Viewpoint: Sammy Andrews on why we need a digital detox

Mental health matters: Deviate Digital’s Sammy Andrews

In her latest digital column for Music Week, Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews looks at the negative impact technology and social media are having on those working in the biz. And the practical steps employers should be taking to make things better...

My column this month might surprise some of you given what a digital advocate I am. Still, I want to spend some time here examining a darker side of that world in our industry and, let’s face it, society-wide. It’s one that’s increasingly important for the mental health of everyone you and I know working in music, and beyond.

In an age where we’re all constantly bombarded every second online, I want to acknowledge the impact some of this has and why, as an industry, we need to learn to shut off sometimes.

Firstly, let’s look at digital burnout. I’m sure you’ve all been presented with stats for how long you’re on your own personal socials and perhaps sometimes gasp at the sheer amount of time you’ve spent watching funny cat videos or interacting with clickbait headlines that have outraged you enough to repost.

Well, imagine for a moment that you are one of the thousands of community managers employed by the industry running multiple profiles at the same time, across several platforms. It’s something people don’t speak about publicly often, but every community manager I know working across the industry has voiced this with me or admitted suffering from digital burnout at some point or another. Even with a plethora of scheduling and content management tools, there’s always something to post, moderate or respond to, quite aside from digital comms generally.

The same can be said for the music industry at large, we are always on our phones at all hours, getting Slack messages, being approached for work across various socials, pinged by various WhatsApp groups or bombarded by email trails…

I know I’m not the only one that has often wanted to add a signature to my email that reads, “Dear sender, if you don’t know how and when to use the reply all button you should probably not be allowed to use email, please pick up the phone instead.” I mean, imagine for a moment that you agree something on a call with someone then call 30 entirely unrelated people individually to say thanks to them? Yeah… Don’t be that person.

But while this stuff may seem obvious, the amount of great folks I’ve seen genuinely burn out in the last year in the UK music industry has started to alarm me. Those I’ve spoken to directly all cite the constant digital bombardment as part of that issue. That’s something we need to be aware of. Digital is, obviously, not solely to blame: I’ve spoken with a few folks who have noted that the workloads at most large organisations – especially label services – are going up, but the headcount isn’t. Our industry needs to examine more ways to keep everyone healthy and I think that should include digital usage checks.

It was always going to be a double-edged sword living in a truly “connected” world. But always being on does not mean you’re better at your job. In fact, I’d actually argue it probably makes you worse at your job. I wonder what part employers have to play in encouraging a healthy digital use programme across their companies? I genuinely feel they should have a role, as part of wider mental health initiatives.

On the other side of the coin regarding toxic digital rants, I want to flag a couple of artists that released albums lately and received provocative clickbait reviews from various big name titles only to then be bombarded online by abusive posts. This is nothing new, of course, the digital world is already going to hell in a handbasket as far as clickbait bullshit goes. Still, it did make me consider the amount of artists I’ve spoken with in the last decade who have been deeply hurt by comments across socials, some suffering full-on mental breakdowns as a result. On top of that, they are also having to deal with the world’s shittiest clickbait headlines which themselves provoke social onslaughts. This particularly worries me about younger artists coming into this industry: there’s a list as long as your arm of acts who have publicly declared that they are stepping back from socials following torrents of abusive comments. While we all remind everyone daily not to read the comments, and some artists choose not to interact at all, I can say with certainty these have an impact on the mental health of those who are the lifeblood of our industry. And, even worse, sometimes those shitty tweets come from within our own industry.

So, next time you hit that reply all button, spam a WhatsApp group out of hours, post what you think is a witty observation on Twitter slagging off a track or album while tagging the artist, please stop to consider the impact it might be having on the actual humans around you. And ask yourself: does your digital life serve you in a productive way or are things habitual and secretly eroding any productivity you have? There’s a lot of evidence out there to say we are all addicted to various digital activities. A little time to sit back and examine those can, in my book, only be a good thing.

If you want a few healthy and productive digital uses in your life, switch off all those pesky notifications for a start (that changed my life) and check out Head Space, CALM, Help Musicians and iPhone’s Screen Time function.

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