Technology use, loneliness and isolation

A family member recently contracted COVID-19 in France. He replied to the message: “At least I have good WIFI during my recuperation.”

During the darkest months of the pandemic, the need for connectivity has never been greater. We text, chat and zoom with family and friends. We held virtual “happy hours” and made medical appointments online, which was a new experience for most of us. Technology provides a lifeline.

As in-person gatherings become dangerous, those who can gratefully turn to technology to stay connected with family and friends (Geirdal et al., 2021). Social media saves us from total isolation.

Since those tough days, many have been hesitant to reappear and re-enter the “real” world. We still worry about being around too many people.We remain indecisive and fearful about our own health, which means we sometimes cling to an online life or hibernate at home, as last article April 2022 New York Times express.

With the re-emergence of public life, we ask ourselves how much internet use is too much? Social science research has found that people feel lonely and isolated for too long. Pandemic measures designed to manage one health crisis have in many ways contributed to another mental health crisis — the loneliness epidemic. Research studies show that 36% of Americans feel lonely on a regular basis. This percentage tends to be higher for older adults.

For some, social media has become an obsessive-compulsive disorder in the craving for connection. Even before the pandemic, some people were worried about internet usage. Excessive use of the Internet is just one of many forms of technological coercion. Other behavioral compulsions include excessive gaming, smartphone or social media use.

As with other forms of behavioral compulsions, technological compulsions can lead to obsessive thoughts and behaviors and feelings of anxiety when disconnected. Technological compulsion can lead to rethinking of online relationships and activities, over-dependence, and over-engagement with online platforms.

When technology replaces relationships, it has been found to increase feelings of loneliness and alienation, and reduce well-being. Online connections help complement face-to-face relationships, but if relationships are primarily maintained online, they end up unsatisfactory.

Even in challenging times like the COVID-19 pandemic (Gioia et al., 2021), where various technologies can help connect and maintain social interactions, compulsive behaviors can ultimately harm users and lead to real-life social isolation.

Heavy use of social media has been associated with reduced positive mental health outcomes — especially well-being. On the other hand, if one uses the internet but maintains a sense of control over their use, it can be a useful and useful tool. Hunt et al. (2018) found that cultivating moderation by controlling and monitoring social media use was associated with positive mental health outcomes and reduced anxiety and depression.

Maintaining control and self-monitoring technology consumption may be an effective strategy for combating loneliness and helping people cope with stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, this tactic is easier said than done, as heavy internet users may interpret their compulsion as a minimal problem. Being disconnected from technology can lead to anxiety and feelings of loss.

age and technological compulsion

Historically, older adults have been among the least active internet users. Not “digital natives”. The digital divide has existed for years. Many older adults feel hesitant and uncomfortable with the computerization of life (McDonough, 2016).

In recent years, especially during the pandemic, older adults have increased their use of social media. The fact that the internet is indispensable is indisputable, but how much social media use is healthy (Meshi et al., 2020)?

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In an ongoing project exploring the benefits of spending time in a natural environment, 12 seniors of various backgrounds were asked to walk 3 to 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes, and they were asked to list 5 big benefit.

11 out of 12 said that being “temporarily” disconnected from their technology was one of their biggest benefits. How can we help people who are unconsciously reaching for their phone to connect and authenticate, if these responses indicate the need to temporarily disconnect?

While overuse of technology may not be adaptive, access to technology is critical to a sense of cultural competence in today’s world. It is important to continue to improve ease of access and use for people of all ages.

Acknowledging the age-related cognitive and physical decline in the development of new technologies can also help improve the usability of digital tools. Current software and hardware developers rarely consider age-related difficulties in their designs.

In addition, ageism (the belief that older adults are less able to understand or use emerging technologies) may lead older adults to internalize such cultural information and interact with the real and virtual worlds accordingly (Tahmaseb et al., 2022).

Clearly, there are positive and negative outcomes associated with technology use. How much should be explored at an individual and a societal level is too much of a question. Moderate use of technical equipment is beneficial. It can lead to feelings of self-efficacy and competence, and overuse can adversely affect well-being.

We live in a world full of technology. All age groups use the Internet for many activities. While technology can greatly help loners who seek to connect more with close friends, family, or colleagues, it can become a detrimental coping strategy if overused. Being preoccupied with anything is usually not an adaptive coping strategy.

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