How new technology is threatening our health

It’s official: new tech is bad for your health. This may sound like the usual doom-mongery that certain newspapers and media outlets thrive upon spreading, but unfortunately the evidence is irrefutable.

There has been a whole body of research conducted into the effect of new technologies on the minds and wellbeing of children, and there’s also a growing train of thought that even many adults can be harmed too. Typically, brain cells continue to grow well into peoples’ twenties, which makes them vulnerable to the ghouls lurking behind the 3D screens and broadband connections.

New tech is often diversionary, regularly attention-stealing, and that is the key issue here. Attention is linked to other principles of thought, including perception, knowledge retention and creativity. If these key building blocks of success in the workplace are taken away from us, then how can we expect to succeed as entrepreneurs?

World Wide Web of deceit

The information superhighway can only be a good thing, right?

Wrong (sort of). The internet, particularly in its modern form, has rewired our brains, and in turn minimised many of the skills we learned as children in an educational setting. Can you remember being made to read a lot as a kid? There was a good reason for that: reading text in a quiet and non-invasive way is proven to increase reflective skills, critical thinking, problem solving and vocabulary use. When we read, we make judgements based on the information at hand using analytical skills and our own opinions – which naturally breeds a well-rounded, sensible decision-maker.

Compare that to the way we consume written content today, particularly online. We are surrounded by a tidal wave of adverts, sponsored content, links to external sites... it’s no wonder we are so easily distracted. This phenomenon has been summed up perfectly, and in their own inimitable style, by the creators of South Park (don’t worry, the video is safe for work!). 

The point is digital technology is creating a world where we simply cannot concentrate on one single project at any given time. The internet is the ultimate platform of diversory tactics; if only the Greeks had had a 3G connection when they invaded the city of Troy.

The internet has also played host to a number of acronyms that have become popular and entered the common lexicon. However, there are not many LOLs to be had with FOMO – or the fear of missing out to you and I. That could be the sense of envy that others have more exciting lives than we do, even down to our food tasting bland after we have browsed social media just prior to eating.

Antisocial media

In theory, social media should be a force for good; a platform through which to connect with friends, stimulate debate and share great memories.

Unfortunately, for many this isn’t always the case, and often underlying issues with anxiety and self-esteem – which are problems for many of us whether overtly or otherwise – can be exacerbated by this very modern form of technology.

A number of issues were identified in a study conducted by Anxiety UK, which has become something of a yardstick for the more undesirable side of social media use. The respondents of the study complained of feelings of inadequacy when comparing their achievements to those of their friends, more than 66 per cent said they found it hard to relax or drift off to sleep (another common problem of chronic technology usage), and a quarter reported that they faced confrontation at home or in the workplace after a discussion on social media got out of hand.

So far, pretty damning stuff. But most worryingly of all is that more than half of those surveyed said that social networking had changed the way they behaved in ‘real life’ – for the worse. This is linked to the notion of Neuroplasticity, which in layman’s terms is the ability of the brain to adapt to new behaviours and experiences.

With 55 per cent of respondents saying they felt “worried or uncomfortable” when unable to log on to their social media channels, it is clear there is something rather drastic going on.

This survey was completed by just 298 people as part of an investigation into social media use by the University of Salford. But when you consider there are some 28 million Facebook users in the UK, you get a flavour of the scale of the issue.

There are even negatives in the positives, too. OxyContin is a chemical that is released in the brain when we experience feelings of satisfaction, and research has found that this is secreted when our status updates on Facebook are liked, or our Twitter posts are retweeted. The downside is that OxyContin release is an addictive trait, and so many of us crave it on a consistent and increasingly-rewarding basis.

Dopamine, another chemical in the brain that is linked to anticipation, is released when we post some content to social media and wait for the (inevitable) positive reaction from our friends and followers. Feel a need to post that photo of the Sunday roast you made to your social networks? That’s the work of dopamine and OxyContin combined. These are the same character traits displayed by heroin addicts, which is something to think about.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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