Jerry O: How Technology has Affected our Mental Health (Part 1) - Is Technology Good?

Our dependency and reliance in technology has come this far; technology has a huge impact on its users' mental and physical well-being.  Our online behaviour and interaction with technology has been associated with some psychological issues such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression.  The use of technology has also been attributed to negative symptoms on physical health such as vision problems, hearing loss, and neck strain. 
We will briefly look at the effects of technology on mental health, on how technology in itself is a good tool.  We would also discuss about some psychological issues that have come about in the recent years due to technology in Part 2.

Technology is Good
If you think about what is one of the biggest multi-million dollar transport company (Uber/Grab), retail company (Amazon/Ali Baba) and hotelier (Airbnb) in the world today, you will realise that they all have one thing in common.  None of them own physical assets that relates to their company.  Uber and Grab does not own a fleet of vehicles or taxis.  Amazon or AliBaba has no physical retail space or physical inventory.  And Airbnb does not own any hotel or buildings.  Yet all of them are well known, multi-million dollar companies.  My point:

Technology made it all possible. 
50 years ago, their ideas probably wouldn’t take off.  Technology is good.  It made millionaires out of people who own no physical asset.  This is the disruption of technology to the conventional business model.  And it is nothing new that technology will continue to disrupt conventional thoughts, behaviours and practices.

Technology has brought about globalization and modernization of our world today.  Work processes, traffic and transportation has been simplified.  It has connected people from one end of the world to the other in a split second.  Technology helped us effectively search for information we need, and filters through large amounts of data instantly and on the go.  Technology also gives us immediate access to products, services and solutions at our finger tips.  Technology has made treatment and management of illnesses less intrusive and more painless.  Even security and warfare has change with drone and robotic technology, reducing the need to put human lives in danger during missions and on duty.  The way we live today is a vast improvement to what we have endured 30 years ago, the convenience, the lifestyle, accessibility and safety all thanks to technology!

Technology Related Psychological Issues
The effects of technology on mental health may depend on whether we are in control of the technology usage or whether the technology is controlling us.  According to Crawford (2011), children and teens, ages 8-18, are spending nearly 11-12 hours in a typical day using media, including playing video games, watching TV, listening to music, and on their devices.  Although during some of this time these individuals are multitasking (using more than one device at a time), by comparison, less than one hour each day is being spent socializing in person by people 15 years old and older.

Kids are getting more technologically savvy and at younger ages, hence we get the terminology “digital natives” that describes the children of this generation.  A growing number of research has found that technology can be both beneficial and harmful to the cognitive development and perception of children.  Moreover, this influence isn’t just affecting children on the surface of their thinking.  Rather, because their brains are still developing and malleable, frequent exposure to technology is actually wiring the brain in ways very different than in previous generations. 

What has been observed is that, as with advances throughout history, the available technology of one’s time, determines how our brains develops.  For example, the dawn of the internet age has brought about the emergence of reading, encouraging our brains to be focused and imaginative, it also strengthens our ability to scan information rapidly and efficiently.  However, it has also made us more demanding and impatient when we have to wait.  The children of the internet age struggle with delayed gratification because they have been conditioned to receive on demand.
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Even for adults, much of our stress is caused by technology. We often become overwhelmed by technology's flood of incoming demands on our time and energy. Mobile phones, texting, e-mail, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram notifications all insistently demanding an immediate response. We sometimes allow our gadgets to dictate our lives. You see people pull out their phones and two minutes later do it again, even though nothing has taken place. That is driven by a reflex action, as well as by our anxiety to make sure we haven’t missed out on anything.

Social isolation can also be caused by overuse of technology.  While it may appear that WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook have the potential to reduce social isolation, none of these forms of communication include face-to-face contact.  Today we can see families and friends at dinner tables with everyone looking at or engaged with their mobile devices at the same time and no one talking to one another.  Some research is suggesting that people are having a harder time even understanding facial expressions.  It is important to cultivate a balance between face-to-face and online communication.

The interruptions and urgency of technology's demands can affect family life as well.  Technology allows the lines between work and home to become blurred, as people are more easily able to take work home with them.  Many people find it difficult to turn off the technology and stop working.  Failure to set boundaries is harmful to both physical and mental health.

Stay Tuned for Part 2!!!