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Crystal Surrency: “5 Ways To Create a Healthy Relationship With Screens and Technology”

Use it as a bonding mechanism. As Gen Z and Millennial friends, parents, and romantic partners ride the wave of burnout now prevalent among their generations, they’re recognizing a deficit in their relationships — and though it may seem counterintuitive, they’re turning to tech to fix it.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal Surrency. With diverse client experience in marketing strategy, digital consulting and consumer research, Crystal Surrency leads Fullscreen’s national strategy and cultural forecasting teams as SVP of Strategy & Insights. In her current role, Crystal also oversees the company’s thought leadership agenda and oversight of the ongoing development of generational research and expertise, next-generation marketing strategy and measurement innovation techniques. Previously, she was VP of Strategy at Razorfish, where she most recently led the strategy function for the South Region. At Fullscreen, Crystal’s focus is to elevate and diversify brand-focused capabilities and improve the group’s ability to turn Fullscreen’s deep audience insights and platform expertise into digital and content strategy for brands. She’s also plays a key role in driving Fullscreen’s own internal strategic planning and innovation efforts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Crystal! What is your backstory?

After growing up in a small town in North Georgia, I moved to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech for undergrad and never looked back. After earning my MBA, I built my career and family here in Atlanta and today continue to love everything this city has to offer. I happened upon digital strategy more than a dozen years ago, within a growing discipline at Razorfish, and fell in love with the crossover of business strategy and digital innovation. Over that time, I’ve watched major pieces of the digital landscape mature, like ecommerce, digital flagship experiences, branded content and social marketing. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the world’s biggest brands, while doubling down on the retail, travel and CPG categories. The heart of my work is bringing new capabilities and service models to market — whether through a brand or at my own company. I love the challenge of finding the right people, motivating them to use their own special talents, and developing something new. The growth I’ve seen in my career can be attributed to my love for the study of consumers and business paired with being drawn to vibrant work environments where creative and tech meet.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Working in the digital ad space has certainly been an interesting ride over the last several years. In fact, I’d say there are more “interesting” stories than the counter. One that I share often with new working moms is about a pitch I traveled to, many years ago, while eight months pregnant. We stayed up super late the night before working through the presentation. My feet were terribly swollen from traveling the next morning and I was exhausted. Getting ready, I somehow managed to squeeze my swollen feet into a pair of heels. When it was my time to present in the overpopulated room, I tripped over my own swollen feet on my way up to the screen. It was a slow-motion moment with terrified looks across the room at the pregnant lady who was going down. That initial fumble shook me and was followed by a series of comedic errors in my presentation, including a pencil flying high into the air. It felt like that pitch was never going to end. When I stepped onto the plane to head home, I collapsed into my seat and into the deepest sleep. I remember some of the leadership from my company at the time expressing disappointment in my shaky performance. I beat myself up for a long while after. But I learned from it. Things are going to go sideways from time to time. Being able to move gracefully through those mistakes in high-intensity times takes learning through some falls (sometimes, literally) along the way. And, by the way, being a working mom can be tough as hell at times. I openly share these types of stories with the women I work with so they know we ALL have those tough times and we’re better for it.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Yes! Last year we launched a Culture and Trend Forecasting capability within Fullscreen. We’ve always concentrated on more youthful audiences and, therefore, the cultural movements they are driving. After several years of seeing this type of consulting really impact the level of creative and timeliness for our clients, we decided to formalize that team and service offering and go-to-market with our very first Fullscreen Culture Report. Right now, we are putting the final touches on a platform that is aggregating multiple data sets to extract themes and trends across consumer segments and categories. This is really exciting work for me because it is blending data science with micro and macro consumer trend spotting while also hyper-focused on the digital thread pulling these things together. We have the brightest minds working on this project — it’s a fun one!

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?

Last year, our Cultural Forecasting teams began to explore the idea that consumers were approaching what we’re calling a social media hangover — overindulged on screens and feeds — and they were starting to feel the negative effects. Our Culture Report dove deep into how this hangover was impacting how we feel about our identities, our relationships and the world. We found that:

  • 54% of 18- to 34-year-olds think being constantly connected to their devices worsens their well-being
  • 51% even admit they often think about what life would be like without social media
  • 83% feel that the number of likes, comments and shares they receive on social content impacts their mood

Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?

1.Take a break. Find tech-free times throughout your day and then in more concentrated times throughout your year. Dinner is tech-free in our household. When we are all in the same city, we sit at the table — distraction-free — and phones/tablets go into a basket. When we can, we make the entire evening while our kiddos are awake a tech-free zone. I have friends who now charge their phones in different rooms at night to prevent over-indulgence in the late evening or early morning. More generally, we do see consumers taking longer breaks — weekend retreats and tech-free vacations in order to fully disconnect. These disconnection times force out bad habits when we re-engage.

2.Your digital space is your space, so make it your own. Fullscreen’s Culture Report also found that 18- to 34-year-olds were starting to “clean out” their feeds, Konmari-style. They were unfollowing any accounts that were not sparking joy and creating a space for healthy digital wellness. In fact:

  • 62% have “cleaned up” their friends or followers lists in the last six months
  • After a social clean-up, 69% of 18- to 34-year-olds feel positive emotions (refreshed, excited, relieved, energized)
  • 63% of 18- to 34-year-olds can see themselves making a habit of cleaning up their social feeds

3. Use technology to simplify and optimize. According to Fullscreen’s Fall 2019 Culture Report, Gen Z and Millennials are using apps to optimize their time in many areas of their lives, and are more likely to optimize around their friends/family than many other areas. When asked which aspect of their life they optimize their time with technology — 48% of Gen Z and Millennials chose family and friends

4. Use it for good. In our Generational study about Millennials parents or “Parennials,” our teams found that 96% of parents use technology to help them be a better parent. They use it to give themselves a needed break, for personal entertainment, for inspiration and utility/organization. In these busy times, technology can be a tool for improving your family life!

5. Use it as a bonding mechanism. As Gen Z and Millennial friends, parents, and romantic partners ride the wave of burnout now prevalent among their generations, they’re recognizing a deficit in their relationships — and though it may seem counterintuitive, they’re turning to tech to fix it. There is a new crop of apps that offer tools to better manage and strengthen real-life — like Squad, Twenty and Monaru.

Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?

No doubt social media is a fully-integrated part of our lives today. And it can be a really beautiful and healthy part! Social media can inspire us, make us feel more connected with loved ones and fuel our own creativity via the stories and posts we create. However, there certainly are dark sides as well.

I think — as with most things in life — it’s all about moderation and intention. It’s being mindful of when/why you reach for your device, and what is motivating that behavior. Is it to mindlessly scroll to pass the time, or to meaningfully connect with a friend? Are you using social media as a platform for self-comparison, or to follow accounts that fuel your self-expression and exploration? We see some of the big platforms updating their user experience to encourage a healthier relationship with social media. Instagram has a newer function that tells you when you’re “all caught up” and current with the posts in your newsfeed. They are also experimenting with removing likes. The relationships we have with our devices and social media will undoubtedly change as tech advances and integrates even deeper into our daily lives, and I think the important questions to ask yourself will always be “how can my participation and presence on social media best serve me on and offline?”

80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?

Our morning news intake has shifted from newspaper and television to the small screen. And beyond that, it’s also expanded. Our morning news now includes updates across your social graph! It seems so natural now to roll over in bed and take in your news, check in with your friends and family on social, and get your highly tailored app alerts. However, I believe in the positive impact that can be had from taking the first moments of your morning to focus on gratitude and your intentions for the day. Ground yourself, then field your updates!

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

As I’ve moved through life, this lesson is all too true. I often think about how my children will look back on their lives growing up with us. And I can only hope that they’re filled with memories of feeling safe, feeling encouraged and feeling loved. For my teams, I hope I inspire them to be better, to keep working hard to perfect their trade, and moreover, that I will always be here for them and encouraging them to do these things. Leading and parenting with kindness and honesty is my life’s focus.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

To spend dedicated time each day alone, getting centered. Getting there will be different for everyone. But in all the busyness and escalating distractions of life today, it’s important to find what grounds you and commit to a practice — this could be spending time in meditation or prayer, exercising to get endorphins kicking, reading or listening to podcasts that push your mind to more thought-provoking spaces. Personally, I get so much benefit from long morning runs outside — connecting with nature, alone with my thoughts and feeling as though I’ve accomplished something before my day really gets going. It’s a stress reliever and grounds me that this world is bigger than my small bubble, my small troubles and the challenges of the day ahead. It reminds me I am here for a purpose and this day matters.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I’m most active professionally on LinkedIn, but also have to call out our blog and Insights pages. So much of what I’m working on is represented in unique research outputs and industry perspectives that come out through our work there!

Thank you for all of these great insights!




In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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