De-Tech to De-Stress
If you’re reading this story, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re online. And maybe you have a few other programs open that you’re toggling between as you go. I’ll bet your smartphone is nearby, and you’re glancing at it too while you read. How do I know? I did just about the same thing while researching and writing this piece.
Here’s the problem: Scientists have been evaluating what the effect of staying connected 24/7 has on our state of mind and behavior, and the latest results aren’t so rosy. Read on for surprising ways that technology negatively affects us — and how you can limit the damage.
Search Engines Dull Our Memories
The easy access to information search engines offer us may not be the best thing for our brains, say researchers from Columbia University in a study published in the journal Science. Thanks to the sophisticated accuracy and breadth of data at our fingertips, “no longer do we have to make costly efforts to find things we want,” say the study authors. The result? In a battery of studies conducted by the researchers, participants had a lower rate of recall about the information they gleaned from the Internet, yet they had enhanced recall of exactly where to access it online.
“The Internet has become a primary form of external memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.” In other words, we may be relying so heavily on the Web for quick access of the information we need that we don’t process the content cognitively.
Try: For information that’s really important, go old school. Put pen to paper and write it down. A recent Norwegian study confirmed what elementary school teachers drilled into us about the importance of penmanship. Writing is better for learning than typing or tapping touchscreens.
Digital Photos Cause Us to Miss the Moment
When you snap lots of photos (I’m talking to you, Instagram addict!), you may think you’re helping to recall the experience later. But a recent study suggests that you could be doing just the opposite. When subjects took a guided tour through a museum, some were asked to photograph the art. Others had to just look at it. Those who snapped images may have suffered from a “photo-taking impairment effect.” They remembered fewer details the next day than those who just looked at objects.
Try: Not all photographers are doomed to miss the moment, found the researchers. When the subjects used the zoom feature to highlight a particular detail of the art, they were able to recall the object better than the general phototakers. So engage those camera settings, and don’t just point and shoot. It appears this concentration boosts your ability to remember what you were looking at the next day.
Touchscreens Foster Overspending
According to a recent study, using touch-based interfaces to shop can actually affect our spending — and not in a good way. The act of using your fingers boosts “perceived psychological ownership.” This is a fancy term for tempting us to want to buy more. “Touch-based devices like tablets can lead to higher product valuations when compared to traditional computers,” found study authors. The connection between our sense of touch and desire for ownership is so strong that merely running your fingers over the object on a tablet boosted the need to buy.
Try: When you’re watching your budget, it just may be better to shop via print catalogs, a traditional desktop computer or in a physical store, rather than your touchscreen tablet.
Foodie Photos Leave Us Unsatisfied
I’m so used to people photographing plated food they are served at one of my dinner parties, I’m actually a bit insulted when a houseguest doesn’t take a snapshot of a dish I set before her. Apparently, that’s my bad. While photos of food may appear to be the most modern form of flattery, it may make the photographer feel less satiated later, found a new Journal of Consumer Psychology study. Participants who looked at photos as they snacked on peanuts were actually less satisfied by what they were eating than those who didn’t look at their meals through a lens of a camera first.
Try: Offer a whimsical hand-lettered menu or copy of the recipe at dinner party table settings to replace to the urge to photograph a dish to remember it. Your guests’ tummies will thank you for it.
Social Media Makes Us Bad at Math
Consider deactivating your Facebook account around tax time. That’s because a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison study suggests that people who spend as little as five minutes scrolling through their own profiles do worse on math quizzes than those who abstained. Comparing those who logged on to a social media site to subjects who didn’t, the Facebook users answered simple subtraction questions at a 15 percent slower rate. “Results show that a brief exposure to one's own profile raised state self-esteem, but that it hampered performance in a subsequent cognitive task by decreasing the motivation to perform well.” The authors argue that Facebook lulled them into complacency, so they didn’t strive too hard to do well on the easy test.
Try: Limit your social media use to after hours. I’m sure we didn’t need a study to prove how much it can be a time suck. But now we know how social media use may also hurt performance.
Smartphones Make Us Stress More
True, the latest smartphone that can do it all should, potentially, make our lives easier. Only they can actually boost our stress levels too, according to recent British research. By relying on our phones to do everything for us, they also appear to foster a “relentless need,” so we end up constantly checking them or responding to various emails, texts, social media updates, you name it. It appears this dependence makes us anxious and stressed out.
Try: Out of sight, out of mind. Leave your phone in the other room at night or stuck in your pocket (not on the table) when you’re out with friends.
Social Media Can Bring on the Blues
What’s not to like about a site that allows you to read what’s on your friends’ minds and scroll through the photos of your nearest and dearest? A lot, say scientists. Social media users feel worse about themselves after browsing through even their closest friends’ lists in as little as two weeks, found University of Michigan researchers. “Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest Facebook may undermine it,” say the study authors. The reasons aren’t clear, but a couple of different things may be at play. “Some researchers have speculated that online social networking may interfere with physical activity, which has cognitive and emotional replenishing effects, or trigger damaging social comparisons,” explain the authors.
Try: Some people may do a juice cleanse when they’re feeling sluggish. Instead, consider de-activating your social media accounts temporarily if you’re feeling down. It just may give you a mental boost — and be cheaper than a new yoga membership to banish the blahs.