There is no doubt that technological advances have changed our lives. Think about some of the significant innovations within the last few decades that have transformed Western society. Cellphones and video chat allow us to quickly relay messages and keep in touch with family and friends that may live in another state or country. The “smartphone” is a mini-computer that enables us to access virtually any piece of information we want with a quick Google search. Over 70% of American adults and nearly 50% of adults worldwide now own cellphones. The advent of social media has allowed us to create online personas and has altered the way we socialize. Many people directly access their news online in various mainstream and independent journals, and Netflix is the new cable. Digital media and communication have become quite central to our daily lives.
A quick review of these technologies may lead you to conclude that these advances are wonderful and have improved our lives. But have they? Like most things in life, some pros and cons should be considered. We live in a complex world with many interacting parts that we don’t fully understand; even the slightest change might induce significant changes and have consequences that we did not expect. At what cost do we integrate technological advances into our lives?
The Effects of Technology
You can probably relate to how annoying technology can be at times, perpetually distracting you with all its beeps and buzzes. This can prevent a person from entirely focusing their attention on essential activities. A meta-analysis evaluated the results of 40 studies that included 2922 participants and discovered significant impairments in areas like inhibitory control, decision-making, and working memory.
Using the computer or phone before bed can also cause sleep disturbances due to the blue light emitted from the screen. That blue light stimulates your brain and disrupts your circadian rhythm, making it much harder to fall asleep. And we all know what a bad night’s sleep does to us the next day, don’t we?
Technology also tends to blur the lines between work and home. Is your work email connected to your personal phone and distracting your after-hours? It might time to create some boundaries so you can disengage and relax.
Some people may even develop a fear of missing out (FOMO) if they are not constantly on top of social media, which can be anxiety-inducing. Even though research is ongoing and a general consensus has not been reached, some evidence suggests that becoming addicted to different spheres within the internet world is possible (i.e., gaming, social media). Research is looking at how social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter might be causing narcissism as “social media may be a happy hunting ground for narcissistic needs.” One study had results that generally revealed that narcissism might be involved in problematic Facebook use, but more research is needed.
Why You Should Be Concerned
Several studies indicate that technological advances within the sphere of the internet and social media may negatively impact mental health. The development of anxiety and depression in children and adults alike is a growing concern. Research suggests that increased media use is associated with depressive symptoms. On the other hand, there is also evidence that there may be some cases where the social nature of such communications can improve mood. In another study, researchers compared student reactions to smartphone loss versus social media loss. Those that lost social media access showed greater suppressive emotion regulation with depression, anxiety, and stress. Like these findings, social media users who fell into the study groups of “wired” and “connected” were associated with the most risk of depression and anxiety. Other evidence suggests that mental illness and well-being are correlated with the use of social networking sites (SNS). However, more research is needed to determine the particular qualities of the SNS environment that may be detrimental.
It should be made clear that the pathways through which the Internet is influencing our brains and cognitive processes are ongoing and inconclusive. Some studies are looking to understand these pathways and processes regarding:
- How incoming information causes attention-switching and multi-tasking (as opposed to sustained focus)
- The quick and easy access to massive amounts of information
- Internal memory processes
- The grey area between physical and virtual reality and how parallels between the two impact cognitive processes and sociability
- The possibility that social media can impact real life
Amongst the uncertainty, the lesson learned here is to be cautious and conscious of how the virtual world impacts your mental and physical health. Catch yourself when you’re scrolling too much or viewing things that do not serve you in positive ways. If you start to become depressed, anxious, and isolated, then maybe it’s time to put the phone down and schedule an appointment to talk to someone. Problematic SNS use has been found to be negatively correlated with psychological well-being and satisfaction with life: therefore, could you be using social media as a coping mechanism? Is there some underlying problem that is not being dealt with in physical reality?
Without the advances in technology that we have now, our lives would arguably be much different. The internet and social media have significantly altered the way we express ourselves and interact with the world. However, some research suggests that social media use is associated with increased depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, attention problems, and more. You may get to the point where the virtual world impacts your mental health and causes you extreme anxiety, depression, and perhaps even insomnia. Suffering in this way can put you at high risk of developing a substance abuse problem which can later lead to addiction. If you find yourself struggling with mental health and addiction, Oceanfront Recovery is here to help. Our Mental Health Treatment Center is staffed by therapists that have the training and experience to develop a plan that will work for you. Our Dual Diagnosis Program is an excellent option for those requiring additional help with a co-occurring addiction. Talk to one of our specialists today at (877) 279-1777.