People are more connected than ever, thanks in large part to rapid advancements in technology.
While some forms of technology may have made positive changes in the world, there is evidence for the negative effects of technology and its overuse, as well.
Social media and mobile devices may lead to psychological and physical issues, such as eyestrain and difficulty focusing on important tasks. They may also contribute to more serious health conditions, such as depression.
The overuse of technology may have a more significant impact on developing children and teenagers.
In this article, learn about the psychological and physical health effects of technology, as well as how to create healthful habits with technology and avoid overuse.
Overuse or dependence on technology may have adverse psychological effects, including:
Technologies, such as social media, are designed to bring people together, yet they may have the opposite effect in some cases.
A 2017study in young adults aged 19–32 years found that people with higher social media use were more than three times as likely to feel socially isolated than those who did not use social media as often.
Finding ways to reduce social media use, such as setting time limits for social apps, may help reduce feelings of isolation in some people.
Depression and anxiety
The authors of a 2016 systematic review discussed the link between social networks and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
Their research found mixed results. People who had more positive interactions and social support on these platforms appeared to have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
However, the reverse was also true. People who perceived that they had more negative social interactions online and who were more prone to social comparison experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety.
So, while there does appear to be a link between social media and mental health, a significant determining factor is the types of interactions people feel they are having on these platforms.
Technology use may increase the risk of physical issues as well, including:
Technologies, such as handheld tablets, smartphones, and computers, can hold a person’s attention for long periods. This may lead to eyestrain.
Symptoms of digital eyestrain can include blurred vision and dry eyes. Eyestrain may also lead to pains in other areas of the body, such as the head, neck, or shoulders.
Several technological factors may lead to eyestrain, such as:
- screen time
- screen glare
- screen brightness
- viewing too close or too far away
- poor sitting posture
- underlying vision issues
Taking regular breaks away from the screen may reduce the likelihood of eyestrain.
Anyone regularly experiencing these symptoms should see an optometrist for a checkup.
The 20-20-20 rule for digital viewing
When using any form of digital screen for longer periods of time, the American Optometric Association recommend using the 20-20-20 rule.
To use the rule, after every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break to look at something at least 20 feet away.
Doing this may help reduce the strain on the eyes from staring at a screen for a continuous period.
The way many people use mobile devices and computers may also contribute to incorrect posture. Over time, this may lead to musculoskeletal issues.
Many technologies promote a “down and forward” user position, meaning the person is hunched forward and looking down at the screen. This can put an unnecessary amount of pressure on the neck and spine.
A 5-year study in the journal Applied Ergonomics found an association between texting on a mobile phone and neck or upper back pain in young adults.
The results indicated the effects were mostly short term, though some people continued to have long-term symptoms.
However, some studies challenge these results.
A 2018 study in the European Spine Journal found that the posture of the neck while texting made no difference in symptoms such as neck pain.
This study concluded that texting and “text neck” did not influence neck pain in young adults. However, the study did not include a long-term follow-up.
It may be that other factors influence neck pain, as well, such as age and activity levels.
Correcting posture problems while using technology may lead to an overall improvement in posture and strength in the core, neck, and back.
For example, if a person finds themselves sitting in the same position for hours at a time, such as sitting at a desk while working, regularly standing or stretching may help reduce strain on the body.
Additionally, taking short breaks, such as walking around the office every hour, may also help keep the muscles loose and avoid tension and incorrect posture.
Using technology too close to bedtime may cause issues with sleep. This effect has to do with the fact that blue light, such as the light from cell phones, e-readers, and computers, stimulates the brain.
Authors of a 2014 study found that this blue light is enough to disturb the body’s natural circadian rhythm. This disturbance could make it harder to fall asleep or lead to a person feeling less alert the next day.
To avoid the potential impact of blue light on the brain, people can stop using electronic devices that emit blue light in the hour or two before bedtime.
Gentle activities to wind down with instead, such as reading a book, doing gentle stretches, or taking a bath, are alternatives.
Reduced physical activity
Most everyday digital technologies are sedentary. More extended use of these technologies promotes a more sedentary lifestyle, which is known to have negative health effects, such as contributing to:
Finding ways to take breaks from sedentary technologies may help promote a more active lifestyle.
Other forms of technology may help, however.
Research from 2017 indicates that active technologies, such as app notifications, emails, and wearable technologies that promote exercise may reduce short-term sedentary behavior.
This could help people set healthful patterns and become more physically active.
Children’s brains are still developing and may be more sensitive to the effects of technology and its overuse than adult brains.
A 2018 review of various studies noted the possible adverse effects of children using different technologies.
Children who overuse technology may be more likely to experience issues, including:
- low academic performance
- lack of attention
- low creativity
- delays in language development
- delays in social and emotional development
- physical inactivity and obesity
- poor sleep quality
- social issues, such as social incompatibility and anxiety
- aggressive behaviors
- addiction to these technologies
- higher BMI
The research also noted the importance of teaching children to interact with these technologies in healthful ways by monitoring their time using them and providing interesting alternatives.
Additionally, a study of teenagers aged 15–16 found that those who had high digital media use had an increased chance of developing symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This does not mean that digital media use causes ADHD, rather that there is an association between the two. More research needs to determine what this association means.
The authors of 2015 research found that technology appears to negatively affect the overall health of children and teenagers of all ages. Researchers noted the importance of parents and caregivers controlling screen time in all children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children under 18 months old avoid screen time altogether, while 2–5-year-olds have no more than 1 hour a day of high-quality viewing with an adult.
The recent boom in technology has changed the average American lifestyle. While technology has many positive effects, there are some possible risks.
Anyone uncertain about the effects that technology has on them may want to take steps to cut back on their use of devices and screen time and re-evaluate how they feel with and without these devices.