Technology has become an essential part of our daily lives, there’s no doubt about that. We can’t imagine our lives without it anymore. With the limitless accessibility of laptops, smartphones, smartwatches, and other digital devices, people are more connected than ever before. However, while technological advancements have unmeasurably improved our lives in many, many ways, they have also led to growing concerns about the negative effects of tech- dependence.
While tech-savviness is generally considered a celebrated quality, sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is tech-savvy or simply being tech dependent. The term is often misinterpreted, leading to confusion and shutting one’s eyes over emerging problems caused by dependence. As people become more adept at using technology to accomplish tasks and achieve goals, they may also become more reliant on it. That’s why the question “Is technology making us smarter or dumber?” is being asked so frequently. While dependence is an issue everyone is exposed to, it is linked to the habits of the usage of digital technology. Tech-savvy individuals might use technology more, and we’d think that they are more exposed to the risks of dependence for that reason.
But the reality is: the shadow of dependence lurks behind everyone’s backs.
Who is savvy and who is dependent?
There’s a person considered to be tech-savvy in almost any bigger family who is the go-to person for technology-related problems. Still, tech savviness is difficult to define because the term is often used to describe people who use technology a lot. But the reality couldn’t be further. Tech savviness has much more to do with how an individual is capable of using technology as a tool to benefit them and others.
The most prominent difference that tells apart tech-savvy from tech-dependent are problem-solving abilities. Tech-savvy people have the capacity to analyze complex problems and come up with creative solutions that leverage technology to their advantage. They understand how technology works and can identify the most effective tools and techniques to accomplish goals. In other words: they have ideas for solutions and are using technology to solve issues and make life easier.
But here comes the twist: even tech-savvy people can become tech dependent. Those two don’t exclude each other. Dependence or vulnerability to the downsides of technology usage is not always a matter of intelligence. Or being well-informed. We may ask the valid questions: is knowing about it enough to ward off tech dependence? Can good habits and special skills solve the problem? Education vs skills, which one is better? The answers are not clear-cut.
Learn how to use the tool before the tool starts using you!
It’s tricky because there isn’t much of a difference visible from the outside. At first sight, a dependent person might look like someone who is not dependent. Being too reliant on their devices or being unable to do things without the help of technology is where problems become obvious. Tech dependence might manifest in a struggle with simple tasks that require a basic level of problem-solving abilities. Tech-dependent people may rely on technology to do tasks that could be done with ease without it. They may even find it difficult to navigate the “outside” world without some sort of device.
There’s a term for the tech-savvy use of technology: digital literacy. It refers to the ability to use certain tools and applications, but also to the deep understanding of how technology works and how it can be used to solve problems. A tech-savvy person can recognize the potential risks and drawbacks and decide how they manage those.
The dark shadow behind our backs
It is interesting to recognize that tech dependence is not only a matter of poor self-regulation or a lack of discipline. Instead, it is the almost unavoidable flip side of technology usage. Every once in a while, even the strongest fall victim to some technology-related problem. It represents a somewhat natural consequence of technology usage in the increasingly digital world we inhabit.
And the problem goes even deeper. It is rooted in psychological factors like the need for stimulation or the desire for instant gratification. Research has shown that using digital media and devices can activate the reward centers of the brain. The production of dopamine reinforces the behavior of interacting with technology. This reward-driven process then contributes to the development of tech dependence. We try to replicate the pleasurable experience of getting that kick out of using a device.
The dangers of dependence
Technology addiction can be dangerous, as it can result in many problems.
Effects on physical health
Misuse and overuse can lead to physical health issues that can continue to other, more serious health problems in the long term. Looking down at a device for extended periods of time can lead to neck and back pain. Spending long chunks of time in positions that are not ergonomic can lead to serious problems with the spine and fascia. But sitting in front of a device can cause other problems too. Sitting for hours daily can lead to circulatory problems and varicose veins, increasing the risk of thrombosis. The strain on the eyes from too much screen time is familiar to almost everyone. The symptoms include redness and dry eyes with occasional headaches. In the long term, those can lead to a decline in vision.
Disruptions in the biorhythm, sleeplessness, and weight gain are overlooked health hazards.
The negative influence on mental health
On the mental side of the spectrum, there lurks anxiety, depression, and a chronic lack of the ability to focus. When separated from their digital devices, highly dependent people can become anxious or distressed. When they are unable to use technology, they experience withdrawal symptoms. The feeling of irritability, frustration, or boredom in those situations is something almost anyone can recall experiencing at least once.
Tech dependence also shows the tendency to narrow in one’s interests and experiences. It can become harder and harder to engage with new people or different ideas. The information tailored to our liking by algorithms provides a mental comfort that becomes limiting in the long term. This can lead to a lack of personal growth and a decreased sense of autonomy and authenticity in our lives.
What can we do to compensate for the negative effects?
All the above mentioned doesn’t mean that dependence is inevitable or uncontrollable. By understanding the psychological mechanisms at work, we can take steps to manage our use of technology and cultivate healthier habits. Setting boundaries with technology use and engaging in other activities helps to compensate. Practicing sports and screen time limitations help to develop a mindful attitude. Self-awareness is key to healthy digital media consumption and technology use.
In the increasingly digital world we inhabit, tech dependence can be seen as the shadow of tech-savviness. This is a reflection of the complex relationship between the human psyche and the digital world. By learning about the deeper psychological factors contributing to tech dependence, we can cultivate a healthier relationship with technology. In the long run, this promotes well-being and personal growth by leveraging its benefits.
Tech dependence is a growing problem that manifests in various ways. Excessive digital media usage is one of the most visible contributors along social media use and a lack of creative thinking. Addressing this issue requires promoting healthy habits. Setting boundaries on technology use and encouraging each other to engage in different activities outside of the digital realm could benefit our whole community and us.