Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Is technology undermining our mental well-being?

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Is technology undermining our mental well-being?

Modernity and our new technology-infested world is damaging our mental well-being (Reuters)

Have you been waking up with a heavy chest, collapsing shoulders and a sense of despair at the state of our cruel world? It seems that modern life, its tools and bad habits have maybe caught up with you. And you are not alone. Apparently, modernity and our new technology-infested world is damaging our mental well-being, particularly in rich countries.

So, what is happening to humans’ mental well-being? Increasingly, research is pointing to people feeling more distressed and suffering than thriving.

Human nature has always been anchored in rather negative and ungrateful sentiments, so maybe that is increasingly the case nowadays. Today, we all live in a rather challenging and adversity-ridden world, amid geostrategic clashes among big powers, weaker leadership, rising uncertainties and diminishing resources. These are just some of the factors that are pushing citizens everywhere to feel on edge.

Some blame the internet, others processed foods, others economic disparities or a dozen other reasons. However, I believe that glaring inequalities, magnified by our super-connected digital world, surely has something to do with the decline in our mental well-being. Above all, I believe that an erosion of trust, especially in our state system and its many institutions, plays a key role. These institutions used to mediate some of the disparities engrained in our societies, such as between rich and poor, with varying degrees of success.

Glaring inequalities, magnified by our super-connected digital world, surely has something to do with the decline in our well-being

Mohamed Chebaro

Strangely, the fourth “Mental State of the World Report,” which is part of the Global Mind Project and highlights trends and insights on the mental well-being of internet-enabled populations around the globe, was hardly reported when it was published in March. This is despite it being one of the most comprehensive tools to inform us about how humanity is coping in the ever-evolving states and societies of today’s world.

Most importantly, even though the report identifies smartphones and ultra-processed foods as being conducive to poorer mental health, it also taps into our global sense of despair and shows that, no matter if you ask people from the Global South or the Global North, it seems that we all tend to share a sense that life is visibly and obviously spiraling.

The new report collected data from more than 500,000 respondents in 13 languages and across 71 countries, assessing their cognitive and emotional capabilities, as well as tapping into participants’ ability to navigate the stresses of life and function productively. It stated that our mental health has not shown any improvement in the last year and remains at its post-pandemic low. The report also raises important questions about how the way we live and work has evolved and the way that the emerging trends of remote work, online communication and the consumption of ultra-processed foods have cumulatively pushed us into a space of poorer mental well-being.

According to the report’s findings, the younger generation, particularly those aged under 35, saw the steepest declines in mental well-being. For today’s 18 to 24-year-olds — the first generation born into a world of the internet, smartphones and social media — the younger they were when they first got connected, the worse their mental health is in adulthood. The report gave the example that 74 percent of female respondents aged 18 to 24 who got their smartphone at age six had scores that were within the “distressed or struggling” range. This decreased to 61 percent for those who acquired their first smartphone at age 10 and 52 percent at age 15.

Another key finding of the report was that greater wealth and economic development do not necessarily lead to improved mental well-being. As seen in the past few years, those faring best were largely from Latin American and African countries, while many wealthier countries from the “core Anglosphere,” such as the UK and Australia, fared worse. This, the report stressed, runs counter to the common perception that wealth enhances mental health.

In today’s world, a deficient state system has been fueling the uncertainties strongly felt by people both young and old

Mohamed Chebaro

If anything, the study’s findings reconfirmed the already widely shared fears that owning a smartphone at a young age, not paying attention to one’s diet and failing to nurture friendships and family life are all contributing factors to our poorer mental health and well-being.

I have long believed in the common good for all, naively maybe. But through education, adequate healthcare and economic opportunities, coupled with doses of justice and some liberties, individuals will feel stable and secure enough to participate, contribute and play a role in their own prosperity and that of their nation, regardless of how democratic or despotic the form of government.

In addition, I attach great importance to the state fulfilling its contract as per its raison d’etre, which is to ensure the happiness, well-being and protection of its subjects. Sadly, in today’s world, a deficient state system has been fueling the uncertainties strongly felt by people both young and old, whether they are regularly connected to the internet or not. The calls to regulate the digital realm to ensure better accountability and transparency in a way that reduces harm to everyone are becoming increasingly urgent, as per this report’s findings.

Efforts should also be refocused to hold the state accountable to society in a way that curbs its tendencies to give market forces carte blanche to exploit all in the name of profit — even if that means putting up guardrails that are primarily aimed at protecting the weak and vulnerable, especially children.

Over decades, and despite the multitude of conflicts and the tons of blood and flesh wasted, lessons ought to have been learned regarding the need for leadership and the state to tame human selfishness, extreme competitiveness and excesses. Our mental health and increased levels of despair thrive on uncertainties, whether social, economic or political. Turn on the news or open your smartphone feed at any moment of the day and you will quickly understand why our mental health is in decline and people are feeling more desperate than ever.

  • Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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