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Introducing Virtual Vitamins

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I’ve been talking about balanced use of technology in terms of Digital Nutrition for about three years now*.

When I was invited to speak at the 2016 DigCit Summit at Twitter HQ in San Francisco, I really wanted to present something completely new and launch the next logical step in the Digital Nutrition concept – the idea of Virtual Vitamins.

With the American Academy of Paediatrics releasing their updated guidelines for children and digital media use, much focus has been placed on the need to evaluate and appraise the quality of the content of the screen based media young people consume.
​Now more than ever, the analogy between our use of digital devices and our relationship to and consumption of food is one that is easy for many to digest (pardon the pun). 

If we ‘are what we eat’, then how does the time we spend online impact who we are?
​Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How might we consider more effectively the cognitive, social, emotional impacts of technology?
  • How do we develop healthy technology habits that negate the need for digital detoxes?
  • Imagine if apps and games came with nutritional labels.
  • How do we feed our mind the best, most accurate information and ideas?

Screentime is an outdated concept –
​Ditch digital calorie counting and  instead think about ‘virtual vitamins’

The onli​ne supermarket is ​jammed full of choice.  Its difficult for families to know what to choose from the 1.7 million apps and games available. How do we know what to look for?  Do we simply trust reviews? Can we expect Google or Apple to evaluate the claims made (as healthy or educational) on our behalves?  Can we trust developers to design ethically with consumers best interests at heart? No, no, no – we cant.

What we need is to think more carefully about the virtual ingredients contained in online activities and to understand their impacts better.  We need to be in control of and take responsibility for what we engage in online.  Just like when you eat a fast-food-chain-meal you have a sense of the nutritional value (or lack thereof).


                                             // Introducing my first 3 Virtual Vitamins \\

​1. Play = Proteins
Proteins are essential building blocks for cells and cell function. Play is an essential skill young people develop (and many adults forget!).  Digital play provides opportunities for learning through discovery and role-playing, which in turn can help develop social-emotional skills like empathy.​​

2. Vitamin C = CREATIVITY
Much of what we do with technology is consume content, especially in relation to social media.  There is huge competition for your attention and for you to remain engaged with the activity/app/blog etc.  

​We want to move towards is using technology less to passively consume, and instead champion technology being used to create and contribute. This might be via using information to solve problems and show this new knowledge in videos or photographs that might demonstrate learning in new ways.

The opportunity to be creative keeps imagination unlocked and helps develop novel solution-focused thinking.

3. Vitamin D = EMPATHY
Empathy is a key social-emotional skill that many fear is being diluted by technology use, lack of eye contact and other verbal skills.

When appraising apps, games and digital activities look for features which enhance connection through exploring rich stories & alternative perspectives. Go beyond the popular highly marketed games and look for games made by smaller, purpose driven companies that might be part of the ‘serious games’ movement.

Here are two games which teach empathy.


Can you suggest other Virtual Vitamins that help us understand the nutritional content
of the apps, games and activities we engage with online?  
Email me your ideas, comment below or tweet @DigiNutrition and #VirtualVitamins

// WATCH MY DIGCITSUMMIT PRESENTATION  ON VIRTUAL VITAMINS BELOW \\

* In this time many people have cottoned on to this analogy with Healthy Digital/Media Diet talks and presentations – none quite capture the same essence as Digital Nutrition. I would love to have developed the ideas, workshops and resources for students, parents, allied health and all digital technology users more by this point – but alas, this is a ‘passion project’ which I squeeze in amongst my day job as a School Counsellor/Psychologist.

About Jocelyn Brewer

Jocelyn is a Sydney-based psychologist and the creator of Digital Nutrition. She is an accredited teacher and has been studying cyberpsychology for a decade.

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