“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” This was said by Bill Gates, one of the world’s leading technology pioneers and co-creator of Microsoft, meaning that more and more people are joining the Internet. This is the tool that is shaping our future. The world as we know it is slowly changing, whether it is for the better or the worse. Technology is available on every doorstep, integrated into every life, and glued to every hand.
At what point does this helpful innovation begin to invade our lives instead of helping it? The negative impacts of technology and internet addiction, the link between screen time and mental health as well as our happiness, and the comparison between drug or alcohol abuse and screen addiction make the usage of technology something to be cautious of in our rapidly approaching digital future.
Negative Impact on Mental Health
In general, many can say that using technology and social media have impacted their lives. However, a majority of the impacts are in regards to a negative toll on one’s mental health. One such issue is the recent study that shows that the signs of mental illness and depression are far greater in people who are avid social media users, than the ones who tend to stay away from their mobile devices.
As said in an article by U.S.News.com, there was a 2017 study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal that addressed the issue of mental health and social media. This study looked at data from two national surveys of U.S. children in grades 8 through 12, and compared that to national statistics on suicide for people ages 13 to 18. The results showed that adolescents who spent more time on their phones, particularly social media, were more likely to report signs of mental illness and depression compared to those who spent more time outdoors or amongst friends and family.
An excess amount of screen time has poor effects on one’s mental health and security, also having physical side-effects – such as lack of sleep and worse of it when children do manage to get some. An article on MentalHeath.org discussed the presence of evidence that suggests that the use of screens at bedtime is linked to children having fewer hours of sleep, poorer sleep quality, and increased tiredness. This would, in the long run, affect one’s mental health and would have effects on their later life, primarily negative.
Link to Emotions
A question that has been in controversy for some is the debate of whether or not screen time has a link to our emotions or mental illness. Research has proven that our mental health is affected by our devices. A survey done by the National Institute of Health claims that children in this time face more anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns than those from generations past. It is inferred that this is due to the increase of smartphone technology in our time.
There have been statistics to support the observation that symptoms of depression have increased due to the rise of devices. According to an article on MedPageToday, in a group of 3826 adolescents, those with high levels of social media use had a 0.64-unit increase in depression symptoms. In addition, on the individual level, each hour of increased social media use within a year was associated with a 0.41-unit increase in depressive symptoms.
Of course, this is without taking into account the specific impacts of social media on our lives. Teenagers grow up scrolling through Instagram and Snapchat, looking at pictures of people living perfect lives. This is bound to affect their own self-security, often comparing their lives to the “glamorous” ones of celebrities.
Bullying is another major issue that has been made easier with the ability to hide behind a screen. “Kids may be bullied while sitting on the couch next to their parents who may not even know it, and the kids can’t escape it,” says Peggy Scallon, medical director of the FOCUS Adolescent Mood Disorders Program. “They carry these phones with them 24/7, so they are experiencing near-constant social scrutiny.”
Tech = Happiness?
It’s a common claim that these devices make us happy. Is this really accurate? Recent studies show that it is, in fact, not. According to the 2018 World Happiness Report, the United States has dropped 4 spots, from 14th happiest to 18th, all in the past year. This means that the happiness of people is dropping, despite the constant increase of tech.
Another study looked at statistics from high schoolers in the U.S. between 1991-2016 and measured their self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness. It found that their wellbeing suddenly decreased after 2012 – just at the time that smartphone and social media use peaked. As a result, it can be determined that while there is no direct evidence suggesting that the devices make us unhappy, they definitely aren’t helping.
Alternatively, a 2017 study in the Clinical Psychological Science journal stated that children who spent more time off technology and on in-person social interaction, sports, and exercise, were less likely to report mental health issues. This holds true for adults as well, since a study conducted in 2013 found that the more people who used Facebook over two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time, proving that our pleasure does not revolve around the small hand-held devices that have become our lifeline.
Link to Harmful Addictions
Asking anyone, they would say that an addiction to either drugs or alcohol is unhealthy. However, not many are willing to acknowledge the fact that technology addiction can be just as devastating. Both of these addictions share significant differences as well as similarities in their causes and effects. Symptoms of drug abuse include having trouble doing daily things, hiding the drug use, and losing interest in the things you enjoy.
According to an article, the symptoms of internet addiction result in the same destructive behavior. A Harvard study on the topic of addiction reveals that both of these develop due to the release of dopamine in the brain, which gives a sense of euphoric high to the person. However, the symptoms of drug abuse tend to be more severe, versus the mere sleep deprivation that Internet addiction brings.
There are negative physical impacts of drug/alcohol abuse, while the side effects of Internet abuse tend to be more mental or psychological. According to the U.S. SAMHSA, excess use of drugs or alcohol results in serious health problems later in life, such as lung cancer, respiratory disorders, and heart disease, with short-term effects of distorted perception and loss of motor coordination.
On the other hand, internet addiction comes with many negative consequences to one’s mental wellbeing, such as increasing loneliness, depression, and sleep deprivation. Although both drug internet addictions are different in many ways, the similarities rule that excess of both practices is extremely detrimental to one’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Technology is ever-present in our lives. It helps us keep track of emails, connect with people internationally, and ensures that we are living life to the fullest. However, it also slowly and surely creates detrimental impacts on our health. In fact, these devices have been proven to be linked with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. They also don’t make us happier, as we so fervently tend to believe.
While there are differences between drug/alcohol abuse, the similarities prove the true nature of the Internet and show that it does in fact have harmful effects on our overall well-being. While the Internet is surely what will propel us into the future to the global village of tomorrow, we must be sure to enact caution in all that we do online and remain safe.
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Devanshi Bhargava is a high school sophomore, who loves anything to do with art. However, creative writing is her true passion and she has had 9 books published at a local library, as well as 2 short stories included in anthologies on Amazon.