Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, Science & Technology

How Technology Can Impact Your Mental Health

Contributed by on July 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm

human brain

Brain StrategyWe all know that in one way or another technology has impacted our lives. Whether you use social media to connect with your family, a computer to get your job done in a timely matter or a GPS to get to your destination, it would be nearly impossible to go a day without some sort of high-tech gadget usage. With any type of new technology, there is always the good and the bad to consider. Typically these things enhance our lives in many ways, making tasks easier throughout the day, but recently more and more studies have been conducted on exactly how this type of convenience effects our overall mental state.

A recent study conducted by Intersperience (a consumer research group) showed that people have a very hard time powering down and completely cutting ties with Internet usage – even for a short period of time. While maybe you’re thinking, “that’s easy, I could totally do that,” consider the amount of times you check your email, Facebook page, Twitter account etc. in just one day. It’s not that easy to avoid the Internet, especially in an era where Smart Phones are in nearly everyone’s pockets or purses.

The study included 1,000 participants from the U.K. ranging in age from 18-65, which required the participants to take part in a questionnaire. That was the easy part. The second condition of the study required that participants refrain from using the Internet for anything for an entire 24 hours…that proved to be quite a bit more challenging.

When many of these participants stepped away from the World Wide Web, they had a lot of difficulty and exhibited signs similar to those of someone going through withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. It was clearly more difficult for the younger participants to step away. Fifty-three percent reported they were upset when they could not use the Internet and another 40% said that they were lonely when they could no longer interact with their friends online. In fact, many could not (or were not totally willing to) give up the Internet completely, even for just 24 hours.

In fact, in another article CNN calls the effect of the Internet “popcorn brain.” This means that as we (as a nation) have become accustomed to having constant interruptions from different technology outlets throughout the day, our brains have difficulty dealing with life at the slower pace of real life.

In addition, yet another study revealed that we are actually beginning to have a harder time recognizing facial expressions since we rely so heavily on non-face-to-face forms of communication like emails and text messages which depict our moods with terms like “lol” or a smiley face.

It appears that the new generation of Internet users is also losing touch with the traditional ways that many of the previous generations enjoyed just being kids. Going outside, playing with friends or reading a book are far less common than they once were. We are raising youngsters that will succeed in the Internet driven world, but will they be able to interact with each other when they aren’t doing so over a computer screen?

The fact that children and adults feel alone without communicating via the Internet is a big eye opener. When we have the opportunity to actually speak with someone or to send them a quick text, we usually opt for the text message. Dating and courtship has also gone the way of text messages, emails and Facebook flirting.

How all this plays into our mental well being over time is something that is yet to be seen, however, we are already starting to find that life without the Internet would be troublesome for the masses. Depression, loneliness and anxiety are often experienced by those who try to quit cold turkey. So what’s the healthiest way to embrace this technology? This is yet to be discovered as well, but for now perhaps it will serve as a reminder that we need to have a better balance between face-to-face communications and online ones.

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