We can all agree that modern technology makes our lives easier.
But here’s a question: Is it making life too easy?
Imagine what it would be like to go into space and float around in zero gravity.
You might even get a high-five.
But then again, without gravity your muscles will atrophy over time. If you spent too long up there, you would come back as weak as a kitten.
Perhaps the same can be said about how new technology has changed things.
It allows us to conveniently retrieve information, communicate with people anywhere, and access nearly unlimited sources of entertainment. All too easy.
1. GPS navigation makes it harder to navigate
You can use a GPS-enabled mobile device to easily get your bearings and find out exactly where you want to go. That’s a good thing, right?
It turns out that people using GPS devices actually tend to take longer and travel greater distances to reach their destinations.
They make more frequent stops and larger direction errors, and are later worse at being able to remember what the map even looked like.
Obviously, people who are already familiar with a given route don’t have these problems. But even when the route is not previously familiar, the people using paper maps still outperform the people using GPS.
2. Online social networks make you unhappy with your life
Online social networks provide the opportunity to communicate with people all over the world, reconnect with old friends, and even make new ones. Shouldn’t this amazing technology make you happy?
It turns out that when people spend more time on Facebook, they tend to feel less happy and less satisfied with their lives.
You might be thinking that this is because some people are already lonely or depressed, and they might spend more time on social networks because they are lacking some needed social interaction…
…but that’s not it. Regardless of how happy you are to begin with, spending more time on Facebook leads to decreases in happiness and satisfaction over time.
The amount of time spent in “real” face-to-face social interactions does not have the same effect.
3. Interacting with screens makes you worse at interacting with people
A number of studies do find relationships between technology use, “internet addiction,” poor social skills, loneliness and depression. But what does that mean? Does over-using technology actually somehow cause worse social outcomes, or do people use devices more often because they have poor social skills to begin with? Both seem plausible.
What we do know is that taking a break from all those screens and devices can lead to improvements.
For example, this recent study found that the ability to recognize emotional expressions in faces increased after taking a vacation that involved “unplugging” for a week. Not only did these participants outperform a matched control group (also on vacation) but they were also better at recognizing emotions than they were before taking the break.
Despite all this, technology is still pretty great.
It can improve our quality of life, and even help us to quickly and easily make important decisions that would have been incredibly costly and time-consuming in the past.
The problem isn’t that new technology is necessarily bad for us, but rather that we’re still learning how to best fit it into our lives.