How digital media keeps us connected

Author: Sue Wheeler
Published: 13/10/2020

It’s useful to discuss the role of digital media in young people’s lives as part of PSHE, so that they understand how to have a healthy relationship with their devices. The following ideas are designed to support any teacher in exploring healthy and unhealthy habits, the ways digital media is designed to influenceour media choices and the resulting impact on shaping the meaning and value of our lives.

Habits when using devices

1. Look at images of people using phones. Ask students to look at an image such as the one above. Ask them what they think when they look at it and get them to share ideas about what these people might be doing.

2. Consider how time is spent on a device. Get students to discuss what they do on their phone or other devices, and ask them why they enjoy these things. They might send and receive messages or calls, play games, watch videos, use a social network, take photos or listen to music.

Elicit from students that their use of devices is for entertainment, a feeling of inclusion and to reinforce a sense of self-worth. Explain that are times when we use our devices for a specific reason, but at other times, we can use them out of habit.

3. Consider how much control students have. Ask students to look at their list of reasons for using their device and to consider those which are purposeful and those they do without thinking. Discuss students’ opinions about using their device out of habit and whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Explain to students that media companies employ specific strategies to gain our attention and keep us hooked: this has an impact on us and our health.

Media company designs

4. Question what digital media companies do to keep us on our devices. Remind students of the habits they have just listed. Thinking specifically about their use of apps, games and social media, ask students to identify how the digital media companies keep us hooked on their site or app. Each feature could be written onto a sticky note, so that you can collate these on your board. Students might consider features such as the next video playing automatically, a prompt for other songs they might like to hear, being notified automatically of others’ posts, etc.

Explain to the students that these features are called addictive design – these are features of the app or device that are designed to hook us and to keep us using it or to make us return to it time and time again.

Explain to the students that these addictive features allows the user to get a response, either from their post, their picture or a comment.  This gives the brain a moments feeling of pleasure.  This is known as a feedback loop.

Explain to the students that there is also now a push to develop media that is useful to us and will add value to our lives, this is known as humane design.

Humane design apps or features allow us to take control of what we are doing and when. They can even add value and help us in our lives. 

The worksheet below provides activities for students to learn about the features of humane and addictive design.

The advantages and dangers of our digital world

5. Analyse a specific app or game. For students to question and consider the impact of these techniques on their own lives, it is also useful for them to evaluate to what extent an app or game provides value to their life, and to reflect on the control they have.

6. Teach others about the advantages and dangers of digital media. As a follow-up, you could ask students to create an information leaflet to teach other students about the dangers and value of digital media.

Download Sue Wheeler's resource Keeping us hooked on digital media.

Sue Wheeler

Sue Wheeler is a former teacher, now specialising in safeguarding and digital citizenship training and consultancy @safeinyourhands.