digital burnout

Image via Adobe Stock

Finding balance: Are we heading towards digital burnout?

Digital burnout stems from living in two parallel worlds, and is an ever-increasing threat to our society. Dion Chang knows why.

digital burnout

Image via Adobe Stock

Innovator, creative thinker, design consultant, and visionary extraordinaire, Dion Chang is regarded as one of South Africa’s top trend analysts and social commentators. Always one step ahead of the trend, Dion is the founder of Flux Trends, a trends analysis firm that specialises in tracking shifting social dynamics and understanding consumer mind-set.

With over 15 years of experience in the magazine industry, which gave him constant exposure to the ever-changing relationship between brands, consumers and the communication channels that bind them, Dion now uses a global perspective to source new ideas, gauge the zeitgeist and identify cutting-edge trends. He focuses on translating global trends to ensure relevance for South African business.

Heading into its second decade of business, Dion’s company Flux Trends has gone from strength to strength. It started as an agency for forecasting trends in the market, distilling and editing the barrage of information that surrounds us daily, and predicting upcoming changes and trends.

The company is also responsible for launching the ground-breaking Flux Trend Review, an annual review that deciphers the upcoming trends for the year and shapes the way we live, work, and consume.

Digital burnout

One of these startling new trends is that of “digital burnout”. Burnout is described as “the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time”, while “digital burnout” stems from living in two parallel worlds – that of the present and physical existence and that of the virtual and digital existence.

On top of living out a physical life of work and play, we add to that the virtual world of digital, which is fast taking up precious time that should be spent unwinding and relaxing. With “fast” being the operative word, nothing in the digital world happens slowly, which is what ultimately makes us feel that life seems to fly by faster and faster every year, thus causing a mental and physical breakdown and finally, burnout.

“This ‘always on, always connected’ lifestyle is what is fuelling digital burnout. It has rewired our brains to be on a permanent multitasking mode,” says Chang.

“Just watch people at an airport, or any place where they are required to wait for any length of time: they will no doubt, be locked into their mobile devices. No one simply stares into space anymore.”

Living in two worlds means double the amount of work – whether it is physical or mental and, not surprisingly, this type of burnout is on the rise.

“We now essentially work the equivalent of 24 months in 12, and because it stems from our virtual existence, we don’t see it coming, with potentially devastating results.”

Which is why Chang believes a mid-year break is crucial.

“A mid-year break is the answer to coping. Some are snatching an odd long weekend away, and bush breaks are becoming more popular because of their non-digital nature. When someone takes a mid-year break or long weekend, it is no longer seen as an indulgence, as it might have been five years ago. In a digital age, a mid-year holiday is now a necessity, and ‘digital detox’ the new buzzword.”

However, once there, the road back from digital burnout can be a long one. Once you are hit, a fortnight’s holiday won’t help, and Chang warns that even a three-to six-month break might not restore you to digital wellness.

“It takes some people three years to recover and five years before they feel happy again.”

While prevention is better than cure, this might be easier said than done in today’s world. Thus, the interesting new movement, which is known as the “Modern Mindfulness Movement”, is helping people to stay present.

An ancient technique used by Buddhists for thousands of years, this non-spiritual and non-religious meditation practice is ironically becoming “an essential life skill in the digital age”.

“One of the most popular mindfulness exercises is eating a single raisin, in six slow steps: from observing it (as you would if you were an alien visitor) to smelling it, feeling its contours, rolling it in your mouth and then only biting and tasting it. For many, this sounds absurd, but for those who have tried it, will tell you how surprisingly difficult it has become to focus on a single task. It is the lost art of omni-tasking.”

With a unique ability to see the world from a different perspective and gauge trends ahead of the curve, as well as an innate ability to question and shift an audience’s perspective, Dion is in great demand, with corporate companies turning to him as a brand consultant, specialist activator, and trends analyst.