Chances are, you’re reading this article on a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop. Are you sitting next to someone? Are you skipping out on a conversation? Should you be paying attention to what’s going on around you?
It’s no secret that most of us are, on some level, obsessed with our technology. It provides a comfortable, entertaining escape from reality and simultaneously powers the bulk of our workdays. But are we too obsessed with technology?
It’s tempting to joke about the subject, but there’s empirical evidence to suggest that overexposure and overuse of technology can negatively impact our social lives—and our mental health as well.
The Scientific Evidence
A 2016 study found that heavy use of smartphones and internet access could lead to higher signs of anxiety and depression, at least among college students. In a survey of 300 participants, students who exhibited “addictive” style behaviors, such as compulsively checking their social media feeds, also showed higher symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. There was some good news in the study, however; merely having access to a cell phone is not likely to induce negative mental health consequences. In fact, having such a lifeline may actually reduce stress in stressful situations. The real problem is becoming overly reliant or dependent on technology for positive emotions.
A much wider survey of more than 150,000 participants found that 87 percent of people under the age of 30 have missed out on a face-to-face conversation because they were checking their phones. Because this was a self-reported survey, the percentage may actually be higher. The great irony here is that social media was created in an effort to make us more social; yet we check our feeds with such fervor and rely on online conversations so much that we’re actually less engaged with the people around us.
Multiple studies in the field of social psychology have confirmed the reality of this effect. Texts and instant messages, or status updates, have replaced more intimate connections like hour-long phone conversations or a visit over a cup of coffee. This creates an illusion of connectedness, satisfying our immediate urges to connect with others, but giving us no real social fulfillment, which is necessary to feel content in life (and preserve our mental health).
On top of that, technology addiction is categorized as a legitimate phenomenon (though it is much rarer and more significant than simple feeling anxious or depressed why over-relying on technology). In these cases, people may end up staying up all night, failing to meet their obligations (such as school or work), or deliberately avoiding real-life social connections in order to feed their desire for more games, videos, or other forms of digital entertainment.
Taking a Break
Technology dependency has effects that range from mild to severe, but almost any excessive use of technology can have negative consequences. Is the solution to throw out all our technology and live lives like cavemen?
Certainly not. There are benefits to having technology in our lives, so long as we use it responsibly. Instead, the solution should be to take periodic breaks from technology whenever possible, whether it’s a short-term visit with an old friend at your favorite restaurant or a weeks-long retreat in the mountains.
Challenge yourself to get more out of life by putting down the smartphone and engaging with the environment around you. Resist the urge to text or IM your friends. Instead, call them or meet them in person. You’ll feel happier and less anxious, and you’ll establish a stronger foundation for your own mental health.