates their solutions to reduce screen time. On the other hand, non-digital solutions, including mindfulness practices, digital detoxes, and digital well-being coaching, offer a new set of tools to reconnect individuals to their natural rhythms and help to actively promote offline activities. We then move to discuss diversity and how various groups of users have strikingly different digital well-being needs. Embracing neurodiversity in digital well-being is crucial as it strongly impacts the users’ experience of online technologies. When designing for diversity, organisations and designers alike need to prioritise customization for people with physical disabilities, mitigate harmful content for users with mental well-being conditions, address gender stereotypes and online harassment, and be designed in ways that recognize the very real risks of online technologies. This report closes by examining cultural differences. We believe that non-Western conceptions of well-being offer rich sources for enhancing digital well-being insofar as these traditions can inform and inspire the designers of future online technologies. We focus on East-Asian and South-Asian traditions, although in further work we recognise it would be useful to investigate conceptions of well-being that are influential in the Gulf region, Africa, and South America. Each of these areas have ethical frameworks that discuss well-being in depth as well as a rich cultural heritage. In conclusion, this report’s insights underscore the imperative of recognizing diversity in digital well-being, both in terms of cultural contexts and disciplinary perspectives. It emphasises the need for culturally responsive design methodologies and the integration of non-Western philosophical perspectives into current digital well-being research. Embracing this diversity, we believe, offers the best chance to create digital environments that prioritise well-being for users and the societies they live in across the world. Ultimately, we believe that it is not only about designing better online products; it’s about shaping a digital landscape that promotes well-being and flourishing for everyone.

Author Profiles

Gunter Bombaerts
University of Ghent (PhD)
Lily Frank
Eindhoven University of Technology
Anna Puzio
University of Twente
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