The Internet: Societal Progress or Our Own Demise

The progression of society through the Digital Age is founded upon information technology. The development and growth of computing technology with society has effectively changed the way through which people communicate with each other and relay information. The usage of the internet and social media will only continue to grow exponentially.

A commonly perceived drawback, particularly witnessed amongst the younger generations is that we are becoming overwhelmed with the information we receive.

With information available at our fingertips, the amount of information that we encounter every day, significantly surpasses any generation before us. If we manage to absorb this information, we are still tasked with analyzing it and interpreting it. While this seems pretty effortless and relatively benign, we can’t always predict the effect certain information will have on us. Oftentimes, it goes completely unnoticed.

There are times the information we come across seems fairly useless. However, we can be accumulating information which has the potential to overload our minds. We may not be able to process the amount of information we encounter in a manner proportionate to our emotions and understanding of the world.

While we may possess the technological advance to continue developing into a more digitalized society, we have failed to see or acknowledge our glaringly obvious blindspot.

We have not yet learned to process our thoughts and emotions at a faster rate. We are, after all, still human.

It can be argued that the ramifications of vast data availability and change in communication style are new territory and, thus, are still greatly unknown. However, as intellects, we can deduce that when people spend more and more of their time on the internet, it is bound to have some type of effect on them. On the internet, we have the speed to skim through numerous websites, while also watching a TV show on Netflix, and simultaneously shopping online. But consider how the ability to multi-task in this manner will change functional processes in our minds. We are becoming less patient and more hinged upon instant gratification. The internet has contributed to an increase in people with attention deficits.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has become one of the most common mental disorders affecting adults and children. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention (lack of ability to stay focused), hyperactivity (excessive disproportional movement), and impulsivity (lack of forethought and planning).

Several cross-sectional studies have looked at the association between ADHD symptoms and internet addiction. The strongest association was in female students, and similar associations were found amongst younger age groups. Boys with internet addiction have higher levels of ADHD, depression, and hostility. Girls with internet addiction had a higher rate of ADHD and depression. There was a correlation found between the severity of ADHD symptoms, namely inattention, and the amount of time spent on the internet.*

When everything on the internet comes with such ease and speed, how can we expect to function in a society that doesn’t mirror that same convenience and effortlessness.

Social media, a popular development in the rapid growth of the internet, contributes to a severe increase in people with anxiety, loneliness, and emotional fragility.** The communications and information we encounter on a daily basis can be confusing, even distressing. Imagine, for example, children who use social media. Their minds are still young and very malleable. There are so many different personas in our population, such that it is unlikely for everyone to get along. Children, who do not yet possess or completely understand their core values and beliefs, can become susceptible of bullying or self-sabotage, through comparing their online presence with others. This has the potential to lower self-esteem and increase anxiety in children, particularly, but also in adults.

While socializations occurring in-person require proper etiquette and understanding of societal norms and expectations, the internet does not possess the same rules. It doesn’t come with a handbook on the right or wrong ways to communicate with others. Since internet users aren’t having a face-to-face conversation, this can sometimes result in a lack of accountability. Without having consequences for words or actions, people sometimes say, post, or relay information to others, that they would not normally communicate in real life. The younger generations, Millennials and Gen Z, have basically grown up with the internet. They were given a very powerful toy but many lack the emotional capacity to properly navigate it.

This is the biggest conundrum that Millennials and Gen Z face.

Overall, the rapid digitalization of society is seen as beneficial and a giant leap towards progress and evolution. However, we have overlooked the growing psychological ramifications of our evolvement, particularly in the younger and more vulnerable generations. The fabric of our society is coming apart at the seams.

The correlation between internet usage and psychiatric disorders, particularly ADHD, is at the very least, strongly suggested. While the internet and all it has to offer does not come with an instruction manual or guidebook, perhaps it should. Supporting our mental wellness should run hand in hand with learning, analyzing, and processing increasing amounts of online information.

The driving force behind our societal growth should not be our Achilles’ heel.

The digitalization of virtually everything around us should not impair our humanity. Our society as a whole should emphasize the increased need for in-person socialization, emotional regulation, stress management, and most importantly, accepting growth and change. Newer generations, in particular, should be aware of beneficial psychological tools and resources. Having open channels of communication between individuals, therapists, and other support groups, helps promote our well-being and facilitates our understanding of the world around us.

Your experience and interactions online are unique to you. There is no parent, or therapist, or coach who can help or guide you through which information or communications you should or should not participate. There is no one there to advise you what value to assign to each interaction or posting. Moreover, what is stressful to one person can be a relief to another person. This is okay. Not everyone will share the same values as you. Not everyone will care about the values or beliefs you have, or even acknowledge them. One person’s interpretation and internalization of online information and/or communication can be contradictory to another person’s understanding.

As we age, every individual goes through a considerable amount of anguish, joy, and experiences that mold and shape our understanding of the world. Not everyone will share the same views. The person you grow into may not be the person you once were. This is okay.

*This article is not meant to be an evaluation of current psychological and/or behavioral studies. It simply aims to provoke thought and promote healthy conversations about relevant emerging topics.

**Not meant as a conclusion or finding.