Personal technology makes us depressed

Oct. 27, 2017

Personal technology is making us depressed, according to Dr. Stephen Ilardi, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas and the author of The Depression Cure. “We live in an era of previously unimaginable luxury,” he writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Without leaving our sofas, we can conjure almost any book or film on our phone and enjoy it with exotic cuisine delivered right to our doorstep via an app.” So what’s the problem? “Our indoor, sedentary, and socially isolated lives leave us vulnerable to depression,” he notes.

Ilardi writes that three in ten Americans will battle depressive illness during their lives—an estimated tenfold increase since World War II. He adds that the World Health Organization calls depression the leading cause of disability around the world.

Technology, he says, lulls us into inactivity, whereas even modest physical activity—taking over vacuuming chores from the Roomba, for example—stimulates the brain to release dopamine and serotonin.

He notes that automation should create free time during which we can engage in physical activity—perhaps outdoors—more pleasant than vacuuming, but we don’t tend to take advantage of the possibilities. “We’re wired, like our ancestors, to conserve energy whenever possible—to be lazy when no exertion is required,” he says.

Apart from discouraging physical activity, he faults technology’s tendency to foment loneliness. “Face-to-face conversations immerse us in a continuous multichannel sensory experience—only a fraction of which can be transferred via text or video message,” he writes. “Communicating solely through technology robs us of the richer neurological effects of in-person interactions and their potential to alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.”

He does offer some suggestions:

  • If you can’t get outdoors, get a light box that mimics the sun’s 10,000-lux broad spectrum light.
  • Do get some exercise—even if you only walk 30 minutes three times a week. Technology can help with this—you can get an app that turn your phone into a personal trainer.
  • Power down correctly—set your thermostat down 5° an hour before bedtime and enable the night-shift function on your devices to shift the color spectrum away from blue.

He says he is not a Luddite and acknowledges personal tech is here to stay. His suggestions can help make the most of it.

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