How Does Technology Affect Users' Psychology?
Recent research on the intersection of technology and psychology.
Posted February 18, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
It is hard to stay up to date when it comes to psychological research regarding technology, given how rapidly tech changes relative to the process it takes to perform valid empirical research.
The pervasive use of technology and reliance on our digital gadgets is impacting our psychology in countless ways. Here is a quick overview of some of the most recent findings in the field regarding the psychology of technology consumption.
While this is not particularly new, it is important to identify that despite the appeal of social media and the internet more generally from the perspective of offering everyone a chance to share their voices, systemic privilege and oppression remains embedded in the industry. For instance, the “Big 5” tech companies (Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft) dominate their respective spheres and continue to be loosely regulated in our country. Moreover, they remain the most valuable companies in America, many of them having surpassed the trillion mark in valuation for the first time in history, while paying well below their share in taxes (Mirrlees, 2019). In addition to these tech corporations dominating their respective fields, the industry as a whole remains largely male and white. Such realities starkly compromise the notion of technology itself being neutral, as the creators behind these technologies represent a select demographic within the larger culture.
The top three tasks users reportedly go online for are to engage in some kind of search, check email, or use social media. Thus, our technological gadgets continue to be a significant portal for communication. Trends also suggest that the gap in smartphone ownership is rapidly closing, as the data plans and devices become more affordable/accessible. One study calculated that users check their phones about 221 times a day on average. Another study estimated that if Americans dedicated more of their time spent on social media to reading books that they could, on average, read 200 more books a year (as reported by Greenberg, 2018).
An innovative study investigating the concept of Fear of Missing Out (commonly referred to as “FOMO”) identified that this is a significant issue for users of technology that is associated with worsened mood states and overall lower life satisfaction (Baker et. al., 2016). Interestingly, while this is a concept that is generally associated with younger people, these researchers identified that not only is FOMO not specific to young tech users, but it appears to be a universal notion that cuts across cultures. While it didn’t originate with technology, an increasingly tech-reliant culture promotes values that magnify the effects associated with FOMO. These researchers further identify that the physical impact of using technology has been largely ignored by research to date, despite the fact that both the body and brain are significantly impacted by technology consumption.
The takeaway from recent trends in technology is that users are often left on their own regarding how they interact with their gadgets and how their gadgets influence and shape their interactions with others. The burden falls on individual users of tech to self-regulate their consumption, which is wildly problematic given that tech platforms such as social media are not created with the idea of moderation in mind. The devices and the popular platforms we use with our gadgets are designed specifically to keep us attached to them, and they often drain our energy and our cognitive resources. Stay tuned for more overviews regarding recent findings in the field, and refer to previous posts regarding how to more mindfully navigate technology if you are interested in learning how to better manage and resist these problematic cultural trends.
Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2020.
Baker, Z.G., Krieger, H., LeRoy, A.S. (2016). Fear of Missing Out: Relationships with Depression, Mindfulness, and Physical Symptoms. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2(3), 275-282.
Greenberg, P. (2018, December 31). In Search of Lost Screen Time. The New York Times: Opinion. Retrieved on February 18, 2020 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/31/opinion/smartphones-screen-time.html
Mirrlees, T. (2019, May 1). Power, Privilege, and Resistance in the Digital Age. CCPA. Retrieved online from: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/power-privilege-…