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Why personal tech is depressing

Why personal tech is depressing:

We are living in an era when luxury was unheard of. We can get almost any book or movie on our phones and watch it while exotic food is brought right to our doorsteps through an app. This means we don’t have to leave our couches. But this ease of use comes at a cost that doesn’t show up on your credit card bill.

Because we spend most of our time inside and don’t get out much, we are more likely to get depressed. The U.S. is the most technologically advanced country in the world, but it is also the most depressed. Three out of ten Americans will have a depressive illness at some point in their lives, which is an estimated tenfold increase since World War II.

Even though the use of antidepressants has gone up by 400% in the U.S. since 1990, the rate of depression has also gone up, and not just in the U.S. The World Health Organization says that depression is the main reason why people can’t work around the world.

We don’t have to do the hard work that our grandparents did because of things like the Roomba and Netflix. But little things like vacuuming and giving back videotapes can make us feel better. Even a small amount of physical activity can reduce stress and cause the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, which are powerful neurotransmitters that help people get motivated and keep their emotions in check. If we don’t move around, our brain’s pleasure centers can go to sleep. As AI makes it less and less important for people to do things, depression is likely to become more common.

Why personal tech is depressing

In theory, apps that save us time and machines that do our work give us extra time that we could use to go to the beach or join a kickball league. But that’s not usually what happens. Like our ancestors, we’re hardwired to save energy whenever possible and be lazy when it’s not necessary. This is an evolutionary explanation for why you tend to sit around after work. Too much time in front of a screen makes us less active, overstimulates our nervous systems, and makes us make more of the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol helps us deal with high-pressure situations in the short term, but when it’s always on, it sets off the brain’s toxic runaway stress response, which researchers have found to be the main cause of depression.

At first glance, it seems like our smartphones should keep us more connected than ever through an endless stream of texts, instant messages, voice calls, and social media interactions. But since everyone has a smartphone now, the number of Americans who say they feel lonely all the time has gone up from 15% 30 years ago to 40% today.

People who spend too much time in front of a screen and not enough time talking to people in person are especially affected. Face-to-face conversations involve all of our senses at once, and only a small part of that can be communicated through text or video messages. If we only talk to each other through technology, we miss out on the richer neurological effects of face-to-face interactions and their ability to make us feel less lonely and depressed.

People used to spend most of their time outside a few hundred years ago. Direct sunlight makes the serotonin circuits in the brain work better and protects against SAD. It also turns on the light receptors in the eyes, which control the body’s internal clock and sleep patterns, but we spend 93% of our time indoors. Our mood gets worse, and our bodies lose the ability to sleep well. And when our eyes are exposed to artificial light, especially the blue-shifted colors of flat screens, the body doesn’t release the hormone that makes us sleepy at night until 45 minutes after we turn off the lights. The lack of sleep that results can both cause depression and make it worse.

But the so-called “unplugged” study from 2010 may tell us the most about how technology affects our well-being. About 1,000 students from 19 universities around the world agreed to give up all screens for 24 hours. Most of the students dropped out of the study within a few hours, and many of them said they were having withdrawal symptoms. But those who pushed through the initial discomfort and finished the experiment found a surprising number of benefits: more calm, less scattered attention, more meaningful conversations, deeper connections with friends, and a greater sense of mindfulness.

This is not a manifesto for the Luddites. Personal technology isn’t going away, and a mass unplugging is about as likely as finding Atlantis. The good news is that the same technology that is hurting our emotional health can be used in smart ways to reduce and even reverse the effects of depression. Sometimes the answer is in the problem itself.


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