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Is technology good for our mental health?

Technology has advanced greatly in the last 50 years. In July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Its guidance computer had 2 kilobytes of RAM on-board and processed data at 4 MHz. That might not mean much to you, but an Apple iPhone 6s processes data 32,600 times faster and even the iPhone base model has 2 gigabytes of RAM, 1 million times more. In fact my washing machine that is just a few years old has more processing power than Apollo 11 and a modern smart phone has more processing power (can do more) than the whole of NASA in 1969. Today we can order pizza online and know where it is on its journey to us without leaving our sofa or talking to a human. We can remotely turn on the central heating in our homes. 3D scanning and printing is changing the medical world and self-driving cars are close.

It’s great, what’s the problem? Well there are health concerns that are created from all this technology. Unproven concerns are hearing loss from having music constantly playing (some loudly), Electro-magnetic radiation from wireless devices (especially mobile phones) and the increase in wearable devices like smart watches. In fact a few years ago there was a major power cut in North America that left homes without power for 3 days. It was widely reported that people felt less stressed and this is most like because they were technology and radiation free.

I personally am worried about the effects of technology, in particular social media and it easy accessibility, on our emotional stability. People feel under pressure to always be online. Some people wake during the night to check their messages. We are also being surrounded by ideal lives. I’m guilty of this myself; I post nice things on my social media accounts. I miss out the bad hair days and the days that I would like to have stayed under the duvet. As a result some people believe that their life is not good enough, that they are not good enough and hence their self-esteem is suffering. Add in the fake news and peer pressure and we have a toxic recipe for anyone who is not emotionally resilient. We have never had so many friends/conversations/groups/likes/pokes, but feel so isolated. Young people and teens are particularly at risk, with reports that they cannot function without the technology; boredom and lack of creativity rule.

Then we have the proven physical health issues: Our eyesight is suffering, there are posture issues too; mainly in the head, shoulder and neck areas. RSI is common place from keyboard, gaming and mobile device use.

We have all had good and bad experiences with technology. One of the bad experiences for me was blindly following the Satellite Navigation system on a journey to Wales. It took us on a single track road with grass growing in the middle of it. I remember sitting in the passenger seat making myself as small as possible in the vague hope that it would shrink the van we were driving. Thankfully we didn’t meet anything coming the other way!

The opposite of that is my great experience with spell and grammar checkers. I am dyslexic and as I my career progressed, word processors with their embedded spell and grammar checkers have developed at a pace that has enabled me to compete on a level with my peers. I doubt I would be doing what I love now without them.

Again – so what!? Well technology could be making us stupid. Our brains are made up of interconnected neurons. When neurons connect they form a bond that allows for easy, accurate communication. This is what we call learning. The more you use that set of connections – pathway the stronger it becomes (just like the muscles in our body). This is called neuro-plasticity. To make the strong connections that are best for our healthy brains we need to use them regularly and to connect them to other pathways. We do this by meaningful learning (not learning by rote / exam cramming). This is the learning where we really understand what it is we are learning so that we can establish it in our current knowledge and make those new connections. If we don’t use the pathways they atrophy / die. Our brain gets negative plasticity

But modern life dictates that technology is part of doing business, socialising, etc. I’m not suggesting that we go off grid, although that may appeal! What I am suggesting is that you think about your use and reliance on technology. Are you using technology just because you are too lazy to do it another way, if so you may what to re-think.

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