Time to Unplug: Is Technology Making Students Happier?

Does Technology Make Students Happier?

I’m the first to admit that I almost always have my cell phone on me.  Every morning, I turn on my laptop to check my e-mails before I even shower, and I check my Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts multiple times a day.  This all begs the question: does technology make students happier?  The answer is definitely complicated and will make you think about how technology influences your life.

Technology Doesn’t Make Us Happier

According to a MIT Technology Review article, more gadgets don’t necessarily make us any happier.  Since 1946, when surveys on happiness were first completed, the percent of people who are very happy has fallen, even as relative income has increased.  Since 1946, we have experienced huge advances in technology, including communication, transportation, and medicine.  However, that hasn’t translated into happier people.  For example, Japan experienced one of the greatest technological advances ever, moving from a developing nation to a high-tech leader—yet their citizens are no happier.  The Amish, a group of people whom do not use modern technology, have shown consistent happiness over time and are as happy as the members of the Forbes 400.

It seems that people may get stuck using technologies that would be very hard to give up, but don’t necessarily make them any happier.  Cases of sleep-texting, or sending texts in your sleep that you don’t remember sending the next morning, have also been on the rise.  Our constant connection to technology makes it more difficult for us to separate our waking and sleeping lives. A recent study found that 4 out of 5 kids with cell phones sleep next to their phone and only 10% actually turn off their phone while they sleep.  I know that I’m guilty of always sleeping with my phone on and an arm’s length away.

The need to connect and be available at all times has concerned some psychologists about teen and young adults’ development.  Concentration abilities can be hampered if you’re constantly on your phone.  Some people may feel trapped by technology.  The theory of Hedonic Adaptation explains why new, amazing technological advances don’t translate into lasting happiness: people adapt very quickly to good news. This means that advances become very easy to take for granted—like how we get frustrated with any webpage that doesn’t load instantly, even though a few years ago we were still using the much slower dial-up.

Technology Does Make Us Happier

A global study of 35,000 people found that access to communications technology was an extremely valued condition, closely linked to happiness.  This was especially prevalent for women and for those living in developing countries.  As Paul Flatters, one of the study’s leading researchers said, “Whether young or old, we’re all social beings, we all have a need for the things IT access facilitates.”

The Associated Press and MTV conducted a study in 2010 that found 23% of teenagers send over 100 texts a day and 52% use the internet for 2-6 hours daily.  Clearly, we are all plugged in.  However, this isn’t necessarily bad.  The percent of happy students has increased from 64% in 2008 to 81%.  Researchers are attributing this to the huge increase in social media usage over this two year period.  Happiness is linked to liking oneself and healthy levels of self-confidence.  Teens and young adults who frequently use social media are likely to be more self-confident as many sites, especially Twitter, are a form of self-branding.  If you’re frequently using a site like this, you are promoting yourself to others, which can translate into your own happiness.  Additionally, sites like Facebook provide students with the ability to connect and communicate with others more frequently than they otherwise could.  We are all social creatures at heart and technology can feed this need.

Clearly, there is no decisive answer on whether technology makes us happier.  It has its advantages and disadvantages, but there are definitely times when unplugging is the right answer.  Take the time to appreciate technology and its incredible advances without forgetting the power of real, face-to-face interaction.