Maximizing Digital Wellness: Tips from MBS Keynote Speaker Max Stossel

Maximizing Digital Wellness: Tips from MBS Keynote Speaker Max Stossel This Head of School blog is the second in a two-part summary of Max Stossel's presentation to the MBS community on Digital Wellness. Max, an award winning poet, filmmaker and speaker, has spoken with thousands of students, parents and educators about kids and technology and met with our students, faculty and families in early April.

Max Stossel recently delivered a keynote on Digital Wellness titled “We’ve Been Sneaking Into Your Brain: The True Impact Of Social Media” as well as holding a Q&A session with MBS students.

In part two of this blog series, we discuss several other key takeaways from Max’s keynote, including how the digital world affects our physical world and how social media influences our perceptions and beliefs. 

We also share Max’s recommendations for actions that MBS students and families can apply to create healthier social media habits. 

1. Overcoming Digital Distraction to Stay Present in the Moment

Max discussed both the benefits and challenges of the digital world we live in. While digital technology allows people from all walks of life to connect and exchange ideas, the constant distractions and interruptions of devices can be detrimental to our well-being and ability to focus.

He also emphasized the importance of learning to sit with hard problems, overcome challenges, and battle through tough moments, as they lead to personal growth, meaning, and confidence.

"The most meaningful things in life come from battling through the hard parts of life,” shared Max. “And I'm really worried that we're not learning how to do hard things or sit with hard problems or like be bored for a moment. Our attention spans are so light, we’re often just jumping from one thing to the next."

Max asked MBS students to think about a moment in their life that they were proud of. “I'm willing to bet whatever moment you’re most proud of, you probably had to battle through something that was tough. That tends to be where meaning and confidence comes from.”

Max’s point was it’s crucial that we find ways to stay present in the moment—to be intentional about how we’re using technology—to make sure we’re living the lives that we want to lead. 

2. The Impact of Social Media on Perception and Beliefs

As social media has grown in influence, so too has its power to shape our perceptions and beliefs. Search engines like Google can contribute to the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories, Max said. The information we consume, even when it comes from seemingly reputable sources, can be wrong.

“For example if you were to search on Google, if the earth is round or flat, 20% of the results would tell you it's flat," said Max. "Thirty-five percent of YouTube search results would say the earth is flat. Ninety percent of YouTube recommendations (on autoplay) would tell you that the earth is flat. That's nine out of every 10 videos that would tell you the earth is flat.”

When an algorithm learns what content has grabbed our attention, it “will push us towards more extreme versions of whatever we're already likely to believe.” 

You end up in a digital room with people who are the same as you, and you have fewer opportunities to learn about other things. To break out of this cycle, it's important to actively seek out diverse voices in and initiate conversations with people who have different viewpoints.

3. Setting Healthy Boundaries

Social media can be a great tool for staying connected and informed, but it can also negatively affect mental health and well-being. To maintain mental health while using social media, Max said that students should become more self aware and listen to their emotions.

“Self-awareness is one of our most powerful tools to fight unhealthy social media usage,” said Max. “If we don’t know what our feelings are and if we don’t have emotional literacy, we’re not going to know how this stuff is making us feel. Any time you’re working on your mindfulness skills, you’re working on your digital health.”

Max also encouraged students to think about their digital communication preferences and boundaries.

“Digital communications can be challenging,” said Max. “Often we don't think about it, but you get to decide: what sort of conversations do you want to have over text, on social media, or face to face? And just because we all have these devices does not necessarily mean you need to respond all the time. You get to decide what communication boundaries and preferences you actually want to have.”

“I want you to think in your own life, like if you ruled the world, how often would you actually want to respond to people? How would you respond? Also what is your preferred communications type?”

4. Max’s Digital Health Tips

At the end of his presentation, Max offered a number of tips for students to improve their digital health:

  • Turn off all notifications except from actual people: “Go into your settings and make sure your phone can only buzz if there's a person who's really trying to get a hold of you.”
  • Unfollow every account that makes you feel bad about yourself: “On Instagram, unfollow every account that makes you feel inadequate or badly about yourself. This often is like fitness influencers or the Instagram models."
  • Train the social media algorithms: “You can beat the algorithms.. by actively engaging with the things you want to see more of and blocking the content that you don’t want.”
  • Delete apps that are toxic for you: “I'm willing to bet every single one of you has at least one app on your phone that’s either terrible for your mental health or just a huge time waster. There's one app that you don't delete it because you're a total addict. Turn to the person next to you. Tell them what that app is and why.”
  • Stop using your phone as your alarm clock: "We're using our phones as our alarm clocks. The first thoughts of your day are not your own thoughts. You wake up and then immediately you're hit with like all these little stresses or extra stuff that is from the outside.”
  • Reduce blue light: "If you're feeling tired throughout the day, the amount of time your spending on your phone is the reason why. Apparently, our brain thinks that blue light is the sun, and it messes with our sleep rhythms, and we don't sleep as well. Obviously scrolling till 2:00 a.m. just isn't good for sleep."
  • Turn off YouTube autoplay in settings: “Once you turn off autoplay, go watch the video that you’ve been meaning to watch instead of waking up two hours later in a daze thinking that the earth is flat or that Andrew Tate is an example of how to treat women. Your country needs you to turn off YouTube autoplay and listen to which apps or games make you feel good during and afterwards. Self-awareness is one of the most powerful tools to fight this thing.”