How Much Technology Is Too Much for Happiness?   #THRIVE15Things Could Be Looking Up – If You Look Up From Your Smartphone

It seems like everywhere I go these days, people are on their phones. They are not just making phone calls of course, they are texting, taking photos and sharing them on social media, using apps for almost every aspect of their life from health to deciding where to eat and frankly just never putting down their phones. Now I am not here to say how much is too much, I was just wondering what some of the recent studies say about our time spent on our phones and on social media and its impact on our happiness. So as part of my #THRIVE15 series this year, I decided to look up what the recent research says on this topic and I actually found some pretty interesting things to share with you. 

In a nutshell, social media can do good things for us and of course we all know that. But social media certainly has the potential to be a negative influence as well. Now that’s not just because of how we use it and how it makes us feel, but also because of all the time we are not spending on other important things because of it.

Is Social Media Anti-social?

One article I came across, from, presents research that looks at both sides of the question.

One line that jumped out at me in a discussion of Facebook usage was, “researchers found that people who are more anxious and socially insecure are more likely to use the social networking site.” Social media use can be an actual addiction, with the “drug” in this case being the reinforcement people get from positive comments and “likes” to comments and posts they’ve made. This boost to self-esteem leads to even more social media activity

Researchers in Norway have even created the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale to help determine if you are addicted based on your answers to a few simple questions. You can take the quiz here.

But the article also references several studies that indicate the positive possibilities of using social media. A study from researchers at the  University of Missouri  claims that Facebook activity may be a positive indicator of a person’s psychological health. Another researcher from the University of California San Diego, suggests that social media may help spread happiness as “happy” status updates encourage others to post similarly positive updates, potentially leading to an “epidemic of well-being.”

Happy or depressing?

My search also turned up an interesting item that appeared in May on The article looks at whether social media makes a person happy or depressed. The answer, of course, is that it depends on how you use it. The article also includes several ways to help ensure that your social media experience is a positive one.

For me, the biggest takeaway  was the mention of a study from Stanford in which girls age 8-12 who said they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.

It’s one small study of course but it seems to confirm what most of us already believe, the more we replace real face-to-face communication with texting, emails, instant messaging, etc, the more we (and our children) risk losing or never developing the social skills that are so important not just in business, but in life. Words on a little screen in our hand are no substitute for person-to-person interaction.

Cell Phones and Slot Machines

Finally, my research  took me to the website of the Greater Good Science Center, based at the University of California Berkeley. On it, I found a particularly interesting post irreverently titled “Happiness Tip: Stop Checking Your Freakin’ Phone.”

The post, written by Christine Carter, begins with her response to a reader’s question about cell phone use. Carter cites several studies that seem to connect less frequent cell-phone checking to lower stress levels. Those of us who check email three times per day are less tense and stressed than those doing it an average of 15 times per day. The post presents several very tangible tactics to help the afflicted finally break those non-productive habits.

The part that really resonated with me was where she discussed “variable-ratio reinforcement.”  Apparently, we check our email frequently in hopes that we have just received a rewarding message, like great news, a new opportunity or praise from one source or another. It doesn’t happen very often, but we become compulsive in our checking, just in case. Carter cites, as a point of reference, another device that uses the same kind of “variable-ratio reinforcement” to entangle its victims, the slot machine. Ouch.

Were There Any Surprises in This Data for You?

Overall, while I didn’t find much that surprised me,  I’m glad I looked into the issue. It gave me a little more resolve to make smarter decisions in both my business and personal life about how, when, and where I use social media. It’s an exciting new world and the tools can be fun (and addicting) to play with. But we can’t let that interfere with the quality of our personal interactions and the other important parts of our lives. We still need to interact with partners, associates, colleagues, clients and friends and family for that matter, face-to-face, or with a real phone call (yes, smart phones still do that).

Our #thrive15  series is all about helping one another do just that amidst all the challenges we all face on so many fronts. And I hope some part of what I learned can help you do that. We all do plenty of business via email, and we know how important social media is becoming for every company and organization.  When is enough enough? How much is too much? I’m sure there are plenty of different opinions among the folks reading this, and I’d love to hear what you think – by email, by phone call, or any other way you’d like to communicate!

But if you do use the link above, please remember that I’m trying to check my email only ten times a day this week. (Baby steps.)

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