The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably resulted in an exponential increase in the reliance of our digital devices on all aspects of our lives- be it working productively, staying connected with our friends and family, going e-shopping or just binge watching on the newest Netflix series.
However, this has resulted in an estimated 1 in 4 youths showing signs of phone addiction, placing them at risk of poorer mental health and sleep patterns. Worse still, many do not realise the effects of excessive screen time which often cannot be felt instantaneously, but simply accept the physical and mental repercussions that comes with using their digital devices, branding it as the “new normal.”
Hence, a team of 4 final year communications students from Nanyang Technological University decided to embark on a student-led social campaign, Ditch That Device, which aims to empower Singaporean youth to take the first step in their digital wellbeing journey through rediscovering life beyond the screen through two activities: “My Life Beyond Screen” and “Screen Free Saturdays”.
“My Life Beyond Screen”
In an open call on Instagram, 15 youth ambassadors were selected for an event called “My Life Beyond Screen”, where they were given a disposable film camera and tasked to capture sights around their neighbourhood that they would not notice on the daily if they were glued to their mobile devices.
During this 2-week digital wellbeing journey, they were also told to adopt digital wellbeing tools such as “Do Not Disturb” or “App Limits” that were convenient and accessible on their mobile phones and could aid them in regulating their digital usage in a way that benefits them.
“Embarking on the My Life Beyond Screen initiative allowed me to slow down and notice the things I normally wouldn’t, the sights and sounds, and the beauty of the people in my neighbourhood,” said Wong Pei Yi, 25, one of the youth ambassadors.
Left: “I’ve noticed this uncle since the day my family shifted here (since 2005). Having the camera in my hands gave me a strong urge to capture this scene. How often do we see such things today?”
Right: “The contrast between light and shadow was what attracted me in the first place, but it’s probably the effort I took into producing this shot that made me really appreciate it – this photo is actually my third attempt at capturing people on the escalator going about their daily lives.”
Another ambassador, Vera Chua, spotted some unique moments around her neighbourhood, including a cat basking in the sun at Singapore’s last surviving Kampong, and her neighbour unwinding from a long day of work at the void deck under her flat.
Through this initiative, the usage of film cameras meant that the photographs that were captured cannot be instantly viewed. Hence, this urges the ambassadors to not rely on instant gratification like capturing pictures so rapidly and mindlessly on their devices, but instead, treat each picture with value and learn to live in the moment. In addition, they were told to put away their phones during this photo walk journey, such that they would not be distracted by notifications on their phones.
“Screen Free Saturdays”
Apart from My Life Beyond Screen, the team has also collaborated with organisations such as Super Park Singapore, Artify Studio, The Fragment Room, and The Witch’s Pendulum in an online Youtube video series called “Screen Free Saturdays”, where 2 youth ambassadors, Edson and Charlotte, sought to rediscover life beyond the screen through engaging in alternative activities every Saturday.
In the second episode of the series at Artify Studio, Edson and Charlotte were tasked to engage in a painting swap challenge without knowing what each other’s painting was supposed to illustrate. The ultimate catch was- no mobile devices were allowed in the entire painting process, and they would have to unleash their creativity without any form of guidance online.
“I never did realise how over-reliant on technology I was, until my phone was confiscated, and I was tasked to illustrate a cheeseburger eating a bird,” said Charlotte Hsu, one of the hosts.
Other quirky offline experiences include trying out tarot card readings and understanding crystals at The Witch’s Pendulum, as well as physically trashing some objects – with tools like wrenches and spades – in The Fragment Room to vent their frustrations.
If you are interested to find out more tips and tricks of digital wellbeing and keen to rediscover life beyond the screen in an unconventional and entertaining way, check DTD Instagram to join this journey of discovery or head to their Youtube page for videos of Screen Free Saturdays.