Home Cyberpsychology & Technology The Impact of Constant Tech Use on Social Skills and Mental Well-Being

The Impact of Constant Tech Use on Social Skills and Mental Well-Being

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Today’s schoolchildren are forced into digital technology use. They probably don’t see it that way. Most children delight in the opportunity to bust out their Chromebooks or tablets. They delight in the opportunity to surf the web or even look at YouTube in between lectures. 

When they get home, they often complete their assignments online. 

They do so while sharing a space with their parents, who are equally tech-dependent. One parent listens to a podcast as they prepare dinner, checking Facebook as the onions sauté. 

The other, exhausted from their day at the office, is sprawled on the couch with a tablet inches from their nose. Who even knows what they are doing? 

When work is done, kids unwind with video games or more YouTube. The parents stream…something. Antything. Everything?

And the next day, the cycle repeats. This familiar routine plays out across millions of households all around the world. But how does it impact the people who are living it?

In this article, we take a look at the impact of constant tech use on social skills and mental well-being. 

A consequence of progress?

In many ways, modern work culture is the best it has been in decades. Maybe the best it has ever been. Companies are now deliberately sensitive in their language. Equality of opportunity is prioritized. People now have more flexibility than ever before. 

That latter benefit, of course, is a direct consequence of digital technology. Tech reliance is now built into our job descriptions. What does that mean for our social skills and mental wellbeing?

How does tech dependence impact social skills

The National Institute of Health recently published a study on tech reliance. This study was admittedly limited in scope—focusing specifically on children with ADHD. However, the findings ultimately aligned with what many experts have long assumed and feared. 

Tech reliance correlates strongly with underdeveloped social skills.

Here’s the caveat: We simply don’t have enough information to determine if underperforming socially is a byproduct of tech dependence, or if the socially awkward are naturally more attracted to digital spaces. 

Some evidence points to the latter. People who struggle to interact with their peers face-to-face often find it easier to develop personal connections online. When digital spaces represent not only your work and relaxation outlets but also your primary option for socialization, you aren’t left with many opportunities to have traditional face-to-face encounters. 

There is evidence that excessive tech reliance can make it harder to develop social skills. However, there is less of an indication that it can hinder the social abilities of people who are already considered socially well-adjusted. 

In other words, if you’ve generally benefitted from well-developed social skills but then gone on to become tech-dependent, you probably won’t completely forget how to talk to a person. You might choose to replace face-to-face encounters with digital ones. 

However, evidence that you will completely revert to a socially incompetent state doesn’t exist…yet. 

That’s the thing with any conversation concerning the long-term effects of digital technology. The data just isn’t mature enough yet. The internet in its current form has only existed for about two decades. 

Smart devices are even younger. 

People are constantly adjusting their relationship with digital technology in a way that has so far proven difficult to analyse. 

We do know that excessive screen time can have concrete impacts on mental health. People who spend many hours behind a screen every day tend to experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than those who do not. 

One potential reason for this is that screen time winds up replacing healthier behaviours. There are many holistic habits – spending time outside, exercising, enjoying face-to-face discussions, or having animal encounters – that simply can’t be experienced when you are in an online environment. 

Is tech unavoidable?

The tech use examples described in our opening paragraphs were largely mandatory. Kids can’t decide that they would rather forfeit their laptop in favour of a textbook. They have to use the tools provided by their schools. 

The business professional cannot elect to conduct their correspondence by mail. We live in the “remote work era.” Digital communication is more prominent than ever. 

School and work account for a significant portion of our waking hours. There’s just nothing we can do to cut back during those times of the day. 

Many families are trying to find spaces within their free time to reduce screen dependency. Go on a walk. Play board games. Open a book. 

There are many analog options available to those who are willing to pursue them. It’s ultimately a matter of choice. However, routine can be a hard thing to break. Particularly in a world of technology addiction. 

How tech addiction impacts lives

Screen time can release dopamine and other chemical responses that are responsible for positive feelings within your brain. This means that you can quite literally become addicted to your phone or smart device. 

Many people – particularly teenagers – are. 

Tech addiction is usually characterised by a deep sense of anxiety or even depression when one is not able to access their device. 

People who are tech-dependent check their phones constantly. They are always online. You almost wouldn’t recognise their face without the blue glow of a nearby screen. 

Unfortunately, recognising these signs in modern society is a little like trying to spot an alcoholic in a bar. How can you really tell when someone has a problem if they are just doing what everyone else does?

Dependency is the sign to look out for, both in yourself and in loved ones. It’s not getting drunk that marks the alcoholic. It’s the need. 

So is the case of the tech-dependent. When you or someone you care about does not feel right without access to their devices, it signifies a problem. 

Consider the services of a mental health professional if you find yourself dependent on technology. 

It’s important to remember that digital technology has the potential to do more good than harm. It connects us to people from all over the world and makes work considerably easier. However, we do need to actively choose to use it appropriately. 

Many people will benefit significantly from actively pursuing screenless recreational activities. As with anything, moderation is key to happy, healthy habits.

David Radar, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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