Overloaded: Technology is Stressing Us Out and Making Us Poorer.
In June of 1966, Robert Kennedy made reference to a curse in his Day of Affirmation Address: “'May he live in interesting times'. In the same speech, he said, “Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger “and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.” The same can be said of 2018.
Today, social media software applications are shaping the way the world works, but we are only just beginning to understand the full impact that wide-spread exposure to this technology can have on individuals and society. According to the PEW Research Center, seven in ten Americans use social media. Fifty to Seventy percent of those American users engage daily. This has been good for businesses, by giving companies access to real-time consumer insights. But what if it is also bad for people?
Where businesses have seen sales increases, people have seen increased anxiety and depression in direct correlation with increased exposure to technology that uses feedback loops. Studies show increased anxiety and depression levels can have a negative impact on an individual’s overall productivity. Left un-checked, such a productivity decrease could result in financial losses for the person in question, as well as their employer. Data also suggests that, if a large enough portion of a country’s working population were to suffer over time, the resulting productivity decrease could negatively impact the GDP of the country.
The data suggests that it is possible that social media is not just be making us less productive because it provides us with distracting content, it may also be making us poorer by stressing us out.
The threat that this social media anxiety epidemic poses to the global economy is real and there is no precedent for some of the communication systems at play within it. There is, however, a model on an individual scale, which can be used to clarify the problems we now face as a society: mental health impacts on individuals in creative and performance environments over time.
While completing my Master’s degree at Full Sail University I interviewed a collection of professionals at all stages in creative career fields. We talked about their personal and professional experiences with Failure. That effort was completed to support the publication of a story about Fail Culture, and the impact it has on the people who have to live in it every day. The research effort also included discussions with professionals in the mental health field – specifically those with experience treating creative professionals.
This study was done in parallel to my day job as a UX/UI designer for a major software conglomerate. We were focused on developing software applications which were centered around Human Resources management and Productivity measurement in the cloud. Patterns in the interviews I conducted for the Failure Project, my time as a user experience designer , and a decade of design experience have lead me to believe:
It can be argued that: By actively triggering users on a subconscious psychological level at an increased rate and frequency, our social media platforms may also be triggering anxiety reactions in users.
User experience design relies on psychologically triggering the user to engage the system . Many of these interactions rely upon a feedback loop.
Most user engagements of this kind are centered around interactions designed to engage the Id and Ego via basic gamification strategies which are applied to marketing and sales efforts in order to increase engagement. This is a standard practice in our time.
The Id and Ego are two of three elements of personality which come from Freud’s Topagraphacal Models of Psychology. This model is often used as the basis for study of behavioral and cognitive patterns as they relate to mental health and human behavior from a clinical perspective.
Anxiety can occur when there is an imbalance in the development of any one of the areas of the model: Id, Ego, or Superego.
One of the basic foundations in UX design is that of external cognition, or simply: what happens in your users head when they interact with your product. Within this principle exists the idea of “Cognitive Load” which is essentially the amount of stress or processing that your user has to endure in order to respond to your system’s triggers. When you engage with a system, a cognitive load is created via you using your brain to figure out what to do next.
It stands to reason that, when a user’s Personality is engaged via modern social technology, the cognitive load that is created can be equated to stimulus. If the cognitive load that is generated causes stimulus that is unbalanced, the user may experience personal anxiety disorder in associated with that imbalance. Just as the artist does when experiencing an over stimulated Ego or Super Ego.