Take a moment and try to imagine life without modern-day technology. No alarm to wake you up for work in the morning. No car to get you where you need to go. You don’t have the option of picking up your phone and calling your dad. Or the ability to click a couple buttons and get the latest updates—on what your friends did this weekend, what the president is saying today, and what’s happening across the country or even around the world. All of the conveniences you’re used to, just gone. It’s pretty unimaginable since our lifestyles are completely based off of the technology we’re gifted with today—or is it a gift? While our iPhones and computers certainly benefit our lives in a lot of ways, their advancements have also created a new problem: increased anxiety, rooted in texting and social media.
Texting: Convenient, But Harmful
According to a recent Gallup poll, texting is the primary form of communication for Americans under 50 years old. This figure proves that many generations, not just millennials (who constantly get a bad rep for being glued to their phones), just might prefer a screen-to-screen chat rather than a face-to-face one. Texting allows people time to think about their responses, to talk to someone without showing their face, and ultimately gives them confidence they don’t otherwise have. However, while this all sounds great, texting and other forms of computer-mediated communication can also make people more anxious. This is greatly due to the many ways one can interpret a message. A simple ‘Let’s talk’, may mean just that, but studies show that ambiguous texts of the like are interpreted negatively, triggering bouts of anxiety. If this conversation was had in person, the receiver would have the other individual’s tone, facial expressions, and body language to go off. But over text message, they’re left with just the words to analyze.
A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior explored this texting anxiety and made further observations regarding the topic. Mila Kingsbury—the lead author of the study—and her team surveyed 215 undergraduate students about their interpretations of 24 different vague text messages, half of which were said to be from female friends and the other half from males. After being asked whether they felt the messages were intended negatively or positively, the subjects generally interpreted the ambiguous texts sent from their female friends as negative.
So, people are more susceptible to developing anxiety due to their frequent negative interpretations of text messages—especially when they’re from their female friends or relatives. But don’t fret just yet—if you’re a woman who doesn’t want to have a part in giving someone unwarranted anxiety, Nathan LaFave, a doctoral candidate studying computer-mediated communications at NYU, says that using Emojis can reduce ambiguity. Great, another excuse to break out the crying laughing face! And for those of you on the receiving end, it will do yourself some good to relax and not jump to negative conclusions, as they’re more often than not perceived but not meant negatively.
Social Media Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Like texting, users of social media are also reporting an increase in anxiety. A recent study administered by nonprofit Anxiety UK revealed that more than half of the subjects they polled said that sites like Facebook and Twitter have a negative impact on their lives. A good 45% reported feeling anxious or “uncomfortable” when they didn’t have access to their Facebook or email, while a greater 60% felt the need to take a break from their phones and computers. According to Anxiety UK CEO, Nicky Lidbetter, these findings might signify a need to “re-establish control over the technology they use, rather than being controlled by it.”
Social media-related anxiety also stems from the “compare-and-despair” factor, according to Anxiety.org. This is exemplified by your tendency to compare your life to how someone else’s is portrayed on their Instagram or their Facebook. For example, your friend posts a picture of herself at the beach, smiling exuberantly and radiating happiness. It causes you to feel like your life is boring in comparison and can in turn lead to feelings of anxiety. It can also make one feel self-conscious or set unrealistic expectations for him or herself.
Social anxiety may also emerge due to the dreaded fear of missing out (FOMO) we often feel while scrolling through our social media feeds. Users are exposed to pictures of parties they weren’t invited to, trips they weren’t able to join, weddings and dinners and get-togethers they couldn’t attend. And as a result, they become upset and even anxious about all of these seemingly fun, memorable moments. Except, one can’t really tell how great an event was, just by looking at a picture or two. Our FOMO is typically much greater than whatever we missed out on warrants. But still, we get swept up in the resulting anxiety.
Everything comes with a price—including improvements and advancements in technology. But it’s important to remember and utilize all of the power and control that you have, should you choose to use it. While it proves difficult to protect yourself against FOMO and the anxiety you may receive from an ambiguous text message, you are capable of just shutting it off—of putting down your phone; logging off for awhile; and tuning back into real-time.