Technology has proven to be an invaluable asset in the field of mental health. We have the Internet, which allows easy access to information on symptoms and disorders such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. We have EEG machines, which allow us
to use neurofeedback therapy to physically change brain waves, reducing symptomatology, and we have cell phone apps that allow us to track our moods and symptoms to better understand mood cycles and their etiology. With all these wonderful uses for technology, it’s hard to imagine that they could have a negative side, too.
Today everyone is constantly plugged in. We have laptops, smartphones, iPads, ipods, work computers, television, TiVo for on-demand television watching, and Redbox video rental kiosks on every corner. This constant need to be preoccupied with electronic toys is leading to the breakdown of our community ties, and it is likely a strong piece of the puzzle in the ADHD epidemic that seems to be overtaking our society. It seems that excessive use of technology can be harmful to our extended social support systems, and our cognitive development.
Even though many people will argue that technology helps them keep in touch with loved ones easier, there still seems to be a breakdown in social connection. Yes, you can email your family often and text your daughter to see if she is home from school all while you are sitting in a meeting at work. But this is your immediate social support system. Your community is composed of individuals who live in your town. Your relations within your community are extended social support. However, it seems like there has been a gradual breakdown of interest in developing relationships with neighbors, or those you see on the streets everyday.
How many people take the time to get to know their neighbors when they move into a new place? I admit to being guilty of this at times, and often wonder what it was like for my grandparents who lived in their house for close to 40 years, raising their children with others on the street and knowing that no matter what they could rely on those living close by if something were to happen. If their child broke his arm falling from a tree, a neighbor would help, or if an adolescent was falling in with the wrong crowd, a neighbor would tell his parents. I’m not suggesting that technology is the sole cause of this social change, but it seems to me that technology may have been a catalyst in the formula.
Last month in San Francisco , a killer walked onto a crowded train. The passengers were so involved in their smartphones and iPods that no one saw him take out his gun and wave it around. In fact, he did this four or five times, randomly aiming at individuals as he randomly chose his target. No one noticed until he fired a round into the back of a university student, killing him. The passengers were so consumed with technology and completely detached from their environment that they didn’t notice what was going on. The police had to review the train security footage for an accurate account of what happened.
Does this sound like a horrific but isolated incident? Anyone remember watching the viral video of a woman in the mall who was so engrossed in her texting that she walked right into the fountain and fell in? Has your state started a campaign to stop texting and driving because of the high rate of accidents which resulted from people being distracted? It seems like the constant use of technology is having some serious repercussions.
Besides effecting our relationships and social support systems, the constant use of technology has led to changes in our cognitive development. Everyone can think of a time they were staring at the microwave wondering ‘when will the food be done already?’ It seems we have grown accustomed to constantly being entertained, preoccupied, or on the go all while multitasking. I have often thought that this constant need to be stimulated may play a role in the soaring number of individuals being seen for problems with attention.
Years ago, kids played with simpler toys which were often homemade. Lincoln logs were considered great presents, and if the weather was nice you were outside reinventing some fantasy role you and your brothers had played hundreds of times. Kids needed to entertain themselves and they used their imaginations, they pondered, and they were accustomed to being bored. These types of activities helped them develop their attention. They learned how to regulated themselves, their behaviors, and emotions. They could sit for hours playing quietly, they could focus on the task at hand, and they spent time entertaining themselves by using their minds and imaginations.
Today, children are placed in front of the television at an early age and grow up with the luxury of constant entertainment. Boredom is unthinkable, and often tantrums ensue to protest Mom’s request that they put their iPhone away for dinner. Children who are accustomed to constant stimulation never had a need to develop their attention, and so they don’t. Who needs sustained attention when everything is quick and novel? This can lead to children and adults having problems when they eventually run into a situation where they are required to do tasks that are not exciting, or stimulation. They begin seeking medications that they otherwise would never have needed to help them manage their attention deficits.
The good news is that technology has also been developed to help individuals develop their attention through neurofeedback therapy. This type of therapy is a holistic approach to treating ADHD (and many other disorders) by using a feedback loop to change brainwaves and help the individual focus better, ultimately developing and improving their attention. The technology for this type of therapy has been around for years, but is just recently becoming more of a mainstream therapeutic approach.
Overall, I want to say I am not anti-technology. Technology has some wonderful uses and can be beneficial in countless ways. However, when I read the news article about how technology distracted those individuals on the train, oblivious of their surroundings and safety, I was shocked. Even if no one had been willing to be a hero and save the life of the innocent university student, I was surprised at how unaware they were for their own safety. No one seemed to notice the gun-wielding killer on the train. I began to think about the long-term effects this problem can have on the mental health of individuals, and how technology has played a role in the increased number of ADHD patients.
Technology is a great tool making life easier and improving our quality of living , but everything needs to be in moderation. Find a balance in your life, take time to unplug every once in a while, and remember to step out of the virtual world and enjoy the real one that surrounds you every day.