In modern society, it is quite apparent that technology has made a major impact upon our lives. If you were born in the 1960’s or earlier, technology has transformed your life in a dramatic way. On the other hand, school aged children today are growing up in a world driven by technology. They have no other experience by which to compare, the technological world is all that they have ever known.
Despite all the ways in which technology makes our lives better, there is growing concern about technology and its impact on mental health and human socialization. For example, I read of a recent study that reported an overall decline of student grades stemming from the use of cell phones in the classroom.
As a psychologist, I want to address some underlying issues which go beyond our perceived benefits of technology. In my opinion, technology is simply a tool that can be used for our benefit or our detriment. The real issue has to do with our thinking and subsequent behavior. It is never the thing, it is what is driving the thing: human motivation.
Think of technology like electricity. When electricity is harnessed, it is of great benefit to us. On the other hand, when electricity is out of control, it can destroy us.
From a psychological perspective, there are 3 main concerns that I have with technology as it relates to mental health.
The first concern is regarding mental focus. Technology and social media have become such a great source of distraction away from face to face relationships. These relationships were the norm before we were conditioned to become more relationally distant. When we are constantly distracted, we are not taking the time to connect with self and others. If we are not connecting to ourselves, we are not growing on a personal level.
The second concern is regarding how we communicate. The addiction to technology has created a generation that is not equipped to effectively communicate. We are missing out on some crucial parts of the communication process. Those parts are called body language and tone of voice. It is well known that spoken words are only a small part of the communication process, only estimated at about 7%. When we text or email, we only have the written words to decipher and often we don’t do that correctly, hence the need for the hundreds of emojis and GIFs. This type of communication breeds mental confusion and misunderstanding, which often leads to conflict.
The third concern relates to a growing social fear and avoidance. Let’s face it, we are all human and experience doubt and fear from time to time. In my opinion, technology cultivates avoidance and if we hide behind technology, we tend to stay disconnected. Interestingly, I have observed an increase of today’s youth with a growing fear of speaking to others over the phone. This fear and avoidance can negatively impact their relationships and career opportunities later in life.
In addition to the above concerns, there is also the issue of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and their effect on the brain and body. At this time, we really don’t know to what extent that EMF’s can have on brain chemicals. Some believe that it could possibly be adding to the increase of anxiety and depression symptoms in today’s youth.
I believe that we, as a society, can agree that there is a concern with the distraction that technology can create in classrooms, meetings, public offices, vehicles, etc. Therefore, I believe that it is up to us personally to make sure that the use of cell phones and computers do not become a distraction or an addiction that affects how we feel mentally. Furthermore, as parents, we should monitor our children for signs of anxiety and/or depression as it may be influenced by their addiction to social media.
Currently, there are digital detox camps that are available to assist young people in managing tech boundaries and breaking mental habits that are nonproductive. Teaching young people how to be more mindful and aware of the present is proving to be helpful when dealing with mental health issues.
If your child is suffering from anxiety and/or depression and is addicted to social media, my first recommendation would be to have them fast from it for a day or two and see how they feel. Additionally, have them make a conscious effort to connect with others face to face or simply go outside and spend some time in nature. If they suddenly feel better mentally and emotionally, then it could be an indication that technology is negatively impacting their mental health.
Addictions to technology and social media is not much different from the dynamics of other addictions. Addictions occur because there are underlying things that we may not want to face. Most often, the things we avoid have to do with intimacy in relationships. For some, it is much easier to have superficial relationships than to risk having a real one.
Isn’t it ironic that we have never been so connected in our world but at the same time, we have never been so disconnected to one another personally. Furthermore, we have never been so disconnected to ourselves. To know oneself is key to knowing others.
The question remains, is today’s technology good for our mental health? It depends on who you ask and what personal benefit it has to that individual. I would just ask you to reflect and examine its possible effects on your mental health as well as your children’s.
It may surprise you to know that almost half of the entire world’s population is without the use of internet and the technological devices that we take for granted every day. When it comes to personal relationships and what really makes people happy, we might want to ask ourselves the following question, are we really the fortunate ones?