Is Technology Effecting Our Self Esteem?
In 2020 we were in-front of, and interacting with our technology a lot. Our world has evolved to incorporate technology for almost every second of our lives, and with little forewarning, COVID-19 abruptly made us inside and connected almost every moment. But is all this interaction with our digital halves good for our self esteem? Self esteem is our confidence, our self-worth. It’s our realistic or positive view of ourselves. Our minds might jump to how we are now potentially more confident than ever, some go so far to say narcissistic, due to social technologies. But then there are also huge spans of anxiety or depression that were not common even twenty years ago. The correlation of these mental health issues and rise of technology-use is strong enough for us to ask, “Is technology affecting our self esteem?” And if so, is it for the better or worse?
One of the fundamental ways to build self esteem is to learn a new practice. Whether that’s studying how to play piano by way of an electric keyboard, or mimicking a makeup artist on YouTube, or finally fixing the shower drain from the “3 step process” on the plumber’s website, or auditing Harvard classes online; technology allows us to educate ourselves. In these ways, we are smarter because of technology. And theoretically, we have more confidence because of those opportunities. As explained on Indeed.com, “Choosing to exercise your development can help boost your confidence by allowing you to assess your capabilities and motivation to develop your knowledge.” Think back to everything you learned by-way of technology this year. Maybe you now know how to sign-into Zoom. Or maybe you conquered a recipe because your smart oven knew to turn off at the exact right time for your creation to plump to perfection. Technology allows us to learn, and thus enables confidence.
But that’s not the only kind of self esteem technology allows us to cultivate. Technology can save us time and money, by supporting or empowering us to achieve our goals. Fitbit is a great example of technology helping us track our progress in losing weight or getting healthy. Instead of hundreds of hours and payments at a gym or with a trainer, Fitbit saves transportation time and fees, then supports us in controlling our own improvements. Healthier bodies breeds higher self esteem. Another example of technology improving time and money restraints for us to achieve our goals is with self-driving cars. Car manufacturers like Lexus, Tesla and Volvo have developed technology so the car will park or completely drive for you. Though a person still needs to sit in the driver’s seat, this means you can literally do two things at once - most notably, take a phone call. Make those reservations, start that conference call while the car parks for you, chat with Mom on your commute home. Car technology is saving you time. It’s also safer. “According to the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 94% of accidents on US roads occur due to human error.” This means lower insurance, less physical damage, and maybe-this-is-a-stretch, but lower blood pressure, headaches, or other costly health effects from human errors. The implications from car self-driving technology means time and money saved. Beyond the cool factor, this encourages us to carve time and money towards completing our goals and increasing our self esteem.
Technology also brings us together. We are social beings. We thrive in community. “Human beings are wired to connect – and we have the most complex and interesting social behavior out of all animals” said Michael Platt, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. The Doctor went on to say, “This social behavior is a critical part of our adaptive toolkit. It allows us to come together and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own.” How many Facebook groups or frankly, in-person conversations have we had because of connection through technology? Uber, bars, even dates are selected by-way of technology. How many people have you met through Meetups or Task Rabbits because of technology? A lot. It brings us together, manifesting our natural social behaviors. And these social interactions are imperative to our self esteem. The American Psychology Association published a meta-analysis on this behavior relationship in 2019. The point is well summarized, “the findings suggest that the link between people’s social relationships and their level of self-esteem is truly reciprocal in all develop- mental stages across the lifespan, reflecting a positive feedback loop between the constructs.” Clearly technology amplifying our abilities to socialize is helping our self esteem, right? Not completely, there are a lot of contradicting perspectives.
It’s true technology brings a lot of people together that might not otherwise be introduced. But it also amplifies screen time - a distancing factor, rather than boosting deep-interpersonal connections. Medical News Today reports,”A 2017study in young adults aged 19–32 years found that people with higher social media use were more than three times as likely to feel socially isolated than those who did not use social media as often.” And that’s pre-COVID! Studies show that those quarantined between March and June 2020, “82% of respondents reported being frequently exposed to information about the pandemic through social media. Of those, 48% showed symptoms of depression, 23% for anxiety, and 19% for both disorders.” Notably, these are all significantly higher rates of mental health struggles than pre-pandemic. There is certainly a correlation between screen-time and depression, anxiety, or both. An NYU article during COVID-19 concluded, “Studies have found that social isolation is a risk factor for a range of physical and mental health conditions, including heart disease, obesity, diminished immune response, depression, and anxiety.” So even though we have been Zooming and GoogleMeeting for months, we feel serious loneliness - a precursor to deep doubt or fear. We needed human-to-human interaction to subdue loneliness and boost our mental health. Technology, though it helps us communicate, doesn’t necessarily bolster the connections we need to prevent depression, anxiety, even heart disease or obesity. In fact, technology might hinder our mental health and overall self esteem.
Technology, one could argue, takes time and money away from us. We pay $1000 for a phone. We pay for smart objects all around us to be connected to Wifi. We pay for unnecessary apps. like dancing in-front of or sending silly pictures to our friends. We give our time and energy to learn fresh technology, to protect our technology, and to fix our technology. This doesn’t add up to peaceful, coexistent, confident communities. This adds up to more stress and pressure to “keep up with the Jones’” in an ever evolving modern world. Confidence builder? I think not. We compare ourselves online and in-person by-way of technology. When our Mothers and Fathers were in school, their worries were about jeans ripping and hair eventually receding. Today, middle and high schoolers are concerned about every inch of their appearances, how many friends they have, and what ring light is best for their designer phone. One mother relayed to a Pew researcher, “I have seen, especially in our three teen girls, the effects on self-esteem and body image...Snapchat and Instagram, because you can take pictures and edit them … everyone sees this brushed-up, edited body and starts comparing themselves.” Her concerns are met with loads of statistics on how girls’ clearly are comparing themselves too often to digitally-enhanced peers. Healthcorps.org, an organization that educates young people about mental and physical wellness, advises parents and teenagers alike, “people who generally struggle with low self-esteem may feel that seeing others living their best lives is confirmation that they’re not doing well in comparison. Although it’s human nature, limit the comparing and focus on your own accomplishments.” The message; limit screen time and focus on building your own self esteem from the inside-out. It’s clear in today’s world - time and money can be robbed of us by-way of technology.
Self esteem can also be lowered by feeling overwhelmed physically or emotionally. Physical ailments known to be rooted in technology; eyestrain, poor posture, sleep issues, obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, even premature death - reports Medical News Today. These physical stresses are not advantageous for those building confidence. They hinder the process. Technology can also make you feel overwhelmed emotionally. Arik Hanson, an honest father and blogger with a typical amount of tech in his house, wrote about a modern-weekend spent dealing with technology. In the end, he asked readers, “I’m also looking for a little sympathy and community here, too. I can’t be the only one feeling this way. I can’t be the only one overwhelmed (at times) by all this technology… I’m curious. And overwhelmed.” His honesty about real human feelings speaks volumes. Infinite overwhelming or exhaustive feelings do not build self esteem. So, if you’re plugged in 24/7, when do you turn off? An Annual Review of Psychology report explained, “When you’re constantly online, your brain can’t do its best work. Letting your mind wander lets your creativity flow.” Constant technology consumption is preventing wandering, serendipitous moments, and perhaps even the pleasures of just being present. Your mind cannot meander, but is enslaved to the digital cosmos.
Naval Ravikant, a famous tech investor who lives at the center of Silicon Valley, regularly gives bits of wisdom to the modern world through Twitter and a few other avenues. His insightfulness is comforting among other positive attributes. His words, “Self-esteem is the reputation that you have with yourself.” Taking that in, we understand; we can show over and over how technology is affecting our self esteem or we can compartmentalize technology, prioritize being present, and build our self esteem no matter what.