Mental health constitutes an individual’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. The instability in one aspect leads to the downfall of another which in turn affects the quality life of a person. This is evident widely in today’s digital age. Anxiety, depression, and isolation are a few drops in the ocean showcasing the negative spectrum of this age. According to Liu Yi et al (Depression and anxiety vol. 33,4 (2016)) people who spend time on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and other technologies were reportedly shown to have higher depression rates ranging from 13 to 66% compared to people who had lesser digital exposure.
The advancement of technology has led to some fairly laudable innovations such as social media, online gaming, virtual reality, and other technologies, but the repercussions of using it excessively are proving detrimental. Aristotle wisely said, ‘A Man is a social animal.’ this can be seen in how we came up with the concept of social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter (now X), YouTube, virtual games, and other things. They were developed to socially connect us (despite the demographics) but ironically they became the very things that are now disconnecting us from reality and making us harbor feelings of competitiveness, jealousy, and loneliness. Then how come we still use them? What are the factors responsible for us to choose our own demise? And how are we getting affected by technology?
Is it an internet apocalypse yet? (unlikely)
Effects of technology on mental health
1. Shrinking attention span
Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, and several other platforms have introduced reels and shorts which are short-duration videos lasting for approximately 1 minute or less. Any guesses as to why the social tech industry is making millions with this feature incorporated? The answer lies in the psychological aspect of a human’s short attention span. A scientific study from Microsoft Canada shows that since the year 2000s, the average attention span of a person shrank from 12 seconds to 8. Which is lesser than that of a goldfish! Features like these are causing the attention span of a human to reduce than the average level. This further causes problems such as:
a. Stress- When one is unable to focus on something entirely, it causes stress which further leads to physical problems such as high blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
b. Anxiety- This leads to fatigue and high stress levels, affecting an individual’s mental and biological health.
c. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)- Leads to having trouble paying attention while getting easily distracted by thoughts or surroundings which makes one prone to mood swings.
Technology also causes us to feel several negative emotions that may be associated with a history of facing cyberbullying, enduring hateful comments and social isolation.
The major downside of advancing technology like games, social media and OTT (over-the-top) platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, Hotstar, etc is the obsession that comes with it. On average a person checks their phone 58 times a day. (Source: Josh Howarth, January 9, 2023 Time Spent Using Smartphones (2023 Statistics) This is worsened by the notifications we get from the apps trying to lure us in with new updates and episodes. And when access to core sources becomes easy, we develop habits that if not kept in check without a healthy objective become an addiction.
The need to check the phone every now and then becomes so compulsive that one loses grasp over the reason why the phone needs to be checked in the first place and hence, why people suddenly realise that they’re on YouTube instead of putting their phone on DND mode.
3. Lesser productivity
Considering being on the phone for 12 hours a day isn’t making a person rich we can conclude that the productivity of a person is greatly affected by high screen time.
Productivity is the sum product of quality work done over time. Digital technology does allow a person to access resources that work for them like Google or AI. However, then the quality aspect of work is compromised and if not, then spending too much time on addictive technologies leads in restricting a person from their maximum productivity which either leads to procrastination or poor quality work.
4. Reducing cognitive abilities
Cognitive abilities include logical, critical and analytical reasoning. Additionally, it includes memory, perception and behavior. The excessive usage of phones, social media, and any other digital technology develops problems in reading, writing, and feeling several unwanted emotions such as:
a. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)- we constantly check out notifications and follow through updates from people and friends showcasing their supposedly ‘utopian’ lives on the internet which augment feelings of jealousy, FOMO and dissatisfaction.
b. Incompetence- The Internet showcases everything to be highly competitive based on algorithms. For example, when one searches for freelance writing tutorials for beginners, google shows us the top results that are written by experienced writers which leads us to believe that we lack skills and are incapable of working within the field. Therefore, undermining our capabilities.
c. Exhaustion- Absorbing too much of the internet leads to problems such as insomnia, exhaustion and negativity. Devices like laptops and mobile phones emit blue light which suppresses melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. It interferes with our circadian rhythm. The other reason is the algorithm of the web platform that changes based on the type of content that one consumes. For example, if you are a book lover and you frequently search for book reviews it is likely that your social media platforms suggest ads and information related to books. Similarly, when you search for mental health and wellness the algorithms suggest related articles like tips to reduce screen timing, apps for mindfulness and links to buy journals for planning the days.
Minimizing the effects
In order to limit one from using too much technology one can search for alternatives. For example, instead of reading from Kindle one can shift to buying hard copies. Instead of playing virtual games, one can buy badminton kits. There are many alternatives available to shift from digital technology and to perform practical tasks. It not only saves you from being the slave of technology but also aids in expanding the brain’s mechanism by thinking rationally.
2. Use of technology
Besides the negative side, the Internet can be advantageous if used in the right way. There are several websites and apps that focus on mental health, mindfulness and productivity like MoodKit, Headspace and iBreathe. To turn the tables one must acknowledge that if there is power for destruction, then there is also power for preservation.
3. Offline activities
Socialization and isolation are a part of human emotion, instead of chatting with people online and developing an introverted personality one can retrograde and hang out with his/her friends and family. This not only strengthens the bond but also boosts self-confidence. It also expands the space for entertainment and valuable conversation. One can maintain a routine that includes physical activity and time for self-reflection. There must also be space for digital technology but in a way that does not hamper the mental health. The aim is to minimize the need, not to vanish it.
Mental health is an important aspect of life. When you become vague over one aspect it by default makes other aspects of your life vulnerable. There are several negative effects associated with the digital age but one must keep their objective in mind to grow in life and use the very thing causing them pain as a tool to aid it. Anxiety, depression and other related negative emotions not only cause you to lose sight of reality but also strip you from growing into your potential self. Mental health in this digital age should be prioritized because if not, it is very likely that digital technology will start dictating our emotions and lives.