The darker side of modern technology and its effects
It's hard not to appreciate the benefits of modern technology. The World Wide Web has enabled us to connect with others around the world, and we can find the answer to almost any question we pose.
But what about the negative impacts it can have? In this article, I identify the areas we need to be aware of when it comes to using technology, in order to stay in control of the time we spend using it.
The dopamine addiction
Modern marketing has become a sophisticated science. The tech guys have become very adept at tapping into our 'reward system', which is located in our brain. They know that when we are exposed to some kind of stimuli, our brain releases dopamine, and we get that feel-good sensation.
Maybe you are feeling a bit bored, and you see an advert on TV for the latest model of mobile phone. You pick up your mobile or laptop and search for it, to find out more. It looks bright and shiny and promises to do so many new things that your current phone doesn’t do. They may also let you know that there is a limited number available, or that you have to pre-order, and so we get that FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling.
You may leave it there, but the next time you log onto social media, or onto Google for something else, that same product is likely to be highlighted. You begin to see it everywhere. A gentle reminder, in case you had forgotten.
So, you decide to buy, after all, you deserve it, and with the anticipation of receiving it, your mood lifts and you get a sense of excitement. All you have to do is press the buttons and now you wait with excitement rising. Oh, and if you can’t wait, by paying a small premium you can have it delivered even sooner! It arrives and you get a real dopamine rush. But after a few days, the novelty wears off. You realise that it’s not much better than your old phone.
These are the same feelings as with any addiction. Addiction works on our reward system. Whether its drugs, nicotine, alcohol, gambling, or sex.
Whilst those feelings would still be the same whether technology existed or not, it's exacerbating the situation, as its easier, and faster for the consumer, or 'user' to be reached and persuaded into buying.
Modern technology could well be the addiction of the 21st century, and it’s having effects on our mental health, and our relationships.
Over-use of technology
I would like you to consider the following questions:
- How many times a day do you check your phone?
- How many times a day do you check your emails?
- Do you have notifications switched on so you don’t miss out?
- Which search engine do you use?
While there seemed to be no solid research for this, there are suggestions that some people check their phones upwards of 86 times a day. When it comes to emails, it's suggested that some people will check and reply to emails as soon as they are received, while others check them several times a day.
Have you checked the amount of screen time you use on your mobile? Many phones will give you that data. It may shock you. Compare that to the number of hours you spend with your loved ones.
Being tethered to devices can create anxiety, feelings of isolation, and inadequacy.
Some of this can be because people feel they don’t measure up to others. The internet is flooded with images of young men and women with ‘the perfect’ body which can lead you to compare your looks against theirs. Never mind that these images have been manipulated and are unreal. Despite us knowing this, we can still find ourselves feeling inadequate when we scroll through our social media feeds, leaving us with feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth.
You see friends posting images depicting their amazing partner, their fantastic exotic holiday, their beautiful home, or expensive car. What you are shown is a shop window of a perfect life. But many times behind that glossy exterior their life isn’t always that bright. Credit card debts, unhappy relationships, and many more issues can lurk behind the façade – which they don’t want others to see, and often don’t want to admit themselves. Sadly, they may gloss over the cracks and fill them with material things that mean they don’t have to face their true reality and deal with the difficult issues in their lives. It's worth remembering that if their lives were that good, would they have time or the need to showcase it on social media?
How relationships are affected
Because technology gives us almost instant gratification, whether answers to questions or delivery of an item, it has become the norm that people want an instant response. So when your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner doesn’t respond to a message, you might get agitated. You can see the message has been delivered, and in some cases, whether they have read it. So when they do not respond immediately, doubts, insecurities, and anxieties can come up. You might keep checking your phone, or you may see them interacting on social media, and that makes those feelings even worse. You can find your mind running riot and you start thinking they don't care or love you anymore. As a result, arguments can occur. Often couples text each other all through the day, and sometimes this can lead to feeling like there's nothing to talk about when they meet.
One of the many complaints that couples bring to me is that their partner is constantly on their mobile phone. Either on social media or texting their friends, leaving their partner alone instead of spending time together. The connection between the couple is gone, and the danger is that the neglected partner will look outside the relationship to get their needs met. I have worked with many couples where one has had an affair, simply because they have felt alone and lonely. They seek the attention they are missing within their relationship. Often at that point, the relationship is beyond repair.
I always suggest that couples negotiate the amount of time they spend on their electronic devices, as well as setting aside time for each other, to ensure that the connection is maintained. It’s not so much the amount of time, but the quality that's important. It’s a time to check in with each other, and how each other is feeling, rather than an account of their day, or day to day routine conversations about each other's failings. I also suggest that they keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. It’s a place to connect with each other and have a cuddle.
What are our children learning?
A lot of school learning has gone online, meaning many school-age children have laptops, and many young people own tablets and mobiles from quite a young age. It means that young people are spending more time on their devices, which sometimes means they are not getting involved in other activities.
When they see the adults around them using devices though, it's no wonder they copy. It has become a common sight to see couples and families out having a coffee or a meal together using their mobiles rather than talking to each other. The danger is that children may start to feel ignored and the connection between parent and child is lost.
Children are like sponges, eager to learn as everything is new to them. They need stimulation and connection with their parent and they need to bond with their carer and receive the love and attention we all need as humans.