Is Hardtech Affecting Our Mental Health?

“Turn It off!” moms have said for decades addressing their kids’ watching TV or playing video games. Before health research from the World Health Organization could prove it, moms knew - too much technology isn’t a good thing. Their intuition clearly saw that being around screens day-in and day-out not only led to child meltdowns, but also simply wasn’t good for their brains. But does this translate into adults? And software screen use might have one effect, but how many negative effects are there from IOT or hardware technology?

 

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Recently, Time magazine reported on a study quantifying if screen time directly affected child development delays, “too much time in front of a TV or computer can have negative effects on their development, including issues with memory, attention and language skills.” The study noted kids between the ages of 2 and 5 were spending from 1 to 3 hours in front of the screen every day. As they grow up, more time is spent in front of a gizmo. Today, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, American children spend an average of seven hours a day, on some sort of electronic device. And healthcare workers are concerned. Trod Harman, a Social worker at Keystone Health explains, “electronics, video games, and social media tend to lead individuals to living a much more isolated life.” Humans are social beings. Similar to ants or bees, we live in communities and thrive off of teamwork. Imagine if there were suddenly bees that weren’t working with other bees, but secluded in their own honeycomb section. Ostensibly. one can recognize this just “isn’t natural” and couldn't’ be good for those loner bees. Harman continues, “..when you over-engage in using electronics, it leads to a sedentary lifestyle.” Relating to how we are mimicking alone and obese bees(!) All analogies aside, humans need interaction and exercise. It’s fundamental to our beings. And as we grow, we continue to need these behaviors for a physical and mental health. 

Great Schools.org, a non-profit that aims to empower parents, characterizes a typical 2021 family scene; Parent comes home from work and instead of opening the door to a welcoming family, he/she is met with his/her child watching YouTube, Tween playing video games, and Teen on social media. The parent too “relaxes” by reading emails. All secluded in front of their various screens. The teens are extra susceptible to effects of too much use with these gadgets. In the past two years, “56% of teenagers have reported feeling lonely, anxious, or upset in the absence of their phone.” But it doesn’t stop with lonely or anxious feelings. Suicide rates are up 60% in 10-24 year olds since 2007. And some say the 180+ school shootings over the last decade can be rooted in the mix of unsettled teens using too much confusing and complicated technology. Technology is proving to increase feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression in extreme ways and not just in early childhood, but throughout adolescent years. But does it continue to do so with adults? 

Business Insider wrote a phenomenal article about how technology is proving to affect us, even adults, in not-so-great ways. Everything from insomnia to hurting your posture, eye strain from too much screen usage, to being less self-sufficient. Technology is also addictive. We know that. Adults spend as much as 12 hours a day in front of a screen. Our behaviors exemplify addiction, “Our attention spans are short. Our ability to focus on one task at a time is impaired. And our boredom tolerance is nil.” We even admit to an addiction. One study found 27% of adults describe themselves as addicted to their mobile devices. This addiction can still have the same mental health consequences as in kids and teens - isolation, anxiety, and depression. But it can also muddle more intricate complexities of life.

 

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We are just starting to quantify these more indirect ramifications of technology. Like how to genuinely feel empathy for another human. If you are isolated with technology for half or the majority of your life, creating authentic connections with other humans isn’t quite as native as it once was. Or adapting to a void of non-verbal communication in relationships. If you are texting your partner more than speaking to him/her in-person, a lot goes by the wayside. In the case of hardware technology, there are literally more pieces that can go-awry. For example, a traditional doorbell doesn’t have the complex electrical, mechanical and software components compared to the Nest doorbell. The gadget might be adding a lot to your life in terms of security, but if it breaks, that's one more thing to fix or replace. When every item becomes smart, that’s a lot more responsibility, stress, and time a couple generations ago, your counterpart wouldn’t have handled. Then there’s also the absence of serendipitous moments. If you can look anything up and have the answer immediately, will it burn in your memory as effectively? Or if you push a button and bread is made, your personal trainer leads you through a yoga class, or your home automatically acclimates to your temperature needs, are you better off mentally? Or do you have a much harder understanding of working hard for a deserved reward - building confidence, gaining pride, and ultimately shaping a joyful life. 

From slowing childhood development, to amplifying isolation, anxiety and depression in teens, software and screens are very clearly hurting our mental health. And these psychological effects bubble over into adulthood. Our addictions to technology affect us in direct physical consequences, but also more subtle indirect influences. Even smart hardware can add more stress to our lives. As we develop technology and learn to love the fruits of our advances, we should also take note of how these developments are affecting our mental health.

 

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