Culture

Technology: What's It Doing to Our Stress Levels?

It isn’t difficult to find articles or studies over the past few years on how technology is ruining our lives with stress. Here is one from The Atlantic on how social media is causing more anxiety with in-person interactions. Here is another written by a doctor in the Huffington Post on how artificial light such as from TV and computer screens is preventing healthy sleeping habits, ultimately resulting in “fatigue, stress, and depression.” Then there’s this one from The Guardian about how smartphones are blending work and home life, creating “exhausted, cynical and burned-out workers.”

It almost wouldn’t be human to go a day without being frustrated by technology. Even I, having worked in IT for a living, have had far more than one — let’s say — disappointing interaction with technology. I do believe that there are some downsides to technology that can lead to stress in one form or another. However, I also believe that we often overlook the benefits technology gives us to reduce stress in our daily lives. Let us look at both sides of the argument.

First, the bad…

Technology causes stress

Frequently this one is easy to prove with one simple test. Turn your phone off. Go ahead. Turn it off and leave it off for a day or two. Do you feel vulnerable? What if an important email comes in from work? Your boss will be angry you lost that client. Or what about a loved one calling you? They may now feel hurt, like you are ignoring them. It may not just be that you are glued to your phone, but that other people are dependent on you being glued to your phone.

There is real psychological stress that we feel when we don’t have our technology. It is as though we feel we are being left out. There is also a stress of having to do things without technology. In the case of The Atlantic article previously mentioned, the fact that kids have to interact with real humans is stressful because it isn’t in a social media environment.

This concept can be extended to almost every other piece of technology we use in our daily lives. Think about how much you worry about taking care of things if your car breaks down, if your refrigerator stops working, or even if you lose the remote to the TV. It can be frustrating and a source of anxiety.

We also must consider the physical stress that technology can put on our bodies, which can contribute to our mental stress. The Huffington Post article highlights comments I have heard personally from medical professionals. Artificial light can disrupt our sleep cycles. Not getting enough sleep affects our attitudes during the day. There is even direct physical harm.

How close do you want to stand next to your microwave? And do cell phones really cause cancer? Even if they don’t, we still worry about the impact technology has on our health.

But on the flip side, how could technology actually reduce stress?

Next Page: The case that technology causes less stress.

Technology alleviates stress

So there was an easy test to see if technology can cause you stress. I also believe there is a simple test as well for how it causes less stress. Go back a few thousand years in human history. Constant environmental dangers existed that we now take for granted. Think of just the medical advancements humanity has discovered via technology. Even a hundred years ago, influenza was considered fatal and caused pandemics. Better and quicker communication means we can interact with people all over the world, decreasing the likelihood of misunderstandings, fear, and war.

Technology also has a positive impact on very practical and personal applications. I had a conversation with a mother once. She was complaining that her son was glued to his phone while on a trip to New York City rather than enjoying everything that New York has to offer. I then asked her how stressed she would be if her son was in New York and had no means of communication. That seemed to quickly change her mind about her son’s use of a cell phone.

Technology does make our lives easier, not just with being able to call someone when you’re in trouble, but in many other ways. My wife and I have a busy schedule, but we have a Roomba that helps vacuum the floor while we are at work. Security systems, including cameras, are cheaper now and can provide peace of mind. Computers help people of all ages learn, become more educated, and gain new skills.

What does it all mean?

Relying on technology is a real problem. A broken phone does cause anxiety. But here is the way I look at it: the stress comes from not being able to use technology.

The phone solves so many problems in our day to day life: It helps us be more connected, productive, and safe. At what point in the past with less technology was life really better off? When polio was common? When manual labor with high risks of injury was the normal job? When traveling between towns took a great amount of time?

Technology is a tool, which means it can be used for good or bad. Think nuclear war versus nuclear medicine (chemotherapy). Smartphones shouldn’t be taken away on a mass scale. They should be available when needed, but not the only thing you pay attention to.

What are your thoughts? Let me know how technology has made life more or less stressful.