The emergence of digital technology is one of the greatest advancements in modern society.
People born before computers and cell phones ruled the world often wonder how they ever made do without them. However, digital technology is fraught with potential pitfalls.
In some cases, its use – especially its overuse – can negatively impact mental health in many ways. It can be addictive and add to depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation. Although teens bear the brunt of the negative effects, adults are not immune to them.
According to a 2018 British study, social media use contributes to sleep disruption, academic decline, and general low productivity.
Moreover, this study is far from isolated; there is an abundance of research validating it, all concluding the same thing – that unmetered use of social media can become harmful to our brains.
The fact that younger people aren't getting enough sleep due to digital distractions may also contribute to the fact that mental health concerns are on the rise. Suicide rates are also on the rise. According to a few studies, people who spend long hours online may be at higher risk of suicide, but there may be other reasons as well.
It's time to rethink our approach to social media. In the absence of mitigation, we face a bleak future where mental illness will become a pandemic worse than Covid-19.
What makes it worse is that mental health is poorly understood. Future research will provide new insight into the ills of social media and treatment options. However, the problem we face today cannot wait for these studies to be conceived and conducted.
In the wake of these ominous signs, what's required is nothing short of digital detox on a societal scale. In its basic form, detox can be in the form of deliberate and regular breaks from smartphones. Study after study has shown that taking such breaks boosts productivity, lifts moods, and allows people to spend more time with their loved ones.
In primary and high schools, digital detox should be a required class to equip children with the skills to make the most of tech and avoid the drawbacks. We should equip our society to assist those who are drifting toward addiction.
A good way to confront the dangers of overusing social media is to advocate social media giants to carry cautionary messages on their platforms that too much use of social media can be harmful to one's health, especially teens and adolescents.
Be your brother’s keeper. Say something when we see signs of addiction. You can start by turning off your phone's alerts for at least a few hours each day, or by putting it in "Airplane" or "Do Not Disturb" mode and taking that time to enjoy some quiet.
Mr Wambugu is an informatician. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Samwambugu2