Good Health is good for you, we all know that. A quick high intensity exercise burst at the gym, or a run, or a good night’s sleep – these all do ourselves ‘ the power of good’. Up until the middle of the last century having good health really meant staying alive, and not dying young: the “Spanish Flu” pandemic 1918-19 which killed many more millions than the First World War itself showed how a common bug which has low mortality can rocket around a population weakened by poor nutrition, bad sanitation, the spreading effect of mass mobility and a factor like war.
But in 1945 after the Second World War something changed. The UN was created and with it a new body, The World Health Organisation. They wanted to create a world which was healthy enough not just to survive life but to thrive in it. The original definition is interesting, not least because it still stands today:
“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of injury and disease”.
One word stands out for me: the word “social”. We have come a long way to understanding and practicing good physical and mental health and well-being, but social well-being? Today we have not just a physical obesity crisis – 20% of the world is on course to be clinically obese by 2025 – but we have a different kind of crisis and deprivation: Information obesity, time poverty and network blockage.
We are officially in the Age of Overload. Those in control of their schedules and diaries are regarded as infinitely richer than those who are not. Networks are for many people an overwhelming tangle comprising work-related and purely personal databases, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp in a permanent cacophony of addictive sharing rather than a set of trusted relationships who can guide us through the thickets. The MIT psychology Professor Sherry Turkle has written about how conversation is being sidelined by a new condition: “phubbing: the art of talking to other people but with your eyes on your phone”.
The modern fitness revolution was kick- started by the actress Jane Fonda in 1982 with her famous workout video. Something interesting happened the same year: TIME magazine named ‘The Computer’ as its celebrated ‘Person of the Year’. This year, next year, we need a new kind of fitness, one which has been made necessary by the very computerised technology which keeps us all connected – fully connected – all of the time.
We need to know how to switch off, how to manage information overload better, how to connect better face-to-face in a Facebook world, and how to build networks which are not a tangle of virtual tubes but real relationships. We can start with learning how to treat our diaries like our bodies – only putting something in which we feel is good and healthy for us.
Here, then, is my definition of a new kind of health: Social Health: “To maintain a balance of activity, mindset and connections which enhance well-being and productivity”.
I’m writing what I hope will be the blueprint for Social Health in the home, the office, the corridors of policymaking. Our behaviours have changed substantially around physical and mental health. The next big push needs to be Social Health.
“Fully Connected: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Overload” will be published by Bloomsbury early 2017.