When talking to my parents and grandparents, it’s common to hear remarks condemning the overuse of the internet, like “Maybe then you’d get off your phone!” and “Why don’t you read a book?” It really starts to chafe. They didn’t grow up with constant connectivity like I have. Just because they don’t understand phones doesn’t mean they’re harmful. I’m stressed enough as it is; I don’t need my closest family members belittling me for one of my most readily-available coping mechanisms.
As much as I am viscerally repelled by anti-technology crusades, my personal experience and research on the effects of phone use leads me to grudgingly admit that they have a kernel of truth to them. Both scientific evidence and my own experiences show that technology is often overused and comes with harmful psychological effects.
Social media and the internet have the potential to be highly addictive. Most social networks are deliberately designed to generate brain reactions which make you want to keep using social media. Former Google ethicist, Tristan Harris, described it as a “slot machine.” When you get lucky on a slot machine, the little thrill of winning means your brain produces dopamine. That’s why gambling, which offers the possibility, but not certainty, of reward is so addictive. Social media works the same way. When you open up Instagram, you are sometimes, but not always, given a “reward” in the form of a new post or story to look at. This might sound minor, but the little dopamine bursts you get from seeing something new add up. Social media is designed to be addictive in more obvious ways too. Snapchat’s “streaks” feature is impossible to use without logging on daily, and once you’re on, why not check stories or scroll through the discover feature? Before you know it, you’ve lost twenty minutes of your day. This might sound hypothetical, but I know for a fact I’ve experienced it. Whenever I post on Instagram, I spend the next few days regularly opening Instagram just to get the thrill of finding out if I have any new likes. If you think about your experiences with social media, you’ll probably find similar patterns.
Internet use can also be extremely distracting. When I’m writing an essay in my room, the temptation to click to another tab and check the news or social media is irresistible. I often spend more time doing that than actually working. While procrastination has always existed, the internet has made it easier and simpler than ever before.
This isn’t to say that the internet is solely a bad thing. It has done immeasurable good in my life and the lives of my peers. I now have nearly unlimited access to information and the ability to talk to people from all over the world. We often take these things for granted, but twenty years ago I couldn’t have researched this topic without spending days in libraries. Now, I can do it in thirty minutes from the comfort of my home, and then edit the college essay of a friend who lives hundreds of miles away in Utah.
The internet isn’t a bad thing. While it can quickly become unhealthy, our generation has had access to so much knowledge and ease of communication from its resources.