Good Hustler: Jocelyn Brewer || Digital Nutrition

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Of the many super things to come out of the WorkLifeX Conference in 2018, was seeing a presentation by Jocelyn Brewer from Digital Nutrition. Her approach fully lit me in a number of ways but the one thing she did that spoke to my heart was listen to the hyperbolic language people use in relation to digital tools, and call it out. Regular readers will know my concern with how often languages demonises and blames things that are in fact inert tools, rather than looking for self awareness around behavior and individual change.

Joce is an educator and a psychologist, she is also a gal who fully participates in the digital economy in all its glory. She sure has seen the downsides, but in an act of pure semantic genius, has made a simple conceptual leap to the way we talk about our screen lives and times, to the way we eat. Everyone gets what happens when we bings on junk endlessly, and then blame food for making us overweight. Digital Nutrition is the same, when a balanced diet of good screen time and content is had, everyone can engage and have fun in a healthy way. This message is so fresh and timely, and in desperate need by many people who have unhealthy relationships with devices and content.

Joce is walking the talk, with her business and her personal practice. She has a very healthy relationship with the off button, and with a new business and newish toddler, is right in the thick of having to be in flow and capitalise on the moment.

Tell me a little about the lead up to starting your business:

I’ve had side hustles and passion-projects on the go since I was about 20. I met some fellows working on a film set in 1999, they then started a film-screening event called Popcorn Taxi which we ran it together for about ten years, by that time I was retraining from being a high school teacher to school counsellor so gave that up to spend my spare time producing independent theatre and comedy. I made 8 shows in 4 years with a various theatre collectives and degrees of success!

Creating Digital Nutrition was a bit of an accident.  My fascination with the psychology of technology was sparked when I was doing 4th year psychology in 2008, and I had to do a research project as part of my training, my principal at the time suggested I look into what happens when the Digital Education Revolution started handing out laptops to every kid in year 9, alongside the rise of online gaming. After I finished my thesis I just kept up my interest in the space, which was growing around the rise of ‘digital detoxes’ and the course correction on how we use technology. 

Digital Nutrition was a reaction to that, an attempt to be more positive and proactive, and to unpack some of the research so that people could understand it beyond the sensational headlines and get practical fear-free solutions.  It’s moved from being mostly presentations to parents about their kids’ technology use, to helping parents themselves (and all humans who ‘blue-face’ devices for longer than they’d like) get back control, and also into consultation work with schools to develop more digital confidence and intelligence into their policies and practices.  As a psychologist I also run my own small private practice where I work increasingly with teens and families to help them manage digital dependencies and realign with their goals and values (and be mentally well).  Its constantly evolving as the digital landscape shifts and pivots.

1.     Describe your business in one powerful sentence.

Digital Nutrition is about helping you stay grounded and human in a technology-saturated world - by building savvy digital habits that help you flourish not flounder.

 2.     How do you integrate service to others in your business model?

Well, I have a pretty shabby business model to begin with! I am a psychologist and teacher, so I spent a lot of my working time face-to-face and simply being with people, listening and holding a space for them in various capacities. I present to and meet lots of parents in my work, and I am always amazed at how much they give to their kids, and how parenting is one of the biggest ways we are in service to others.  I’m really passionate about helping parents and carers look after their own wellbeing and mental health so they can connect and communicate adaptively with their kids – as they say, you can’t give from an empty cup! 

3.     What were some of the highlights and lowlights of your journey to where you are now?

Given when I did my HSC (23 years ago!) I had NFI what I wanted to do with my life and floundered around for a most of my undergrad I’ve carved out some really super opportunities.

I got a scholarship to retrain as a School Counsellor in 2006 – this paid for me to complete 3rd and 4th year psychology and gave me a permanent position within NSW Public Schools and I completed my psych registration in my role working out in Sydney’s south-western suburbs – a real heartland of young people from diverse backgrounds.

 I then received a NSW Premiers Teaching Scholarship for Health Education in 2014.  I wrote the application in Bali, by a pool in Ubud just after my 36th birthday and a doozy of a relationship breakup. The scholarship allowed me to travel across the USA for 5 weeks on full pay and meet some incredible people in the space of Digital Citizenship, media/digital literacy, social-emotional learning and EduTech. It was a really exhausting trip, but it was a brilliant networking opportunity that helped open a range of doors since.  I’ve built an amazing network of people through social media who I admire and can chat to.

I don’t have any real low lights, maybe just some dimmable moments – working in an emerging space where you are up against some big morally panicked headlines can be hard.  I work from home from our spare room (in the south-western suburbs of Sydney) which is a both a blessing and a curse that I am still wrangling with how to balance productivity and connectivity.  Being able to wear your tracky-dacks and uggies to ‘work’ is brilliant, but it can be isolating and I am someone who craves connection and conversation… Sometimes I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything at all, but then I can look back and see how much all the ‘little things’ add up to!

4.     Do you have a spiritual practice?

I met the Hare Krishna devotees in Byron Bay when I was 19 and got quite involved in the Sydney Temple throughout much of my 20’s.  I didn’t throw myself into bhakti all as fully as some people I knew did, but I kept a regular date with the Sunday feast and sankirtan outings! It was an incredibly formative experience and I still have a close network of friends from my tiem in the movement.

I’ve journaled since I was 10.  I have about 35 volumes of diaries, which peak in their creativity and outpouring of emotion and detail in my 20’s, I think that has had a really big impact on my ability to reflect and adapt as I could see what my heart was really calling me to do.  I still endeavour to journal at least weekly.  I have this daydream project called The Diary Library which would be a curation of journals and diaries that is digitised and searchable by date and age and location, like a huge anthropological project to map experiences and recollections.  I might have to save that up until my next life!

These days my spiritual practice is being as mindful and present to my 18-month-old daughter as I can.  I am acutely aware of how my use of technology can get in the way of this, not just when I am managing calls and emails but even in the process of taking photos or videoing her doing amazing, hilarious little person things.  The phone/camera interrupts our connection, it’s a real thing that she knows has value and I don’t want her to even have to compete with my phone for attention!

5.     Advice for others who want to start their own good hustle?

 You need more time than you think you do!  Or at least to manage your energy and priorities well.  Everything I do tends to be pretty ad hoc but from an informed perspective, so I’d definitely suggest get strategic and make clearer plans than I do!  Get help, ask for support, look to those with the experience and objective perspective so you don’t get your wheels churning in the mud!

Polly McGee