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Our lives have become increasingly immersed in technology. With it, most of our communication is now online, much of our leisure and entertainment is provided by the internet and online games, and many of us have also found that our mobile phones have become an essential part of our connectivity.

 

It is important to note that technology itself is not inherently bad. Rather, its value depends upon how it is used – by who, when, and what for. It presents enormous opportunities for positive benefits, through improving our ability to communicate and to access information in many different forms (Jones, 2011). However, technology is just a medium, what is communicated and how it is being used are not determined by the gadget itself but by us, the Users.

 

Therefore, the misuse of electronic devices by us has resulted in potential detrimental effects of technology towards our mental health. For example, the quest for “likes” and popularity has resulted in teens risking their lives to get that perfect Instagram selfie and that has killed 259 people between 2011 and 2017 (BBC, 2018). An example closer to home would be just last year alone, a 16-year-old girl reportedly killed herself after posting a poll on her Instagram account asking followers if she should kill herself (Fullerton, 2019).

 

Telltale signs that technology is impacting your mental health

Everyone is unique and there is no specific amount of time spent on your gadgets, or the number of posts you make that indicates your electronic device use is becoming unhealthy. Rather, it has to do with the impact that the time spent on that device has on your mental health that makes it unhealthy.

 

Hence here are some telltale signs that your use of these gadgets is actually impacting your mental health (Robinson & Smith, 2020):

  1. You spend more time on your gadgets than with your real-world friends.
  2. You start to compare yourself in terms of looks, possession and successes with others on social media.
  3. It causes you to be distracted away from work or school
  4. You start to keep track and checking how many “likes” your post has
  5. You engage in risky behavior in order to gain “likes”

 

 The use of technology fosters a sense of isolation and loneliness

 

 

It might seem like a contradiction that even when we are connected through technology, it seems as though we are still lonely. This is because constant virtual connection can often amplify the feeling of loneliness (Katz, 2020). Now we are not saying that social media causes people to suddenly start isolating themselves but more of when one constantly engages on social media it has the possibly of making isolation tendencies worse.

 

Social media usage may also have negative impact on social isolation. One prime example is through the Fear Of Missing Out also known as FOMO. While the feeling of FOMO has been around far longer than social media, they seem to exacerbate the feeling that others are having more fun or living better lives than you are. It can also come in the form of you being worried that you will be left out of the conversations at school or work if you miss the latest news or gossip on social media, or that maybe you feel that your relationships will suffer if you don’t immediately like, share, or respond to the post of others.

 

The idea that you are missing out on certain things can impact your self-esteem, trigger anxiety and fuel even greater social media use. It can also compel you to pick up your phone every few seconds to check for the latest updates, or to compulsively respond to every alert that you get, even if that means taking risks while you are driving, missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interactions over real world relationships (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

 

The use of technology fosters insecurity

 

By enabling its users to connect with a much wider network it raises the likelihood of upward social comparisons being made. Social comparison is when individuals compare themselves, be it in terms of looks, possessions or talents, to people who are perceived as better off than them. And when we compare ourselves negatively this can lead to lower self-esteem, depression and insecurity and for people who already battle with self-esteem issues, hearing about others’ happiness and success can deepen inferiority (Tan, 2019).

 

Furthermore, social media has created an unrealistic expectation of how we should be living our lives. We desire to live the glamorous life of Instagram celebrities, models and influences and wish that we could be just like them when in reality that person is not as flawless and happy as we perceive them to be (Burgess, 2018).

 

The desire to be liked is something many of us look out for and it is through social media that this desire has grown even more. Especially for teens, the number of followers and “likes” a person gets on their social media account determines how popular they are, and slowly the competition builds up and we all find ourselves fighting for the numbers of “likes” that will supposedly identify our status in life (D’souza, 2017).

 

The impact that the use of technology has on our insecurities has reached a point that even if you know that the images you are viewing on social media or advertisements are manipulated, they can still make you feel insecure about how you look or what is going on in your own life. Similarly, we are also aware that other people tend to share just the highlights of their lives, rarely the low points that everyone experiences. But that still does not lessen those feelings of envy and dissatisfaction when you are scrolling through a friend’s travel photos or reading about their promotion at work.

 

Seeking Validation

 

You just posted a really cool photo of yourself on Instagram and Facebook and you stare at your post waiting for someone to like it. To your disappointment your picture hardly gets any attention and after a while you begin to wonder why is that so, am I not attractive enough? Is the picture not as nice as I thought it was? And it is through your hunger for validation on social media, you begin to become anxious and upset that your expectations were not met.

 

When we get acknowledgement or “likes” or comments from posting pictures, it reawakens a feeling of belonging, acceptance and validation, therefore we continue this cycle. This type of perceived validation leads to a certain amount of “likes” and comments shaping our self-esteem and our overall mental health (Burgess, 2018). Because we are relational beings, we desire praise and affirmation from the people around us. Encouragement is good in a sense that it boosts our self-esteem. However, it can become toxic for our mental health if we are seeking constant validation through social media (Burgess, 2018).

 

The excessive use of technology can create a negative, self-perpetuating cycle because when we feel lonely, depressed, anxious, or stressed, we use technology more often – as a way to maybe relieve our boredom or to feel connected to others. However, as mentioned above, the use of it often, increases the feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, insecurity and isolation and the need for validation. In turn, these feelings negatively affect your mood and worsen the symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress. The worsening symptoms cause you to use technology even more, and so the downward spiral continues (Robinson & Smith, 2020).

 

So, what about you? Has the use of technology and social media enveloped your life? How about setting boundaries such as putting your mobile phone away during meal times, so that you can be present with the people whom you are with or just spending time with yourself. Taking a break from our socials help us to reconnect with ourselves.

 

Camellia Wong, MA., Demi Ng

 

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References

 

BBC News. (2018, October 4). Selfie deaths: 259 people reported dead seeking the perfect picture. Retrieved from

https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-45745982

 

D’souza, N. (2017, July 20). Is Social Media Making You Feel Insecure? Retrieved from

https://youthincmag.com/social-media-insecure

 

Fullerton, J. (2019, May 15). Teenage girl kills herself ‘after Instagram poll’ in Malaysia. The Guardian. Retrieved from

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/15/teenage-girl-kills-herself-after-instagram-poll-in-malaysia

 

Jones, P. (2011, July). The impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing. Retrieved from http://www.with-one-voice.com/sites/default/files/Nominet%20Trust%20-%20The%20impact%20of%20digital%20technologies%20on%20human%20wellbeing_0.pdf

 

Katz, L. (2020, June 18). How tech and social media are making us feel lonelier than ever. Retrieved from

https://www.cnet.com/features/how-tech-and-social-media-are-making-us-feel-lonelier-than-ever/

 

Robinson, L. & Melinda, S. (2020, September). Social Media and Mental Health. Retrieved from

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/social-media-and-mental-health.htm?pdf=30524&_ga=2.175634146.1134185992.1600963115-1068882888.1600963115

 

Tan, W. (2019, June-September). To Post or Not to Post. IMAGINE a magazine on mental health. Retrieved from

https://www.imh.com.sg/uploadedFiles/Publications/Imagine/IMAGINE_Jun-Sep_2019.pdf

 

 

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