Back in May Ofcom published a report on the amount of time adults spent on tech devices and the being online. Apparently the average UK internet user aged 16 and above spends 20 hours and 30 minutes. I think that figure is a bit skewed: people forget how much time they actually spend on the net. That 30 minutes you sat on Twitter where it felt like 5 minutes doesn’t always transcribe well when answering a survey on internet usage. Additionally people may not want to admit their actual online usage, particularly because we all like to feel we’re not too dependent on our devices. Whatever our actual usage is we can acknowledge its growth over the past couple years, but have we acknowledge its effects on our mental well-being?
Information overload is a concept synonymous with digital stress. It’s something we battle with every day without consciously thinking about it. You can’t help but think that the introduction of wearable devices and the increasing development of IoT will leave everyone a bit, tired.
“In 1976, the average supermarket stocked 9,000 unique products; today that number has ballooned to 40,000 of them, yet the average person gets 80%–85% of their needs in only 150 different supermarket items. That means that we need to ignore 39,850 items in the store.”
Daniel J. Levitin, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
The constant bombardment of information can also cause Digital Depression. While it’s still in the early stages of research therapist Tammy Erisman claims high usage of the internet, email, and social media can cause disengagement in employees. For those more susceptible to anxious thoughts and depression connectivity is likely to intensify fatigue and digital stress. Social media is the big one here, particularly for the younger generations. The huge amount of social media outlets feeds into anxiety and peer pressure for teens. Their high usage will eventually affect their social skills which naturally will increase social anxiety, and it’s worse for teenage girls. But maybe that’s too cynical; social media can be a great outlet for those with social anxiety disorder to open up.
It’s not just teenagers who are feeling the effects of digital stress; those in the tech industry have high digital usage also and it’s causing higher rates of depression. Stories like that of Faigy Mayer a 30-year-old CEO app developer who committed suicide last month are not uncommon in the tech world. In a blog post last year, Sam Altman detailed the pressure he and many other tech founders feel when running a project, particularly due to fear of failure, long hours and isolation.
We’ve got a long way to go before the stigma around mental illnesses like depression and anxiety diminish, but like many issues a problem shared is a problem halved. Becoming aware of digital stress via discussion helps people understand the issue. For individuals in start-up a forum called Startups Anonymous may help you talk and gain answers from others a number topics, many health related. If you feel digital stress is playing a part in your life try limited your exposure to social networks. While we acknowledge this isn’t always feasible you may want to contact Samaritans on 0845 790 9090 who are available 24/7. They offer a free and confidential service where you can talk to someone about any issue.