Midweek Mental Greening
I wrote an article at Celebrity Psychings yesterday musing on the effects advanced technology has on our mental health. The article was a culmination of two things: Watching the MTV interview in which Billy Bob Thornton reveals he has agoraphobia and stumbling across an opinion piece in an online version of St. Cloud State University’s newspaper.
The entire post basically deals with how advanced technology is allowing us to isolate ourselves more and more from society and create our own artificial environments, even with the power it gives us to communicate faster and more frequently than ever.
Here, though, I’d like to play devil’s advocate and talk about some of the ways these technological advancements can actually help our mental health. These advancements aren’t necessarily the greenest or most natural, but they do offer alternatives.
The World Wide Web
The Web is an endless smorgasbord of entertainment and information. Netflix and Wikipedia, for example, have taken the place of movie theaters and libraries for some people. YouTube makes it possible to entertain millions without ever shaking a fan’s hand. And, when you can’t find what you’re looking for on the Web, you don’t have to call up an expert or even visit your library. You just have to Google it.
Entertainment and information (especially when it’s accurate) aren’t bad things, but with the Web, we could go for quite a long time without ever having to directly interact with another human being. Still, having these tools at our fingertips can prove mighty useful when you need to do some quick research or you’re just not in the mood to leave your house simply to get a movie. It happens.
Social networking sites fall under the World Wide Web category, but I feel they deserve a slot of their own.
Most social networking sites stand on the same common ground: People can sign up for accounts and “friend” people they already know or meet people with similar interests and perhaps make new friends (think Facebook and MySpace).
While social networking sites make it easy to grow your catalogue of buddies you’ll probably never have lunch with and decrease your need to actually talk to people in person, they also make it easier to keep in touch with childhood friends, expand your network of professional contacts and interact with people when traveling is just not an option. I’ve met lots of decent folks online, many I’ve considered friends for five or more years and several I go to when I need to vent about something stressing me out or want share good news.
Like Joe Froemming pointed out in the St. Cloud piece, iPods and other mp3 players enable us to turn the volume up and ignore the world whenever we go out. However, they also give us access to our favorite tunes, and we all know music is a great mood booster. Gone are the days of having to wait until you can get in your car and pop in a CD and jam away the stresses of the day. Your iPod makes it possible to get that quick boost wherever you are.
Text and Instant Messaging
Whether you’re using your cell phone or Yahoo!, text and instant messaging means you don’t have to talk face to face (or even voice to voice) with anyone who will text you back. You can type “LOL” rather than actually laugh, and you can even break off relationships without having to muster the decency to tell the person in person. But text and instant messaging also allows you to stay in touch when, say, expensive long distance charges may otherwise prevent it or you just need to ask a quick question or give a simple
No, television is not exactly an “advanced technology” anymore, but it is a tool nearly every household in America has and one we can use to isolate ourselves from the world. When the news is bad, you can flip to a rerun of your favorite show. When you need a break from something going on in your personal life, you can pop in a DVD and zone out. As you read those last two sentences, you probably thought, “That’s not so bad.” You’re right – it’s not. Having something like a comforting episode of The Golden Girls to give your mind a rest is always a good thing in my book.
So, while these advancements we make in our methods of communication and entertainment do offer the tools we need to isolate ourselves from reality (as well as stunt the growth of social skills), they also provide tools we can use to stay in touch with loved ones, form new friendships and feel connected to the world. How they affect our mental health is all up to us and how we use them.