More Connected Than Ever, More Alone Than Before

Many uses of digital technology, such as opportunities to find new social groups, can benefit mental health. But not all uses are positive.
Posted on August 31st, 2022 by

Research led by Manuela Barreto, a social psychologist at the University of Exeter and Nobel Conference speaker, has shown that using technology to replace face-to-face interactions can lead to loneliness. Similarly, comparing oneself to online content, like photoshopped images, can create unrealistic standards or a fear of missing out.

“Technology in and of itself is not good or bad,” Barreto said. “It really depends on the person’s circumstances and how they use the technology.”

The digital world and the ways we use it are rapidly changing. New uses and platforms are taking shape so fast that researchers can’t yet fully understand their effects on our health.

“In the past 20 years, we’ve had a transition from text-based interaction to young people using and preferring interaction on platforms that are more image-based,” said Conference Speaker Brendesha Tynes, developmental and educational psychologist at the USC Rossier School of Education. “Depending on how these types of social media are used, they can be associated with more negative mental health outcomes.”

These changes in the digital world have created a challenging landscape for adults—let alone children—to navigate. Across the board, support is lacking for educating youth on how to appropriately engage in the digital sphere. Children often explore the online world without proper guidelines and school standards for online skills are often limited or non-existent. Not all parents are prepared, or able, to teach their kids digital literacy at home.

“There needs to be a better, non-commercial space for kids to practice internet navigation skills without the very serious emotional or psychological impacts that can occur when they are exposed to content they’re not ready to make sense of,” said Meryl Alper, Conference speaker and professor and communication researcher at Northeastern University.

Increasingly, researchers and organizations are leveraging technology itself to help children learn by developing digital tools
like online counseling services and mental health apps. Ultimately, researchers believe children can benefit from both digital materials and in-person experiences that guide and foster positive online interactions. Even learning to identify and productively respond to emotions at a young age before entering the digital realm can help lay the groundwork as youths enter adolescence.

“I’m hoping the more we give young people the tools to be able to navigate online spaces and the material they’re exposed to, the more we’ll see positive outcomes,” Tynes said.


To learn more about this year’s topic and speakers, visit the Nobel Conference website.

 

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