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Technology and Mental Health
12 Jan 2022
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Post-1991 technology has penetrated deep into everyone’s lives. But now any entity’s prosperity is decided by how advanced technologically they are. But that prosperity came with its own set of issues. It includes a rise in anxiety-related disorders, a massive hit in productivity caused by using Social media excessively, etc.

In this blog we will be specifically dealing with technology and mental health, what are its causes, and some solutions.

“Most of the apps and software services are now following a business model through which they give away their services for free. And revenue is generated by ads,” says Tristan Harris, scriptwriter of the famous Netflix series “The social dilemma”.

In this blog, we will address these issues and proposals to avoid distractions.

How Tech Companies make money

Most of the big tech companies like Meta, Google, Microsoft, etc. now follow a business model of giving away their services for free and generating revenue by showing ads.

This includes ads in the middle of watching YouTube, Google discover feeds, Microsoft MSN, etc. So these are ads tailored to you by collecting your personal data.

Typically, YouTube is a great platform for consuming videos. But since the revenue generated by Google depends on the time spent on the App, and they have to be competitive they have to hook you in the App. Since the endless feed and notifications are the ways through which they make everyone keep using their app.

When it comes to social media platforms, they use the combo of endless feeds, status stories, reels, and messaging services to make the app addictive.

Let’s take the example of someone who is interested in Politics. Facebook will show him more and more content that he agrees with. But when he sees something that outrightly rejects what he believes is true, he is prompted to comment on that and voice his disapproval. So this is how a typical person behaves, and Facebook materializes on that to make a profit. The mental health of people who get trolled and abused also gets compromised.

Design dilemma

The designers of these Apps are aware of certain psychological fallbacks of the human brain. And they are trying to exploit them for profit.

For example, the icon of Instagram is made bright and colorful to increase the likelihood of one opening it. Almost all apps from music streaming services to OTT platforms use endless feeds to keep users hooked up. Endless feeds are designed to keep the user craving for something new and get that spark when new content appears.

As author Cal Newport puts it,  “It short-circuits our brain”. As Human beings, we are not evolved to have this kind of behavior. So it can have a real negative impact on us.

What are the dangers of clickbaits?

My personal experience is that; most of the Recommended content that Apps like YouTube show doesn’t really help me do anything. I was someone who was obsessed with youtube feeds. But now I have disabled those using some extensions and It helped me a lot. I use YouTube for Learning and getting a notification or recommendation really tiers me up. Now I have to put extra willpower to stick on to what I am really supposed to do.

A lot of trending content on these services are mostly ‘CLICKBAITS’ and they shamelessly promote  unethical practices like objectifying women etc. to remain on top of the game

Now Good works of journalism get unnoticed while CLICKBAITS get all the top slots.

A lot of cringe content is available as click baits. Social media has become a black hole where information is put and is eventually lost.

You have misogynistic beliefs being articulated and sometimes being encouraged by fringe elements in society.

Anxiety disorders are on the up, although living standards are improving across the globe; and there is an atmosphere of peace. What we see, get recommended, and consume are the extreme and terrifying stuff because that is what gets rewarded, says author Mark Manson. People are rewarded for extremism and their biases. And this constant awareness of everything wrong happening in the world can drive us insane. 

Conspiracy theories are now considered okay and are being consumed by millions of people. Our brain uses stress and anxiety to prepare ourselves for a potential threat. So being exposed to all the wrong things that are happening, triggers unwanted anxiety in us.

Apps want users to get stuck in their virtual ‘Rabbit-hole’ and as consumers of these technologies, we must be aware of these tendencies and should take precautions.

Defeat the rabbit-hole

So let’s now discuss the solutions to all these issues

Go Open source

Open-source software is something that I want everyone to try. As an engineer, I can say that It is safe, Free, and respects your privacy.

The software products that you can use to overcome these issues are, they are legal to use.

Recommended for Firefox browser (you can search these in Chrome web store if you wish.

Newpipe

It is an Android App that streams YouTube content, The user can turn off Recommendations, thumbnails, and comments.

The best way to use YouTube is that you search for the content that you want to watch, rather than falling for a recommended video. It comes under the FOSS project and the App is safe to use.

Unhook

It is a web browser extension that hides all YouTube recommended videos, similar to newpipe

Hide YouTube thumbnails

A web browser extension that hides Youtube thumbnails

Leech block NG

Control use of social media through ‘Leech block NG’ web extension:  You can set time limits for social media websites using this.

Digital wellbeing and Screen time

Use ‘Digital wellbeing’ for Android or ‘Screen time’ for iOS to put time limits on the apps that try to hook you up.

Grayscale

You can Grayscale your screen if you are too addicted to your phone (It provides usability while filtering out the addicting aspects).

Inoreader

Turn-OFF ‘Google discover’, ‘Microsoft MSN’ etc. Use apps like Inoreader to find and read articles from credible bloggers and journalists.

Postbox

You can use an App called ‘POSTBOX‘ which bundles all the notifications of your phone and delivers them on a predefined time

  • Only keep the important apps that you use daily on your home screen or desktop, let all others rest in the app drawer.
  • Services like Instagram can be distracting but can also come in handy in many ways, so one must clearly define what features he/she will use and not use.
  • Think twice before clicking a clickbait(Contents with titles like “check what happened”). Click baits are used to spread fake news, misinformation, etc

It’s every netizens’ responsibility to make the internet a much more civilized platform you can contribute to this effort by switching to Open source software and supporting non-profit Organizations like ‘Center for humane technology’, ‘Mozilla foundation’, ‘Wikimedia Foundation’  etc. 

As consumers companies like Meta, Google, etc. provides us with valuable services for free, but we should be aware of their business model and should demand more ethical ways of doing business considering all the technological and psychological loopholes they have built around their platforms and use these platforms wisely, following the code of cyberethics

The Internet is a vast space and one needs to choose what he/she requires care and try not to explore everything.

Mental health is something that is as important as physical health. To know more talk to a mental health professional.

-Prasanth KV

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