We live in a world where we are constantly connected and plugged in. I can instantly engage with friends, family and strangers around the country and around the world at the touch of a few buttons. Although this has undoubtedly made connecting and staying in touch with others more efficient, more research is starting to examine the possible negative outcomes from social network site use. It is likely not a surprise to most of us that social network use, specifically Facebook use, has been associated with have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Ability to peer into other’s lives can likely cause one to judge our own lives in comparison. Thus, feelings of psychological distress can arise if we perceive others live (or as they are portrayed on Facebook, SnapChat or Instagram) to be happier or better than our own. These comparisons can be made across many facets of life. For example, comparing our bodies against others can lead to body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness, or potentially judging our financial status against others can lead to feelings of inequity and feeling poor, which can also elicit stress. Previous research has examined the broad associations between SNS use and mental health, however, work by Frost and Rickwood (2017) sought to determine specific mental health outcomes associated with site use. They found that Facebook use was associated with alcohol use, disordered eating and negative body image, as well as feelings of anxiety and depression. They also found greater use was associated with Facebook addiction, wherein individuals engage habitually and compulsively with the site, much like behavioral patterns of other types of addiction. Interestingly, there was a link between passive use and negative outcomes. Passively engaging in social comparison and appearance comparison could lead to brooding and rumination, without facilitating social support to mitigate these negative feelings. Therefore, those who are passively viewing Facebook may not be facilitating and maintaining social connections, which could be a positive outcome of site use. In light of our cultures current climate of constant contact via social media, people have started note the negative effects that such activities could have. Thus, many people have started to go on social media-cleanses, making an effort to unplug and live in the moment. It will be interesting to see whether this type of self-help detox is effective at mitigating certain negative consequences of use and who could benefit from such strategies. Additionally, although constant engagement may have a negative impact on our mental health, ecological momentary assessment has been made possible due to technology. Kirchner and Shiffman (2016) explain that by using mobile communication we can revolutionize research on mental health by easily and unobtrusively capturing individual’s experiences moment-to-moment and linking these to objective measures. Furthermore, we can also capture geographic information, which can provide interesting and important information linking locations and stress-related behaviors or diseases. For example, using GEMA we can assess the effects of air pollution on mood and stress levels. As we can see, technology and social connection has benefits and costs to our mental health. Yet, with the new possibilities to study stress across a variety of ecologically valid situations, we can hopefully use this technology to more effectively target treatments to improve mental well-being.

Technology allows us to streamline our lives, and quickly and efficiently accomplish many of our daily tasks. However, sometimes this can backfire and technology can actually lead to technostress. As Ayyagari and colleagues (2011) describe, this is a modern disease caused by one’s inability to cope or deal with information and communication technologies (ICT’s). They explain how specific characteristics of technology (such as usability, intrusiveness and pace of change) can lead to misfits between and individual’s abilities and demands, as well as their supplies and values. These misfits correspond to stressors that are induced by ICT’s, such as work overload, work-home conflict, or role ambiguity. Interestingly the two strongest ICT-induced work stressors were work overload and role ambiguity. They explained how individuals have a hard time focusing their attention with the constant interruptions and conflicting demands created due to ICT’s. We have undoubtedly all experienced counterproductivity due to technology, which you would think would aid in fostering productivity. Alas, we all fall victim to setting aside writing when that email from a colleague or student pops up and we end up spending 30 minutes engaging, abolishing our previous focus on the writing task at hand. Additionally, ICT can elicit a feelings of work overload, where the work demands exceed and individual’s abilities. As students in the hierarchical academic system, we all struggle with biting off more than we can chew. It is so easy for an advisor or colleague to shoot us a quick email to ask for a favor and we fall victim to thinking that technologies aimed at making our lives easier, such as programs to create experiments or stimuli, end up taking up much much more of our time to navigate and troubleshoot than anticipated. Thus, we are in the constant struggle of constantly being plugged in because we feel as if we need to be, when ultimately it could be hindering our productivity and performance. We would likely all benefit from a computer/email free evening or weekend, however, as Ayyagari and colleagues demonstrated there is a blurred line between work and life which leads to feelings of strain. Since it is so easy to stay connected, I think it is extremely important to set boundaries for ourselves. It is easier said than done and I am constantly struggling with it, but logging off email after 8:00 pm and telling colleagues you will not response to emails on the weekends will likely (hopefully) make use happier and healthier in the end.

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One Response to TechnoStress

  1. Great post, Julie! As I was reading your last paragraph, in particular, it made me think of all the troubleshooting Nav and I had to do in the past to run fMRI analyses and how that just made our lives a 1000x more difficult. In order to conduct our analyses, we have to remotely log onto our computer in our office at the Charlestown Navy Yard. In order to do that we have to use a program that allows us to connect to that computer. Unfortunately, for a period of time Mass General was going through some software changes and the new software they installed had a ton of bugs and was very unreliable. When Nav and I finally were able to log in and use our analyses software, the computer would suddenly restart out of nowhere. We spent hours just trying to troubleshoot and when we couldn’t figure out what was wrong we had to contact the IT helpdesk at Mass General, which took forever. So while technology allows us to do so much, there were definitely times were our lives were stressful because of it.

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