Human Awareness in the Smart Age

smart devices

Smart devices have been on the rise since their first appearance around 1966. However, their popularity has gone through the roof in recent years. This peak in popularity is chiefly due to the new era of connectivity and the popularity of TV shows and movies that highlight the usefulness of this technology, such as the Iron Man franchise and “Black Mirror.” But people need to talk about its side effect on human awareness and daily functional capabilities.

Mental Health

As an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak, people have become increasingly attached to their smart devices, what with work-from-home orders, online education, and delivery apps. In a 2020 study, “Impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on digital device-related ocular health,” researchers found that 93.6 percent of Americans significantly increased their screen time once lockdowns began. Intelligent devices and, by extension, smartphones are flexible and powerful tools. And as long as the user is prudent, they can augment human cognition. In addition, while these devices display great benefits and advantages for the human race and their convenience, studies have shown that these innovations may translate into adverse and lasting effects on thoughts, memory, attention span, and emotional intelligence. So, there are two sides to this coin.

Heads: The Good

  • Self-efficacy: Operating an intelligent device is more challenging than it sounds if you are unfamiliar with the tech. So, that feeling of accomplishment is rewarding when you figure out how it works. Such instances promote confidence and independence.
  • Expanded Community: One of the major selling points is access to communities of like-minded people, whether through chatrooms on Discord or Reddit subreddits. You can find someone who understands you.
  • Decreased Depression: When kids and teens who were depressed spent a limited amount of time watching engaging material like TV shows or movies on their screens, they experienced fewer depressive symptoms, a study showed.
  • Less Psychosocial Stress: Social media helps us stay in contact with our friends and families despite our hectic lives. In fact, a 2019 study showcased how adults using social media platforms (i.e., Facebook and Instagram) demonstrated less psychosocial stress than their counterparts.
  • Easier Work, Less Stress: Our work is never done when we clock out. There is always a mental load of what you still need to do before you call it a day (e.g., a grocery run, social obligation, etc.). This slice of tech makes the metal workload easier to manage.

Tails: The Bad

  • Device-Overuse-Related Depression: According to a 2017 study, excessive use of digital devices increased depression in users. Teens and adults who spent more than six hours a day looking at screens were much more likely to suffer from moderate to severe depression than those who spent less time with their screens. Experts believe that disconnectedness contributes to depression in people relying on screens.
  • Sleep Interruption: Sleep is a delicate matter. A screen’s blue light can modify one’s circadian rhythms. Accordingly, it decreases the quality and duration of sleep and increases anxiety and depression.
  • Image Issues: Doom scrolling refers to unstoppably scrolling social media, comparing yourself to others based on their public profiles and curated internet personality. And despite knowing that not everything is as it seems online, we still fall victim to our low self-esteem and self-perception.

Physical Health

Because of the numerous benefits provided by these devices, children and adolescents are becoming the most prolific users of smart technology devices. However, its excessive use can harm one’s physical health.

  • Musculoskeletal Issues: Looking down at an electronic device for extended periods can cause neck and back pain, elbow, etc. Furthermore, laptop and smartphone use can result in people sitting in positions consistent with poor ergonomic function and positioning.
  • Digital Eye Strain: Constant exposure to digital devices can harm vision. One of the most commonly reported symptoms of excessive screen time is digital eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). According to one study, it affected more than 60% of Americans. Dry eyes, redness around the eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain are all symptoms of digital eye strain.
  • Physical Inactivity: Excessive smartphone, laptop, and tablet use can result in physical inactivity. Sedentary behavior has been linked to an increased risk of various health problems, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The Covid-19 pandemic increased reliance on digital technology and forced the cancellation of sporting events worldwide. But even before Covid, experts estimated that physical inactivity cost the world around 5.3 million lives yearly.

Final Thoughts

Smart devices joined the human history of technology in 1966 with ECHO IV (although it has not been commercially sold). Since then, we have been obsessed with digitalizing everything and anything in the name of an easier life. But the world is not strictly black and white, especially when it comes to intelligent devices. Their use is a double-edged sword. They make life easier. But they also jeopardize our awareness, mental and physical health, and ability to operate on a day-to-day basis. Their frequent use exacerbates ADHD symptoms, impairs emotional and social intelligence, can lead to addictive behaviors, increases social isolation, and impairs brain development and sleep. That is not to say that they don’t make life easier. Specific programs, video games, and other online tools may offer mental exercises that activate neural circuitry, improve cognitive functioning, reduce anxiety, promote restful sleep, and provide other brain-health benefits.

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