The Positives and Negatives of Technology for Mental Health
We live in an age where technology has taken center stage like never before in history. Technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the age of the Industrial Revolution which spread from Europe to other parts of the world at the turn of the 1800s. Now we have mass adoption of digital technology in everything from smartphones, robotics, to social media, and soon self-driving cars.
Forgotten in our rush to adopt new technology is that it cuts both ways. Look at the Luddites (who in 1811 smashed the textile looms that they saw as replacing them, and taking their jobs) they warned in the early days of technology acceleration, that technology was not all good. Back then, it led to mass job losses, threatening a way of life that had been in place for hundreds or thousands of years.
Nowadays, the toll of technology is not primarily on our jobs. Many jobs, are created by and benefit from using technology. The hidden cost of technology today is primarily its potentially negative effect on society’s mental health.
Technology, Isolation, and Loneliness
In an ever-connected world, technology can have a harmful impact on mental health by interfering with normal human relationships. Young kids are especially susceptible to suffering from social dislocation in the artificial environments that technology is fostering.
For example, bringing phones and other gadgets to the dinner table can lead to young children not receiving the attention from parents that they need in order to develop. Feeling like they are subordinated to the screens around them, which receive more attention, can be damaging for children’s self-esteem. As a result, you might find your kids throwing temper tantrums or other coping strategies to gain attention.
Adults are not immune to technology-induced forms of loneliness and social anxiety. Researchers at Hanover College studied adults 19-44 years old and found a slight correlation between heavy technology use and loneliness.
Those users who spent more time with technology were more likely to suffer from self-reported significant levels of loneliness. Technology, while promising to connect us, can be very effective at making us even more lonely.
Addictive Effects of Technology
Technology in its modern forms can be addictive. When technology ceased being a giant machine with no personalized experience, it became more personal. Now your phone can contain all your personal data and capture emotions that are important to you.
This has led to an environment in which users spend inordinate amounts of time with their phones. For many, tapping away into their phones has become more fulfilling that having a real conversation with someone next to them.
The data on phone addiction is alarming. About 44% of users sleep with phones next to their bed so they can get up in the night to check updates and notifications. The phenomenon of the “phantom vibration” has become widespread, in which users check phones for messages when they did not actually hear a phone notification.
Furthermore, Americans spend roughly 4.7 hours per day on their phones. About 40% of college students can’t go more than 10 minutes without checking their phones.
The problem of technology addiction has resulted in the development of pathologies such as internet addiction, which have harmful effects on the individual. A research study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences indicated that internet addiction had harmful consequences that include:
Further, the researchers indicated that a large cross-section of the youth population was suffering from the consequences of internet addiction.
The Surprising Link Between Technology and Weight Gain
One of the big symptoms of the mental health problems in our population today is the obesity epidemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sheds light on this public health threat, indicating:
- Almost 40% of American adults are obese
- The annual medical cost, in dollars, of the obesity problem, is over $147 billion
- Obesity prevalence was highest in Hispanics and Blacks, followed by Whites and Asians
While the financial costs may be high, the medical ramifications are even worse, since obesity can come with dangerous diseases like diabetes.
Crucially, researchers have discovered a link between heavy technology access and weight gain. Scientists at Arizona State University studied the link between the adoption of household technology and obesity. They concluded that technology use led to sedentary lifestyles and took away essential energy-spending activities. As a result, modern technology conveniences such as entertainment products, washing machines and other gadgets play a role in the dire obesity epidemic.
Technology Use Linked to Sleep Deprivation and Depression
Technology use can have a debilitating effect on mental health through sleep deprivation. Not only do people who tend to use technology more suffer sleep loss, but the effects on their mental health can lead to depression and other problems.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden uncovered the harmful effects of technology use on mental well-being. Among their findings, they discovered:
- High correlation between heavy cell phone use and sleep disorders
- Link between technology use and depression in both men and women
- Heavy use of computers linked to sleep problems in men
The inability to get quality sleep prevents the body and mind from recovering completely. Over time, people who suffer insomnia or a sleep deficit cannot effectively cope with all the challenges of modern life. Combined with depression, this negative effect of technology on mental health can be dangerous.
Best Practices to Prevent The Bad Side Effects of Technology
While the link between technology and mental health issues might be alarming, there are some steps that you can take to avoid these problems.
First, make sure that you have a healthy mix of activities that do not center around technology. For example, incorporate some physical exercise in your life and make time to get fit. This will give you time to get your body and mind in a healthy state, away from technology, which cannot play that role for your body.
Second, cut yourself off from technology past a certain hour of the day. For example, an hour or two before bedtime, turn off your phones and computers. This allows your mind and body to relax, giving you a better quality of sleep. Especially if you have suffered from insomnia in the past, cutting out technology in the run up to sleep will help your mind switch off faster.
Like any other good thing, technology can be good if used with moderation. Spending too many hours on your phone, a social media platform, or surfing the internet begins to put you in the danger zone. Rather, go online to chat with friends but limit the amount of time you put into such cyberspace activities.
Never allow technology to replace real social interactions with friends and activities that get you involved in society.
Living Well With Technology
While technology is good for society when used right, failure to exercise caution in how we interact with it can lead to severe mental health issues. It has been linked to harmful mental health conditions like depression, sleep disorders, internet addiction, and even weight gain.
To combat these potential problems, it’s important to strive for a life of balance. Always remember to put time into essential physical exercise, and to develop your relationships away from technology platforms.