Tethered to Technology: Smartphone Stress and Digital Anxiety

April 18, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed

I was recently on a trip to Marrakech. The last time I was there was 20 years ago. My sister asked me what had changed? The only change I could see was a Smartphone in every Moroccan hand and heads constantly buried in them.

We’ve developed an insatiable appetite for new digital media. Facebook, Apple, Google and a host of other Silicon Valley behemoths are all too happy to supply a constant stream of new apps and devices to feed our obsession.

Apple has sold over a billion iPhones since its launch in 2007 and Google now claims to process over 40,000 search queries every second worldwide. That’s 3.5 billion searches per day or 1.2 trillion searches per year. At last count, Facebook had over 1.7 billion monthly active users. That’s larger than the population of India (1.252 billion) or China (1.357 billion).

The New Normal

For millennials, the on-the-go connectivity is simply the way life has always been.

Their phones have always been smart.

The Internet has always been on.

Content has always been on a constant stream.

They’ve likely never waited in line at the bank, rarely waited for letters to arrive by mail, and seldom had their musical choices limited to the radio or what can fit on a mass-marketed CD.

They’ve always been able to choose humane, green, fair trade, organic, and employee owned. Their shopping has always been aligned with their core values and facilitated online.

For the rest of us, this is the new normal and our digital life is here to stay. Technology has ingrained and ingratiated itself into our daily lives. So, it’s reasonable to wonder about its real world impact.

An Assault on Focus

If technology has eroded your ability to focus, you are not alone. If your mind is constantly wandering, wanting to get on the internet, scanning ahead, or needing to check in with your virtual world every few seconds, you are not alone. And you are not alone if you want to do just about anything except focus your attention on one thing for a long period of time.

Technology has not only changed the way we communicate and socialize, it’s changed our brains. The nature of brain neuroplasticity is that it is responsive to the new stimulations caused by technology. Technology changes the way we think, act, learn, make choices and interact with each another. It has added convenience, yes. But it has also increased our dependency and is chipping away daily at our ability to concentrate.

Connection Anxiety

Smartphones alone bring an unprecedented level of convenience but also codependence to our lives. Instead of separation anxiety, we have developed ‘connection’ anxiety. Smartphones tether us to our colleagues, bosses, friends, and relatives.

A recent study showed that when used for work-related communications they disturb our ability to psychologically disengage from the stress of the job. This makes us vulnerable to work-related exhaustion. Increased productivity because we stay connected to work in the evening hours is achieved at the cost of our mental health. In another study, researchers found that heavy Smartphone users they separated from their phones showed increased anxiety after only 10 minutes and that anxiety continued to increase across the hour long study.

The Emoji Society

In the 21st century, our real and virtual worlds overlap. They comingle, cohabitate, and collide in a digital world that uses 21st century tools to mediate our interaction.  But what are the consequences of having tools that are always on and that blur the boundaries between virtual and real friends or personal and professional communication?

Instead of face-to-face communication, what are the consequences when we send photos, video, or other multimedia representations of our self, to convey friendliness, build intimacy, or express strong emotions?

The average American sends 96 emojis per day! What happens when emojis take over our communication and when our sentences are reduced to 140 characters to fit into an online text box?

Technology will continue to redefine how we interact with our digital ecosystem. But at what cost? I  would love to hear what you think. Let me know by sounding off in the comments below.

  1. Is the new technology isolating people or augmenting existing social relationships?
  2. Is it enhancing or deteriorating the state of our interpersonal communication?

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