Approach 3: The Internet is funda mentally changing the way we live, potentially affecting our health and interpersonal communications.
With technology advancing at astonishing rates, it begs the question: What impact will this have on our culture and on our overall psychological health?
As with many debates around issues of psychological well-being, the answer is: It depends.
Many argue that technology has produced significant benefits, such as increased efficiency, expanded social and professional networking capacities and greater access to information. But others find the rapid and condensed form of communication to be impersonal, impractical and sometimes harmful.
How often have we experienced the angst of an I-wish-hadntclicked-send moment during an email exchange? When we fail to stop and reflect on our communication strategies we make ourselves vulnerable to our own im pulses. It may be best to consider one of the largest and most vulnerable consumers of technological advances adolescents. Ask most ado lescents and they are likely to tout technologys benefits how it helps them to perform academically, access their friends and keep abreast of important information. So we dont typically see adolescents calling for limiting our access to technology and its capacity for instant communication, yet they experience many of the harmful effects.
Adolescence is challenging enough without the influence of technology. The transitions from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school are fraught with social stressors. These can be alleviated with a strong social network but can be exacerbated by one.
We have all heard how teen bullying has become viral. Aggression and antisocial behavior expressed through threats, humiliation, incessant teasing and intimidation have become amplified, creating a new challenge for adolescents to navigate with potentially devastating consequences, including social isolation, academic problems, violence and suicide.
Many have pointed to the impersonal nature of online relationships.
If ones personality is to avoid social encounters, technology can provide a respite, allowing one to connect with others without the proximal intensity and scrutiny that contribute to social anxiety. This can feel utopian, creating intimacy without the work, with a sense of control over the stressful nature of face-to-face encounters that must adapt to nuance and interpret nonverbal responses.
Technology can therefore reinforce social avoidance behaviors, keeping individuals from having to work through and expose themselves to more challenging social encounters and avoid learning the social skills necessary for healthy relationships.
We learn as children to suspend or delay our gratification needs. As adults we recall the challenge of waiting five more minutes for mommys attention or that after-dinner sweet. Social science researchers have long told us that children who are unable to inhibit their impulses are at risk for many social, emotional, learning and behavioral problems. But technology allows us to experience gratification (often socially) more quickly than at any time in our history.
Although technology has allowed us to advance in numerous ways, the human element brings a complex and often flawed humanity to the equation. This is not good or bad; it just is.
Michael Wolff is assistant director of the Psychological Clinic at Penn State.