The Social and Emotional Impact of ‘Everywhere’ Technology

During the past 15 years or so, the Internet has transitioned from a standard of being connected (and interacting) strictly though desktop computers in homes, offices and computer labs, to one that an ever increasing number of people take the Internet with them everywhere they go. Whether via laptops, iPads, the ever-evolving smart phones and other mobile phone devices or still through Internet-connected workstations in the office and at home, very many of which are connected online ‘all of the time’.

Of course, all of this has positive and negative aspects.  Positive because business becomes easier and some communication with others becomes easier.

The negative aspects however, should NOT be ignored (at our peril) and especially so when considering EQ emotional intelligence and all the social and relationship skills we all require.

It’s a fact today that everyone seems to be constantly checking multiple e-mail accounts, chat accounts and peer networking on various social sites, in addition to the [now seemingly boring] texting and instant messaging to our friends, family and co-workers. And if you just glance around when out walking or shopping or whatever, it’s becoming almost constant for so very many of our young people. If they’re not glued to a computer screen (of whatever size), they’re glued to the small screen of their smart phone or plugged in through headphones, catching the latest music or podcasts.

There’s no denying the convenience of all of this. But what is the social, relationship and emotional intelligence impact of enabling online technology to be so omnipresent?  And even more important, what of a individuals social and emotional skills?

As with anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages.  We here at Lambda Mi Education & Development have been studying, researching, watching (people) and writing about social, communication and emotional health and psychology issues online since around 1990.  And it’s quite alarming to see so very many young school children for instance, their faces practically glued to their smart-phone screens, watching and checking constantly and even interrupting conversations between people (present) as a new text or communication ‘bleeps’ in, or in constantly replying to someone on the phone while trying to listen or converse with someone else who is physically present.   It’s a bewildering world and for those of us of an ‘old fashioned’ and more mature nature, it just seems extremely impolite and disrespectful.  But this is the situation as is and we have to try to live with it … somehow.

Some have voiced through various media that this new age feels like a different world.  Some say it is a big benefit in society for this accelerated level of Internet involvement and that it strengthens interpersonal connections.  Maybe this could be the case but … before, once-upon-a-time, you might call your friend once every couple months especially if they are a long distance away or keep in touch with them via e-mail every now and again, but it really wasn’t a day-to-day interaction.  And admittedly, there was far more time between interactions with long-distance friends.

Peer and social networking sites and instant messaging does bring people together geographically who were removed from one another into each other’s lives more casually, making it a daily interactive stream. Technology allows those interactions to occur more frequently, allows a person to stay updated about their friends’ and families’ lives and can actually create stronger bonds.

The flipside, though, is that there’s the potential for people to rely too heavily on these technologies ~ almost as crutches ~ rather than engaging with ‘real’ people in the traditional ways, [such as] going out face-to-face for a drink. [They may say], “Oh I’m all caught up in your life through Twitter, so I don’t really need to try [with] catch up with you face-to-face.’”

The problem gets even more complicated when you factor in that the technology can follow people everywhere they go, and may (and certainly does) invade personal space and face time.

It depends on how plugged in your particular social group or co-workers are, but in some groups you can be at a meeting and literally everyone is heads down with their cell phone or iPhone or iPad or whatnot, and only marginally paying attention to what’s going on at the meeting.  Or you could be out at dinner and one of the people at the table could be using their cell phone to text another person who’s not there or Twittering or something of that nature.  I’ve even known (and frequently) for one teenage member of a family to be lying in bed texting the mother (downstairs) to bring her a cup of tea or a drink up to her rather than just asking or even getting it for themselves.  Now, people, parents tell me, that this is ‘normal’ these days but, ‘normal’?  Really ?  REALLY ?  It can only be normal if the parents allow it after all, it’s the parents who buy the handset, pay the monthly charge and allow and cater to this indolence and so, normal?  No, it’s not for me I’m afraid.

While these devices allow us to connect with people in our lives, it also can be a detriment to our traditional face-to-face social interactions and relationships and engaging in proper communication skills.  It really is changing our world of social interactions with one another to varying but large (and growing) degrees.

Layne Hartsell, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, lectures and publishes on the topic of Internet communications and how they relate to community and interrelationships. Hartsell agreed that continual online interaction has the potential to adversely affect our social lives and how we interact with others.

“If we are to value human interaction ~ the old-fashioned kind, where we sit and talk over coffee or tea or where we can reach out and touch the other person ~ then being ‘plugged in’ constantly diminishes our social lives,” Hartsell said. “Since people are spending more and more time on the computer or using their other electronic devices for any number of functions, I think many people are putting less value on human relationships and physically present interactions. Because time is not infinite, there will always be trade-offs. The more time I spend on the computer, the less time I have for friends and family.”

Hartsell also points out a far more immediate risk in constant online communication, relaying this anecdote: “I was in a cafe the other day, and a young woman was hit by a bus in front of the building while she was crossing the road [and] texting on her phone,” he said. “Fortunately she survived, but had to be taken to the hospital.”

Such dangers are ever present with any type of distraction, but may also speak to a larger issue ~ whether or not human beings, as a species, were really meant to be constantly communicating.

This ~ ‘always-on’, ‘real-time flow of conversation’ ~ that we’re getting from everyone, isn’t the way that human beings were designed to process information from an evolutionary perspective.

There are real challenges here as a society, for us to incorporate these new technologies in ways that can find (hopefully) some balance, because that’s what it’s ultimately about.  And it’s harder for people when the new technologies really are integral social interactions. We have to learn to take it into our vast experience of how we communicate and find a way that it fits in with our natural and human social and communication interactions.

Children of Men

One of the most interesting factors to consider in examining this topic is the experience of children, who are being born into a world completely plugged in to the Internet, compared to adults, who know of a time when such levels of access did not exist ~ or were not even close to existing.

From one perspective, for children born into the possibility of 24/7, everywhere Internet access, adaption to the technology will be seamless and effortless, and it will be less likely to have an intrusive effect on their lives.

The real problem, then, is for the adults being introduced to this technology, who may react to the convenience so much so that it seems as if they’re addicted.

Adults typically have a harder time learning that kind of new integration rather than a teenager or child who grows up with it as a normal part of their tool kit, dismissing the idea that growing up with such wide Internet access could have an adverse effect on children.

We don’t think it has any kind of negative effect because they are going to learn how to use it in (hopefully) mostly healthy ways from the onset.  The bigger challenge is for adults who get enamoured [with] the technology and immerse themselves in ways that may not be entirely healthy.

Hartsell disagrees with these points somewhat. He feels that 24/7, everywhere Internet access, may cause children to become isolated, developmentally and definitely emotionally.

“When children play video games, it may help their eye-to-hand coordination, or they may be able to develop other analysing skills,” he said. “However, once those skills are developed, what is the purpose of the continued orientation of their lives around the online world?  There is an addictive process going on, along with the observed fact of severe attention deficit (ADD) and the craving for stimulus (addictions/habit forming) after continuous interaction with the screen. Children will and are becoming less capable of seeing or comprehending the world and nature around them.”

Hartsell has observed children today, saying they “hate” nature, which he feels is an alarming change in human sentiment that he attributes to the prevalence of online access.

“It is clear from the conditions present today that parents are unconcerned about nature, but they do not necessarily state it outright,” he said.

“Their children, on the other hand, feel comfortable enough to make such pronouncements without further consideration. Since many children’s lives today are centred around the online world, I am presuming that the disconnect is coming from the centrepiece of their lives.”

Self-Correction

In assessing the risks inherent in 24/7 Internet access, it’s important to consider the concept of self-correction. This is particularly relevant to the topic as it relates to adults vs. children.

While adults may eventually conclude that Internet use has become pervasive in their lives to such an extent that it is detrimental, “children do not tend to self-correct except when there is an obvious danger,” Hartsell said.

And Internet addiction is far from an obvious danger: As access and convenience increase, it passively establishes itself in the daily routines of individuals.

To better diagnose the problem, it helps to look at how advances in technology have socially asserted themselves in the past.

“At the moment, the online world and gadgets are just beginning to become sophisticated, so we will have to watch closely to see the effects,” Hartsell said. “However, if we look back at the ways various technological applications have played out in society, the precautionary principle should be enforced more stringently now. Thus, the principle itself is self-correction.”

Thinking around this topic is relatively new; in fact, there’s disagreement as to whether Internet addiction actually constitutes an addiction at all.  Or is it just becoming routine or a ‘hard habit’.  But habitual behaviour is just as concerning as addictive behaviour.

There’s no agreement on a basic definition or symptoms of any of this, so it’s still very much in the air as to whether [Internet addiction or habit] truly exists or not.  We think it does and we also think it is exponentially growing.  The problem with the whole theory is that anything can be addicting.  When television first came in to the home-scene, people were concerned about children becoming addicted to [it], and if you keep going further back, you’ve got the same concerns about movies and radio.  It’s human nature to almost fear these new things that do initially take an enormous amount of time and focus away from our family and social life.

Again, this is where self-correction ~ the ability to set limits on how much time people allow the Internet, or any activity, to take from their lives ~ becomes important.

People [for whom] it’s not self-correcting certainly might need some assistance or help with the problem, but we don’t think it rises to the level of needing to give it a new label and call it an addiction.  No, not yet anyway.

The Future

So will 24/7 Internet technologies continue to increase in severity, or is it as mature as it’s going to get? After all, it’s hard to see it getting more omnipresent than it is now. When people can take the Internet with them everywhere they go, where do you go from there?

But various sections of the technology community predict the technology will expand even further.

They don’t think technology has even arrived at a plateau as yet, and don’t think our ability to find new ways to interact with it in more intuitive manners has arrived.

Many commentators are saying that there’s still a long way to go before we’ve reached any kind of technology plateau, between being immersed in this technology, and feeling connected with our friends and family.

Hartsell, meanwhile, is philosophical in considering the continual growth of this technology. He feels people should consider whether adapting every piece of newly emergent technology is necessary. “As new waves of technology come to us, there will be the potential for advantages and disadvantages, each with its own graded potential or degree,” he said. “Thus, the conditions will change as new technologies emerge, and the concepts of severe or mature now will become a various set of potential circumstances under newer, future emergent conditions. Sometimes, it’s better to simply not do what it is possible to do because the product or process is not necessary, or not important, or simply too risky.  Take the full range of facilities that are provided on say … computers or iPads or smartphones, relatively few of the full range of facilities are actually used.

There are so many viewpoints, so many opinions, each isolating the other, each dependent on where on the scale of age, experience or expectation one is.  Use and/or abuse is a question dependent on use or abuse, whether you are young and a frequent user or whether you are an older and infrequent user.

But it is a fact of life that the impact of technology on our social, mental, physical and environmental health can be devastating if we don’t keep ourselves in check. There’s no denying the benefits we have gained from technological advancements, but as with all things in life, moderation is (or should be?) key. Being aware of the harmful aspects of the overuse of electronics will/may help you the reader avoid any unnecessary pitfalls.

Here are 25 negative effects technology can have:

1. Isolation

Social isolation is characterised by a lack of (physical and personal) contact with other people in normal everyday living, such as the workplace, with family, with friends and in social activities.

We isolate ourselves by walking around in our own little world, listening to our iPods or staring at the small screen of the latest mobile device even when we are around other people. Self-isolation can also occur when the small screens of handsets constantly draw the owners’ attention to such an extent that a ‘normal’ conversation cannot be had for any length of time without the constant, constant, checking and reading and responding.  Young people are now being observed falling in to this darker area of life.  But what can be done?  Parents seem unable (or unwilling) to see this as a form of ‘addiction’ and in its truest sense perhaps the term ‘addiction’ is wrong but, it seems the best adjective to use for this habit and one we will use here until such time as more studies are undertaken in this regard.  But studies have shown that people who are socially isolated will live shorter lives.

2. Lack of Social Skills

The use of online social media outlets causes us to meet face-to-face with much less frequency resulting in a lack of much needed social skills. We lose the ability to read or interact with any body language and the social cues in other people.

3. Obesity

The more time people are spending engrossed in video games, talking to friends online and watching funny cat videos on UTube, they are spending less time being active or exercising. Also the likelihood of mindlessly eating unhealthy food increases as people are seemingly becoming hypnotized by the latest episodes of what’s being talked/chatted about online.

4. Depression

Technology creates the perfect recipe for depression; with the lack of physical human contact, overeating and the lack of exercise. There is a reason the use of antidepressants is on the rise and the blame can’t be completely dumped on the GP Doctor or the pharmaceutical companies. They aren’t carting people into the doctor’s office and force-feeding them the pills. This isn’t to say that depression isn’t a real problem, but some people could cure their depression by living a healthier lifestyle.

5. Poor Sleeping Habits

Some of the negative effects of technology can be linked to the effect it has on sleep habits. We get sucked into online activities or streaming ‘catch-up TV that keep us up too late and the constant stream of information can make it difficult to turn off our brains. Also, the ambient glow from screens can affect the release of melatonin, the sleep chemical. Keeping technology out of the bedroom would be a very healthy habit to acquire.

6. Pollution

With the rapidly changing world of electronics and technology, the turnover rate for upgrades is staggering. This constant stream of out with the old, in with the new is adding to the levels of toxicity in our air and land.  E-waste is not always disposed of properly, causing deadly chemicals to leach into the ground. Plants that manufacture the electronics are emitting toxic fumes into the air. Plus there is little or no regulations on the disposal of personal E-waste.

7. Increased Bullying

The use of technology has caused a huge increase in bullying and harassment and has rapidly escalated the degree of severity. A new term has come in to being in this regard ~ “Trolling” … and this heinous act of abuse affects every age range and not just the young.  So severe is this type of abuse that suicides are increasingly occurring.  Children, young people, older people, bereaved people, victims of crime or personal loss (death) etc, etc, are increasingly reporting severe distress as these ‘Internet Trolls’ trawl the ‘net’ to find more victims.  Kids are no longer able to escape their tormentors once they reach the safety of their own homes. Bullies then infiltrate the security of their victims’ sanctuary, their homes, and their bedrooms, through these online avenues.

It’s also easier to get more kids involved in bullying because people are more likely to say things online that they wouldn’t dare to say in person. The increase in cyber-bullying has also led to an increase in teen (and older) suicides.

8. Lack of Privacy

The Internet has stripped the world of privacy. Long gone are the days of having an unlisted telephone number and staying offline to keep your information safe from prying eyes. With a few flicks on a keyboard the average person can find anyone’s address and contact information. For those with more sinister intentions, the use of ‘phishing’, viruses and hacking helps to find any information they wish to obtain. Plus, people have no sense of privacy online. They don’t think twice about tweeting every, every single move they make, what they do, how they do it, it just become ridiculous, freely giving out their location on Google Map and putting their entire life story on Facebook.  Once on Facebook (and other social media sites) it’s ‘out there’ to stay and haunt you … so be careful, wise-up to this fact.

9. Higher Level of Deceit

On the flip side of having no privacy, people use the Internet to deceive others. Most people don’t dig too deeply when doing a search on someone to check them out. By creating a few false profiles, people are able to pretend to be whomever they want. People are being “cat-fished” on dating sites. Grooming by paedophile groups and other sexual predators.

10. Warped Sense of Reality

Using the Internet as an escape from real life is very easy to do.  In real life you only speak to a few people each day, there’s no Photoshop nor any avatars for the reflection in your mirror, where bills must be paid and saying smartass things is frowned upon. However, online you are in a different dimension! You can have enough “friends” to form a small country, you look great in your pictures or you have a fantastic avatar, plus you get rewards or points for saying clever things (more if the clever thing is also very mean-spirited). Unfortunately (but I/we believe it is fortunate) that we must live in the real world whether we like it or not.

11. Stress

Constantly being “plugged in” and “connected” causes an extra, additional and unnecessary layer of stress that wasn’t present before the current overuse of technology.

12. Blackberry/iPhone Thumb

Tendonitis in the thumb, a.k.a. Blackberry/iPhone Thumb, is a form of repetitive stress strain injury (RSSI) that is directly attributable and caused by the frequent use of thumbs to press buttons on mobile devices. The same injury can also be obtained from playing too many video games.

13. Lack of Social Boundaries

Much in the same way that people over share on social media sites, there is an increasing tendency to cross social boundaries. Cyber stalking someone or sending unsolicited nude photos are examples of grossly crossing social boundaries.

14. Lack of Sexual Boundaries

Exposure to sexual content is more likely to happen at a much younger age now. Before the Internet the only chance a child had of being exposed to pornography was if their dad didn’t hide his Playboy or Razzle magazine well enough. Now? Well, let’s just say that you should pray your parental filters are doing their job when your son or daughter searches for “Puss and Donkey” from Shrek.

Sexting is also a growing concern with technology being used at such a young age. There is no way in any practical sense (or in any other sense) that a girl would have taken a nude photograph of herself and handed it to a stranger before the popularity of texting. Yet, using your phone to snap a quick boob shot and texting it to your boyfriend seems to be no big deal these days, and so very much worse in increasing numbers. If you wouldn’t print the picture out and hand it to the guy, then you shouldn’t text it. And fellas ~ girls do not want pictures of your penis. So stop sending them.  But this is the explosion we currently have and need to understand and contend with.  Sexting is relatively new and will only grow and develop because, society (parents, etc) don’t seem able to do anything about it other than be absolutely shocked when it happens within their own households

15. Lack of Social Bonds

Creating a lasting bond with other people requires face-to-face interaction.  It requires a physical context, even a spiritual, soulful connection ~ and certainly where body and facial indicators can be exchanged and interacted with.  The more we isolate ourselves with technology the fewer human skill sets we will have and the fewer bonds we will form. People are expected to do more work at home which takes away time they would be spending with their families. Also, younger people prefer communicating online versus face-to-face which seems anathema to me. When people are in the same room and communicating via text or instant messaging instead of speaking to each other, there’s a real, real, real big problem.  And have you seen the ‘alien family’ on the Argos TV advert doing exactly this?

16. Constant Distraction

When we are focused on a device instead of what’s going on around us we miss a great deal. Think of the number of times you have been texting or talking to a friend and missed the opportunity to flirt with the hot fella or woman standing beside you.

There is also a rise in the number of injuries incurred by people texting while walking.  People have been killed whilst being distracted in this fashion … death is the ultimate penalty.

17. Neck and Head Pain

Constantly looking down at devices can and does cause neck pain and further repetitive stress/strain injuries which will be long lasting and over time will actually cause the neck to lose its natural curve. Eyestrain can and does also cause headaches, blurred vision and migraines.

18. Shortened Attention Span

The use of social media has shortened attention spans from an average of 12 minutes down to around 5 minutes. Constant news feeds, getting information in 140 character blocks and videos that are 10 minutes or less is literally rewiring our brains. People who are online an average of 5 hours a day have trouble remembering people’s names, forget cooking pots on the stove and even their own birthday.

19. Addiction

People are not only dependent on technology they are also becoming truly addicted to it. Studies have shown that when cell phones are taken away subjects heard or felt fathom vibrations; they continuously reached for phones that weren’t there and became very, very fidgety and restless. These are just some of the same withdrawal symptoms you would expect from doing drugs.

20. Lack of Empathy

The constant stream of violent scenes on video games, TV, movies and UTube causes people to become desensitized to death, criminality and/or damage or destruction of any kind. The normalising of VERY bad things happening and the culture of narcissism created by social media is definitely creating a society of people who lack empathy and sympathy. When people stop caring, the world goes ‘to hell in a hand basket’.  I wonder if we are in it yet, the ‘hand basket’ I mean.

21. More Violence

After people lose empathy and are accustomed to violence, it becomes the social norm. Teenage girls are videoing themselves violently beating another girl; the number of school shootings in the US are rising and videos of people attacking homeless people are a few examples of violent behaviour being caused by media.  The disturbing thing is the videoing and then uploading of such bizarre and brutal events and the numbers of views they get (on UTube).

22. Higher Energy Consumption

Although individual devices are becoming more energy efficient, the increased overall use is causing a higher consumption of energy.

People don’t turn their devices off; they keep computers on or plugged in, mobile devices charging and televisions plugged in. Also, the manufacturing all of these high tech toys causes an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

23. Developmental Issues in Children

Children are using more technology now than they have ever used in the past. All of the negative effects that social media and television is having on adults are far, far, far greater when it comes to the developing minds of children. There is no way to know what long term effects technology will have on the mental/academic abilities of our children because this is the first generation to have unlimited access.

24. Neurosis

Technology causes people to suffer from mental and emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, fears, terrors, phobias and delusions, which are all symptoms of neurosis. Being convinced you’re very ill after looking up strange diseases on WebDr (or something similar) or thinking you are famous because you have had a viral video, are just a couple of ways technology neurosis manifests itself.

25. Loss of Hearing and Eyesight

Constantly (frequently) using headphones and ear buds can cause people to lose their hearing over time. Likewise, straining your eyes looking at computer and device screens can cause people to need glasses much earlier in life.

So, to conclude (again).

  1. a.     Be more mindful of the time you spend using technology.
  1. b.    If you have longer conversations with Internet people than you do with real people, it’s probably time to put the phone down.
  1. c.     If you frequently or habitually respond to the electronic ‘bleep’ every time it happens, it’s probably time to switch the device off for a while.
  1. d.    If you can’t have a two way conversation with someone without having your phone in your hand or constantly having it near, visible or accessible, it’s time to put it away for a while.
  1. e.     If you can’t eat a meal without your phone being on the table alongside your plate, constantly checking it, it is certainly time to put it away for a while
  1. f.      Force yourself to have an electronic-free day or weekend.
  1. g.     When you go on holiday, don’t take your phone or at least put it on “do not disturb”.

(b), (c), (d), (e) are indicators of psychological problems of which everyone should be mindful.

 

Creating balance will help you to enjoy the benefits of technology without you becoming a mindless Internet zombie.

Michael Boase`

CEO Lambda Mi Education & Development


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