Our Digital World — Is It Bringing Us Closer Together or Farther Apart?
As health and wellness marketers, it’s crucial to understand the advantages and disadvantages of every side of the digital spectrum. Doing so doesn’t just ensure you’re taking a holistic approach to your marketing and branding efforts — it ensures you’re keeping your audiences, and everything they value, at the center of everything you do vis-a-vis your healthcare digital marketing.
Communities. Traditionally, they’ve been defined as a group of people living in the same place, often having particular characteristics in common. Today, communities take on a much different meaning. And while it’s true that the standard definition of a community still holds, today’s fast-paced, digitally-driven world is redefining the way we interact with communities — and the way communities interact with us.
Not too long ago, the only way for us to connect with those who resided in our neighborhoods was to physically come together. Now, it’s not unfamiliar for one person to feel more connected to their neighborhoods through online forums or Facebook groups. What’s more, the digital world has enabled local communities — and everything that comprises them — to extend their reach in ways that were impossible only a decade ago. But social media is only the beginning of the ways communities and people connect with one another and the world.
The Futures Centre reported that The World Economic Forum coined the phrase the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ to describe the period of technological change we’re living through, which encompasses 3D printing, gene editing, driverless cars, robotics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and many other technologies. This revolution has the potential to underpin the creation of a new, sustainable economy — one that is equal, circular, low-carbon, and focused on human well-being. Or it could have negative effects, destroying jobs, reducing privacy, and driving over-consumption.” No matter which way this “Fourth Industrial Revolution” takes us — and regardless of the role communities embody in the future — the only way to ensure successful growth and prosperity is to keep humans and the groups they hold the closest at the center of everything we innovate.
The Impact of our Digitally-Driven World
First, let’s look at the ways our digitally-driven, technology-riddled world brings us together — closer than any generation before, starting with the way we communicate. Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is still the message,” and this has never been truer than today.
Technology sits at the center of almost every conversation we have. It’s strengthening friendships and family relationships, while simultaneously filling generational gaps that existed at the start of our digital world. Now, grandma and grandpa share YouTube videos on Facebook. And the age-old phrase, “We should probably get off the phone — long distance, ya know,” doesn’t really exist anymore — thanks to Skype video chats and apps like WhatsApp, which enables “simple, secure messaging and calling for free, available on phones all over the world.” Andreas Bernstörm of The Huffington Post even went as far to point out that social media and mobile games are bringing back family board game night, as “classic board games like Scrabble and Yahtzee have found new life on smartphones and tablets.”
Always-On Digital Healthcare
These always-on, cross-platform devices are indeed eliminating almost every restriction we faced regarding how, where, and when we can communicate — even in the world of health and wellness. Now, there are in-home monitoring systems for people living with chronic health conditions — equipped with remote nurse navigators, EHR integration capabilities, and on-demand support for a variety of illnesses and diseases.
Urgent care is being made, well, more urgent, as virtual kiosks are popping up in Walgreens and Duane Reeds across New York City — connecting patients to New York Presbyterian physicians on demand.
Fitness no longer begins at the gym, but the palm of your hand. And, to ensure digital health customers are safe and protected while using these technological advances, the FDA continues to provide regulatory clarity by “fostering collaboration and enhancing outreach as well as developing and implementing regulatory strategies and policies for digital health technologies.” The FDA regulates the very broad scope of digital health resources in categories like mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and more personalized medicine.
The FDA posited that, “together, these advancements are leading to a convergence of people, information, technology, and connectivity to improve healthcare and health outcomes.” It’s a stance that echoes a similar notion — technological utopianism (which dominates its own genre of literature) — referring to the core belief that the world will become happier, healthier, and freer as science and technology develop.
Always-On Digital — Is It Beneficial
With one in six consumers owning and using a wearable device, and almost half of the world’s population interacting with Facebook and Instagram every moment of every day, it’s fair to say we’re well on our way towards exercising our freedom to use technology to our advantage. But is this freedom beneficial to our overall well-being? “[Are these] tools that ought to liberate us imprisoning us instead?” Sean Illing of VOX asked Douglas Rushkoff, media theorist and author of Team Human.
As reported by NPR, one study found that people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent half an hour per day or less on those sites. And people who visited social media platforms most frequently, 58 visits per week or more, had more than three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.
A Pearson and University of Texas at Arlington student also made an insightful proposition (as a digital native) when he wrote, “the reality is that we have connections but no genuine conversations. We are getting along but are often ‘alone together.’ Instead of talking to people, we prefer sending texts [because] we get to edit, delete, retouch, and turn to end up hiding our true selves and present only what we finesse. It has not only altered what we do but what we are. In a room [of people] sitting together, each is busy exploring the world on their cellphones and laptops, but nobody is interested in learning about the person sitting right next to him or her. We think too much but feel too little.”
Digital And Mental Health
But the digital and social landscape doesn’t always have such a negative impact on our mental health. In fact, it can even be the key to getting the help we need to get better, fast. From self-help apps to wearables, online therapy to virtual urgent cares — the digital world and the technology within it continues to progress for us — and by us. There are hundreds of ways these innovations have changed our lives. They bring us together like never before, and they empower us to be independent — especially when it comes to our health.
B. Layne, a writer at medical clinic Kachemak Bay in Alaska, discussed the idea of being “Independently Healthy” — which is not only in their mission statement but is something she says is ingrained in their day-to-day. Layne wrote, “To us, an Independently Healthy life looks like not worrying if you will be around to see your grandkids. It looks like being able to spend time with family and enjoy the activities you love. It looks like only going to the doctor for urgent care needs, scheduled screenings, and routine check-ups… We’ve found that the best way to help people achieve this is through partnership; our providers work with patients to diagnose diseases and to create a road map for reaching Independent Health. Each plan will be different; [but] the key to success is collaboration.”
So, is the digital world bringing us closer together or farther apart? Is it debilitating to our health and well-being, or does it empower us to be better? As health and wellness marketers, it’s crucial to understand the advantages and disadvantages of every side of the digital spectrum. Doing so doesn’t just ensure you’re taking a holistic approach to your marketing and branding efforts — it ensures you’re keeping your audiences, and everything they value, at the center of everything you do. So, make your positioning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution strong. Partner with a team that can give your brand the momentum it needs on a trajectory that matters. And remember what Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is still the message.”