Technology Causes Anxiety and Depression - Stop staring at the screen!

Technology, Anxiety, and Depression – Why I Loved Going without a Cell Phone for Two Months and Other Technology Fast Experiments

Noam Lightstone Life Lessons And Experiments 8 Comments

I was minding my own business in the washroom of my hostel in Nice, France, listening to music from my phone and getting pumped up in the morning. I noticed that the sink was partially filled with water… no idea why my room mate left it like that. Maybe she had something soaking there?

Either way, I turn around and I hear small *clunk* and *slosh* sounds.

“That’s weird”, I think to myself.

After 5 seconds I turn around and I don’t see my phone anymore.

And then it hits me – those sounds were my phone diving into the water.

I’m hysterically yelling, “OH FUCK OH FUCK OH FUCK!

I rush to get my phone out of the water. The screen is flickering. What do I do?! Do I turn it on, leave it off? I don’t know. Shit shit shit.

I ask my room mate and she tells me about the rice trick – you leave the phone in rice for a day or two and it supposedly sucks the water out.

This is just what I need, with my train leaving in a few hours to another city and needing to get out of my hostel. Thankfully towards the end of my trip, I was far better at handling my anxiety – I go to the store and buy a bunch of rice. I find a jar and put the rice and my phone in… and pray.

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But then something hits me at the train station, amidst trying to blame my room mate for having the sink filled and rolling in negativity…

  1. It’s my own damn fault for putting the phone on the sink
  2. It’s just a cell phone

No I don’t want to pay additional money for one, but money’s not the worst thing to be used. I was still alive, healthy, had my passport, and all of my credit cards.

I was doing pretty well.

For the next two months, I didn’t have a cell phone. There were plenty of ways to get in touch with people (Facebook, E-mail, regular phone,…), but the results of this “experiment” and others were interesting.

And so were my feelings when I finally got a cell phone again (unfortunately the water damaged one could not be salvaged). What I’ve become aware of after not having a phone for a long time is that I COMPULSIVELY want to check it every minute. I want to see a new text message. I want to play and shift the screen around.

It’s terrible.

I feel a constant magnetic pull when I look at the phone just sitting there.

It’s the same reason why I batched my e-mail and Facebook checking this month, having to pay my friends $20 if I check them at times that aren’t at 1, 4, or 8PM. I also put a $100 penalty if I went on YouTube (it really sucks me in and I’ve constantly struggled with YouTube addiction).

I can tell you that not having the phone, not checking e-mail as much, and not being on YouTube has severely decreased my anxiety. It has also made me want to go outside more, and do more things I genuinely enjoy.

But why does technology cause us so much anxiety? Are we addicted to it, and how? What is it doing to us?

How is it that with all the amazing communication methods in the world that we sometimes feel more isolated than ever?

And why are so many people plugged in to their phones or texting when I go sit somewhere. We all look like fucking zombies sucking energy from a screen… or are the screens sucking energy from us?

Unfortunately this is not a new topic. Just Google technology and anxiety or depression, and you YOURSELF will become anxious and depressed at how many articles there are [1,2,3]. But after taking long breaks away from screens while travelling, losing my phone, and killing YouTube, I thought it was necessary to present a summary of my experiences and some of the reasons why it is ESSENTIAL to get away from the screen.

I find it sad and hilarious that my hostel in Zurich, Switzerland had these signs posted in the common room:

A sign saying: "Connect to wifi or connect to a person?"

 

A sign saying: "Explore the web or explore the streets?"

Issues Associated with Technology

  1. Dopamine release – Receiving an e-mail, checking Facebook, and getting a text all release small amounts of dopamine into the brain. If I can do just type a site into my browser rather than complete a necessary task, or go to the gym to feel good, guess which one I’d rather pick? The path of least resistance [4,5].
  2. Non-gratifying connections – While we might FEEL like we are connected through the myriad of social network options, a screen is NOT a substitute for face to face time with another human being. Sometimes we have to make a compromise with someone overseas and communicate through something like Skype, but otherwise, we will not feel the same as when we are with someone. Think about it: what makes you feel happier? An hour Facebooking and messaging a good friend, or an hour in person with that good friend?
  3. Ease of isolation – It’s quite easy to FEEL like you are interacting with people without ever leaving your home using Twitter, forums, and so on. Technology fools you by providing a cheap means of obtaining social needs, versus going out and actually interacting with other humans.
  4. Sleep interference – The waves sent out from the light of screens mimic the sunlight, causing us to feel awake when we shouldn’t. That’s why many sources recommend stepping away from the screen at least two hours before bed time. Or, using screen augmentation/dimming programs (f.lux is great for your computer and Twilight for your Android phone).
  5. Desire for external validation – “Did someone tweet me back?” “Where’s my text?” “What are they doing on Facebook?” Validation, validation, validation. And when we don’t get it, we feel terrible. It’s like a drug, again creating a cycle of wanting to check our networks and devices constantly.
  6. Loss of presence – When we plug into a machine, we can lose touch with the outside world. When we type, text, or tweet are we actually aware of what’s going on? Or, do we enter a sort of mind haze?
  7. Issues with social skills – Spending more time at a screen detracts from human interaction, and the learning of social skills. For example with teenagers (and it can be assumed that this would apply to all ages), it was documented that the more that they talked to people online and through text, the less comfortable they were talking to people face-to-face. On the other hand, less time online resulted in being more comfortable with face-to-face conversation [6].
  8. The “I need to go faster feeling” – Technology is ever moving faster, so I should as well, right?! I find being at the screen makes me feel like I need to rush, and produce more, versus taking my time and enjoying what I am doing.

I also find it incredibly troubling that technology has spawned its own family of anxieties [3,7]. Some examples are:

  1. Technostress or information technology rage – becoming angry or stressed when you cannot figure out how to use a new piece of technology or software. Or: “FUCK THIS PHONE HOW THE FUCK DO YOU TURN ON THE GODDAMN BLUETOOTH?” – Most prevalent in parents and grandparents 😉
  2. Disconnectivity anxiety – characterized by the worry of being technologically disconnected from others, i.e., not being able to text someone or be in touch with them over Facebook.
  3. Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD) – A more specific form of disconnectivity anxiety, related to not being able to check social media networks. For this reasons in Korea, there are boot camps to break internet addiction [8].

Technology has created a multitude of possibilities for people to connect with one another, and it seems like the way we connect to technology affects our self-esteem and how we see ourselves. Our identities, especially our students’, have extended into the World Wide Web with mediums like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Online Blogging, like Blogger. Users tend to feel a sense of instant gratification which they soon feel a void from if they are separated from technology and do not receive instant updates. As well, users develop a new relationship formed with one another that is instant and connects automatically from anywhere and anytime; as a result, users “not being able to access those relationships creates doubt and insecurity. – Dr. Jim Taylor [9]

Merging Man and Machine

While Kurzweil discusses how man will eventually merge with technology à la Deus Ex, our networks have already blended our identities to those that we have online.

And as a friend of mine said, “I feel like our generation is just fighting distractions”. Why get work done when Facebook is right there?

Look, bluntly – I can tell you from someone who spent a great deal of their life in front of a screen that I’ve had FAR more fun and actually memorable experiences with people than at a screen. I hardly remember the screen bullshit anyways. I do remember screens being useful for accomplishing things and arranging ways to meet people, but not the time itself at the screen. I also know I’ve used the screen as a method of bypassing social interaction because of past experiences that created social anxiety.

I’m not saying technology isn’t amazing. I mean, holy shit, you can send ANYTHING on your computer through the AIR (Wi-Fi). The amount of information contained right here on the web is… well, like a web: connecting lines going everywhere that you can get lost and tangled in forever.

E-mail is a necessity these days. Cell phones are useful for emergency situations and making plans. Screen time won’t kill you, but how much is too much? And, are you able to balance going outside and spending time with people as well?

We need to be outside, and we need to be with people.

This is one of the reasons why I’m contemplating my future line of work – a great deal of my skills lie at the screen and I think one can learn so much online, but there is a whole world out there and I love being with people. It’s tough to balance my desires and needs.

Further Dangers of Technology

The extreme danger is when you use screens as a means of living your life or as a substitute for social connection. It’s just not the same.

And sometimes technology is used as a means of procrastination from important things in life. I’m sure you’re aware that you procrastinate on Reddit and YouTube from doing work at times… that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the girl who searches for a billion groups to join on meetup.com, joins them, but never goes to one event. The guy who searches for dating resources and reads forums on getting over approach anxiety, but never goes out to meet women.

See how this can be extremely detrimental?

It’s Time to Unplug

Limit your time on the internet and at a screen. Computers are necessary for communication these days, and many jobs require them for work.

But, you can also choose to take breaks.

You can choose to structure your work so that you aren’t at a screen as much.

And if this really matters to you enough you can find a job that isn’t as screen heavy – or where you are working alongside others.

Ensure that you are stretching and take breaks. Take care of your body and posture at the gym or with proper ergonomic equipment.

If you have trouble limiting your time, install a site blocker that keeps you from your trouble sites (K9 is a good one). Ask a friend to hold you accountable if you are on a computer too long. Whatever method you think is good, just get outside and with people more.

For me, I’m working on scheduling social events. If I have something scheduled, I HAVE to get outside no matter what. Otherwise, I’ll fill my time loafing around.

Technology can create amazing things and bring us together, from all across the world.

Just don’t use it as a substitute for living your life. Use it as an add-on and a tool.


[1]. The Huffington Post. Social Media Is Causing Anxiety, Study Finds. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/social-media-anxiety_n_1662224.html.

[2]. redOrbit. Too Much Technology Use Tied To Depression And Anxiety. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1112742041/depression-anxiety-linked-to-media-technology-use-12041/.

[3]. University of British Columbia – Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology. Technology-related anxiety. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Technology-related_Anxiety.

[4]. Psychology Today. Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google.

[5]. Psychology Today. Brain Bootcamp. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-bootcamp/200907/techno-addicts.

[6]. Pierce, Tamrya. Social anxiety and technology: Face-to-face communication versus technological communication among teens. Computers in Human Behaviour, 25(6), p.1367, 2009. Available online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563209000971.

[7]. Psychology Today. Technology: Disconnectivity Anxiety. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/200907/technology-disconnectivity-anxiety.

[8]. wbur’s CommonHealth Reform and Reality. Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD): The Next New Medical Condition?. Retrieved Sunday August 10th, 2014 from http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2012/04/social-media-anxiety-disorder.

[9]. Fiehn, Barbara. Stressing out: Handling Change in a Digital World. Community & Junior College Libraries. 16(4), p.255, 2010.

 

Image Credit: Cover picture courtesy of Spyros Papaspyropoulos under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Comments 8

    1. Post
      Author
      Noam Lightstone

      Yeah it’s definitely a problem.

      I mean I am by no means perfect which is why I started doing technology fasts. Next is my phone… When I have it I check it far too often. And why is it that the times in front of the screen I don’t really remember? All I remember or like to remember are what those times created, or the people they brought to me (the events themselves).

      LOL. That Craigslist snippet is hilarious and sad.

      Technology – wonderful and amazing… but in some cases just a drain on society.

  1. Virginia Francis

    Thank you for this excellent article. I have a dear sibling who is struggling with cell phone addiction and is finally starting to wake up to the dangers you have so well described. An interesting thing I have seen is its similarity (from what I’ve read) to any other kind of addiction – the denial, the agreeing that they might have a problem, or that they have a problem but the cell phone isn’t part of it, and then, when they’re trying to go off of it, the little ways to get it back into their lives e.g. “I’m not an alcoholic, I can stop anytime I want”, “I’m not using it in bed, I need a flashlight”, “I’m not going over my 30 minutes twice a day, I’m just updating my pictures”…. I imagine the list could go on. I am going to refer your article to a few folks. Thank you again.

    1. Post
      Author
      Noam Lightstone

      Hey Virginia, thanks for writing in and glad you got something out of it! Hopefully whoever you share it with does as well :).

      It’s true, I’m glad you brought that up. With any addiction you always think you’re in control but that’s your mind playing tricks on you. You need external forces to stop you and help – So for example: If you are addicted to YouTube, you set a limit of 30 min a day. You use programs that track your internet usage, and have to show someone every week. If you are over 30 min every day, you pay them a set amount. This way you are FORCED to start to change.

      Otherwise little excuses will weasel their way in, and you won’t be able to limit yourself/you’ll stay addicted.

      We’re the best at buying our own BS unfortunately XD.

  2. Laurie

    You explain everything so well and diverse. The simplest way is ….evil.
    7 sins of the world are all about us. As a society we depend on technology and all sins are within tech.
    From diet to socializing. It is very disheartening…
    Humankind has brought this upon ourselves. At a rapid speed..
    Nice generation. One to be proud of….it’s not what we take with us. ..but what we leave behind.

  3. Pingback: Cell Phone Usage Leading To Depression – Confusing Health Enigmas

    1. Post
      Author

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