The first two blog posts covered who gets to access health information and how to stay safe when doing so. I developed this mini-series to break down who, how, and why digital literacy matters to health communication. When I started three weeks ago I knew I was doing this for myself, but the virtual world isn’t just mine to explore. It’s mine to be in. And that ontological realisation means that I have a duty to the people who visit TFQ; to interest, educate, and empower my visitors with new information and perspectives for them to act on.
This mini-series was written for newbies to the world of digital health information. It was successful as a broad-strokes effort to bring attention to the issues of access, the importance of digital literacy, and how there’s more to one’s health than physical and mental wellness. We must also consider the digital determinants of health.
In this final installment of the beginner-level mini-series, we look at how digital literacy can empower you to be a health advocate.
Before we dive in, there’s an architect I want to tell you about. Her name is Neri Oxman, and she changed the way I look at the world and my own place in it. And once you learn about her, you might also find yourself thinking differently about the digital landscape and health information.
Oxman uses technology to create nature-centric design in a world where everything from our buildings to our culture stems from human-centric design. The latter fuels our reliance on data-centric technology. In the current age, people are often reduced to data points on a world map in an effort to understand why and how and where, and when things happen.
Where our connection with a homogenous life of technology-led consumption (of goods, arts, and food) has increased, our roots in nature have withered. 8-hour days; sitting at desks, dinner tables, and cinemas; and only visiting natural settings every now and again has shifted our understanding of what it means to be well. Oxman isn’t talking about regressing into simpler but complicated times, but rather encourages the use of modern technologies to develop complex systems to improve life. Recognising the potential and joys of digital technology is vital to our growth because almost every part of our day in urban areas is digital-led. The GPS that tells us how to get to places, the meditation app that plays gentle forest sounds, and the computers we power up every morning at work all inform our physical and mental well-being.
At a time when I felt divorced from genuine natural connection and a life outside the digital sphere, Oxman developed the Krebs Cycle of Creativity:
Her concepts of nature-centric architectural design directly impact the health and well-being of people who could live in such structures one day. Fixed concepts don’t come undone in her vision of the future; they become flexible and seasonal. They follow the rhythms of nature.
When it comes to health, our natural rhythms are now determined by when we start work and when the diarised holidays end. What we can learn from Oxman’s work and the KCC is that health isn’t just about our physical selves, it is also about the spaces in which we exist. Digital included.
When it comes to designing health information for the virtual public there is a mansion for improvement. However, since we live in a tech-savvy but culturally sensitive world, we are forced to consider prerequisites to access such a future. Prerequisites (read: determinants) to accessing health information can look like this:
Stable internet connection
Health communication design
Well-funded public education centers (schools, colleges, universities, libraries, community centers, and local clinics)
Interest in pursuing identity-based behaviour change
Access to technology
A culture that encourages technology use from a young age
Technology produced for under-resourced areas (I mean, how long does your smartphone battery last on a good day?)
Many of us reading this blog post have such access. We are empowered to advocate for our health — and even those of others. With digital literacy, we can learn how to ask the right questions, find the right resources, and use the right communication channels to get our health-related needs met. Digital literacy can also help us to stay better informed about health-related policies, and to take action to support initiatives and legislation that are beneficial to our health. And the ways we think about our health and what we advocate for are determined by the physical, philosophical, and cultural design around us.
In the spaces between Science, Engineering, Design, and Art there are four phases of understanding. Information is converted into knowledge, knowledge into utility, utility into behaviour, and behaviour into information. This cycle is vital to designing health information because, as people, we only change our behaviour when information becomes more than just words. We change our behaviour when what we know becomes what we practice. And that shift in mindset creates an environment in which new information can be learned and cycled into knowledge, action, and future behaviour change.
In the case of digital literacy, it helps us to become better advocates for our own health. When we have the capacity to read, understand, and adapt to new perspectives (and really dig deep into our self-control), we really can change our worlds.
By developing digital literacy, we can become better informed, better advocates, and better communicators of health-related information too. What we now know and practice starts a chain reaction in those around us. From simple knowledge, health information is converted into behaviour change. And more often than not, our most common behaviours are identity-based, meaning we know ourselves to be such people and our practices reflect that daily choice. And because we are social creatures, our behaviours thrive in company that allows them to. For example, joining online health discussion groups — or starting one — creates a community of people who care about their well-being and that of their friends and family.
Digital literacy is an essential tool in health communication, and its importance cannot be understated. And it’s definitely up to us to want to evolve with technology to stay literate as we move into the future. It's up to us whether such digital empowerment is a part of our identity because behaviour change that is incongruent with our self doesn't last.
Does your digital literacy empower you to advocate for your health?
This is the end of this mini-series. If you’ve been with TFQ since the beginning, thank you thank you thank you! If you are new, welcome! Please browse the website and social media pages to learn about what TFQ does.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post. I’m deciding whether to deep dive into James Clear’s Atomic Habits, or write about service leadership as I learn it. I’d love your help, so let me know in the comments about what you would like to read!