Google’s Head of Digital Wellbeing, Rose La Prairie, tells Stylist she opens just one tab on her computer in the morning – and yes, she sleeps with her mobile phone in her bedroom.
Probability says most of us are waving our arms in the air right now. But in an era where the phrase ‘digital wellbeing’ is bandied around, often without much context, are there any rules for a healthy digital lifestyle? Should we be monitoring our mobile phone usage more, or less…or not at all?
Well, one woman is on a mission to help us understand what it means to live a well-rounded life in our thoroughly-modern, digital-first society. Spoiler: it doesn’t mean abandoning all technology and moving to a cabin in the woods.
Rose La Prairie is Google’s Head of Digital Wellbeing. La Prairie and her team at Google have been researching the very personal relationship we are developing with our mobile phones, and unsurprisingly 79% of Britons would like to find a better balance between their smartphone and real life.
So, what better way of discovering the true meaning of digital balance than by asking Google’s Head of Digital Wellbeing how she uses her phone.
“People always love to ask me that - I think their favourite dinner party question would be, ‘so, Rose, do you have your phone in your bedroom?’” she says.
“I wake up by my phone, which is in the bedroom…I usually get up at about 6:40am and I’m out of the house in 10 minutes because I’m going to an exercise class.”
La Prairie laughs as she admits she bought herself an “old school” alarm clock, but it’s still in its packaging gathering dust at home. “I don’t use it,” she says, admitting that – shock, horror – she uses her mobile phone alarm to wake her up in the morning. This morning routine is a scene most of us will recognise; in 2011 YouGov reported 60% of 16-34 year olds used a phone as their primary timepiece, and 26% of the 1000 respondents quizzed used the alarm on their mobile phone to wake up.
It’s refreshing to hear that Google’s Head of Digital Wellbeing is just like us.
No emails in bed
In her own words, La Prairie’s morning looks like this: “Pick up the phone, turn off that alarm, and if I check anything before I go to the door it’s always text messages or WhatsApp.” You’ll note email-checking is most certainly not on the agenda.
In 2016, a study found one in three people check their phones in the middle of the night; respondents said they burn the midnight oil doing a vast range of things including reading the news and responding to work emails.
Bucking that trend, on a typical weekday morning La Prairie tries not to check her emails before she’s at her desk.
She explains: “Google being a global company means there’s often a lot of stuff that’s come in. If it’s come in overnight, I would rather be at my desk and be able to deal with it than to read it and not feel like I can deal with it.”
After taking part in an early-morning exercise class (“I love Soul Cycle,” she tells me), La Prairie then spends 30-45 minutes before the rest of her team gets in checking her emails and preparing herself for the rest of the day.
“I check my emails and deal with everything that has come in overnight and then, you know, get going with the rest of the day.”
And talking of La Prairie’s Google Wellbeing team, the research they conducted earlier this year revealed several poignant points of discussion about maintaining a balanced digital lifestyle.
Firstly, two fifths of respondents believe they would be more efficient at work if they could master control over their phone use. Similarly, two thirds of employees unintentionally find themselves on their phone when they should be working. (We’ve all been there.)
And one in five admit they sneak a peek at their mobile phone at least once an hour, during their working day.
So it’s quite clear, we all need help from time-to-time to stay focused in the office - and the Google Wellbeing team’s ethos is that great technology should improve life, not distract from it.
La Prairie explains to me she actively puts aside time to “deeply” focus on tasks in the morning.
She says: “A thing that’s hard nowadays is spending deep time where you just focus on a single task. For me, mornings are my best time. In the morning I come into work, I won’t check my emails and I will only open one tab and I will give myself maybe 30-45min, whatever it is, to work on something that is hard.
“I will feel great if I accomplish it; I throw my phone into Flip to Shhh so it’s face down - I don’t want it to distract me.”
The Flip to Shhh gesture has been developed by La Prairie’s Google Digital Wellbeing team for the Pixel 3; it turns on Do Not Disturb by flipping the phone face down.
And carving out time for a period of focus is something that stretches across her day - with dinner time being a sacred no-phones event in the La Prairie household.
She says: “I think the most important thing is dinner…unless my husband and I agree otherwise, dinner is going to be phone-free.
“There are some days where we’re both exhausted and we’ll just eat and do anything on our phones – and sometimes we’ll do the ‘eat and watch TV’ thing – but most of the time it’s just sit and catch up on each other’s days and what’s happening.”
This is the sort of digital balance that feels refreshingly simple and honest.
I ask La Prairie, “do you think we’ve got the balance between real life and digital life right?” She replies: “I think for most people it is a question of reflecting on how you use your phone, and that probably depends on who you are and what your starting point is.”
La Prairie explains to me that for one person, spending two hours a day on their phone might sound like a lot of time, but to another person who uses their phone in a different way that would be a drop in the ocean. “You have people who only use their phones, they don’t have a laptop and maybe don’t have a TV… and then you have other people who have a [smart] watch and a smart phone and a TV and laptop. So, it really depends on what you’re doing and how it all sets into your life.”
La Prairie and her team have built a wellbeing.google site. “It has some advice and guidance, and some different conversations that families could have as they think about how technology comes into their lives,” she tells me.
Tempted to transform your own relationship with technology? Check out our 20 tips for digital detoxing.