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Mobile technology and what it could mean for our mental health.

The world in which we live has changed and beyond that which I experienced in my younger years, and I’m only 36. As an introduction to a talk I delivered recently to sixth form students, I explored the difference between the world I lived in at 16, twenty years ago, and the one they find […]

The world in which we live has changed and beyond that which I experienced in my younger years, and I’m only 36. As an introduction to a talk I delivered recently to sixth form students, I explored the difference between the world I lived in at 16, twenty years ago, and the one they find themselves in today. While I concede some of the following may have existed, I wasn’t aware of it.

  • No Google and if I needed to know anything I had to go to the library or use the Encarta CD Rom
  • I did not have a mobile phone
  • I wasn’t on any form of online social media if I wanted to socialise my friends had to knock on my front door and ask my dad is I was ‘leaking out.’
  • There was no online shopping for anything
  • When I did go shopping, I had to interact with a cashier and would pay for my items using cash
  • And the list goes on…

The Technological Revolution is upon us and is moving at an alarming rate, the official term for which is exponential growth. We almost double technological advances day on day. Heading towards what is referred to as the technological singularity, suggested as the point at which Artificial Intelligence outstrips human intelligence. As I read this, I become alarmed that Artificial Intelligence has already managed to be promoted to both capitalised letters and initials AI, and human intelligence has not! An example of the progress we have made, and quickly,

We sent a man to the moon and back with 4KB of memory, and your phone is 250,000 times more powerful at 1GB.

We now live in a World where everything is quite literally at our fingertips. Take a scan of your mobile phone, and like most, you will see the vast amount of activities you can now complete within it. I stay in contact with people across multiple platforms and globally within an instant for business and pleasure. I order groceries from a supermarket and have them delivered to my door, the same day. I order a takeaway and have it delivered with no need to root around for a menu or make a call. My travel pass is on my mobile phone, as is the app I use to order a taxi. My cash card is becoming redundant as I pay for more and more on my phone through a mobile banking app or a retailer’s specific app, removing the need to carry loyalty cards. I complete all my banking, paying bills and transferring money between accounts. The memories I create are too often viewed through the lens of the camera and then stored forever in a cloud. When all that gets too much, I have a whole host of entertainment to access and watch, read or listen. If it gets too much, I access mindfulness activities and daily meditations.

Finally, if I need the answer to anything, I can get it in an instant, although the one question that seems to be left unanswered is ‘when does this stop?’

I was once asked; did I think the rise of the robots would happen and we’d become extinct. My answer, ‘If the rise of the robots is real, it’s already happening, and we are losing.’ Every day we are losing lives to suicide because of cyberbullying, trolling, or online shaming. Aside from this most extreme impact, we are gradually decreasing our brains efficiency to deal with life inside the digital world and more fundamentally outside in the real world. This separation of ourselves between the real and the digital can leave us questioning who we are, which version are we. We often create a digital version of ourselves which appears fitter, healthier, stronger, happier, and more successful then the version of ourselves we sit with when the digital screen is off. Alone with these thoughts, the appeal of the digital world calls us and we reconnect with our device and desperately seek likes to increase our self-esteem or hunt for novelty in video rabbit holes of clip after clip, hypnotised until we see something new and interesting, and once again our mind is satiated for a fleeting moment.

As we enter the digital world, we are thrown into a war of comparisons with people who too are showing the best version of themselves. While not an appropriate or healthy response, I can see why people would choose to try and pull other people down to gain some shred of self-esteem for themselves. A cry to the world that it can’t all be that perfect and they’re going to prove it; they will find and exploit a weakness to make their flaws feel validated. For those of us who find it hard to connect with the perspective that which is presented may not be true, we feel we are falling short of the achievements of others in many, if not all, aspects of life. We are ugly, fat, unfit, unhealthy, poor, unintelligent, lacking in friends and likes. Our moods deplete, and the tool by which we have become a victim now becomes the hero, as we seek distraction in another clip, the whirling scrolls of images and updates, or the comfort of ordering a takeaway and seeing the restaurant has accepted the order.

This doom and gloom could lead you to believe I am against technology, and I most certainly am not. I love my mobile phone, but I see the damage it could do if I let it. Particularly as I work as Life Coach who specialises in mental health, seeing the impact mobile technology has on the lives of those with whom I work. The primary impacts I see mobile technology having on our mental wellbeing is as follows:

  • Decreased attention spans and lack of ability to focus in the real world
  • An over-reliance on our mobile phone to manage our moods
  • Increased addiction to apps due to the creation of chemical imbalances
  • Increased challenges in disconnecting from apps or the mobile itself
  • Compare ourselves to others impacting our confidence and self-esteem
  • Reduced communication skills particularly face-to-face
  • A digital world in which everything exists and what we need no longer exists outside of it, therefore leaving us trapped

I’ll concede I don’t have a ‘new’ answer on how we can engage with our mobile technology, yet, and I won’t regurgitate other people’s fantastic tips and tricks to manage your mobile devices. All I will say is this,

If everything is at our fingertips, we ultimately have the power to push it away.

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