Tech Anxiety, FOMO, and Text Thumb: How Companies Like Unroll Me are Using Tech for Good

Innovation and Technology
Sep 3 · 11 min read

In today’s widely connected world, there are only a few hypothetical scenarios scarier than the panic that sets in once one’s cell phone reached the dreaded 20% low battery warning. The mere thought of being disconnected from entertainment, news, music, and constant communication long enough to miss a friend’s Instagram story causes shortness of breath. While global technological advancements have aided in the connectivity of the earth’s population, the onslaught of continuously growing internet culture, and pressures to remain abreast within the culture, have amounted to tangible concerns for many individuals. Below, we examine the ways in which the best of technology has brought on the worst of humanity, and we explore real-world solutions to these thoroughly modern issues.

Keeping Up With The Joneses..and Operating Systems

In the same way that school kids of yesteryear imparted worth upon classmates as a direct result of their new Air Jordans (or lack thereof), a collective cultural pressure to purchase the newest available technology exists within the school yard of the present. In many social situations, having the newest technology becomes a status symbol, where millennials wielding the newest iPhones are rewarded socially. Conversely, severely outdated technology often becomes the subject of cruel social torment, similar to the previous generation’s laments over knock-off designer purses. While kids certainly equate self-worth based on the feedback of peers, adults often find themselves in the same situation, expressing very real pressure to remain up-to-date with their devices.

Of course, within this particular subsection of mobile culture, there is not only perceived pressure to physically obtain the newest device available, but to also utilize it in the manner dictated by constantly changing social norms. When everyone’s great-grandmother was taught how to post daily affirmations on Facebook, a general trend toward the photo-heavy juggernaut Instagram emerged, followed shortly by the video-based Snapchat (the newer iteration of the previously shuttered Vine). From there, the limbs of social media grew to include several platforms. As companies vied for the very short attention span of users, each platform began to expand their offerings, in an attempt to remain competitive within the social media market. By integrating multiple media outlets within a single platform (video, photo, and text), these social media giants have created the opportunity for more content, and the perceived pressure to be widely available, and aware of, each leading platform.

What You Can Do

Before maxing out a fledgling credit card on a brand new device that costs almost four-digits, consider the motives behind the purchase. Is your “old” device truly not functioning at a reasonable performance, or are you simply yearning for the newest technology due to social pressure, or a burgeoning cell phone addiction? According to psychguides.com, a leading addiction resource site, a symptom of cell phone addiction lies in the continued desire to constantly upgrade to the newest available equipment.

So…Much…Content

With the emergence of sites, programs, and apps based on the concept of sharing multimedia, a culture emerged that created real-world bonding experiences based on tech-based viewership of this content. In the early days, where pixelated images of boy-band heartthrobs took an entire four minutes to upload on a website, and sharing digital forms of CD’s via P2P platforms took entire hours, the sheer amount of content was not yet overwhelming. Sure, there were internet-based things that were “popular”, but the importance of catching the newest viral cat video was not yet cast on the world. We Are Social’s “Digital in 2019” research study shows that there are 4.4 billion internet users worldwide in 2019, with the average user spending a whopping average of 6 hours and 42 minutes online every day, with about 2 hours of the daily allotted time spent on social media platforms. Those staggering averages leave a lot of time for mindless content, constant stimulation, and the all-too-familiar loss of time after getting sucked into a YouTube hole of cute baby animals playing with babies.

With such oversaturation of content, constant overstimulation can occur without users consciously recognizing their dependence on viewing physically engaging content, nor their dwindling attention span related to this content. While scrolling through Pinterest for hair color inspiration occasionally can be a useful tactic, and provide some gratifying visual stimulation, it can be a slippery slope toward mindlessly scrolling curated boards without even remembering what was pictured on them.

What You Can Do

Much like a breath of fresh air that comes from a completed “spring cleaning”, a similar tactic can be applied to mobile content. Similar to the ill-fitting clothes that add up in a forgotten closet corner, content mindlessly adds up within various apps, and even apps themselves become redundant. Thus, we recommend taking a few moments periodically to examine in-app preferences that may yield results no longer pertinent. Celebrating your first wedding anniversary? Ditch the wedding planning app! No longer interested in keto meal prepping? Switch it up to something more conducive to your newest dietary preferences on Yummly.

Do You Heart Me?

Before the reign of social media, popularity was determined the good old fashioned way, based on factors present in the physical realm. Though the concept of seeking peer approval is certainly not groundbreaking, the prevalence of social media has created a new desire of approval from not just a small circle of actual friends, but literally from the entire world. In a world where users can determine one’s worth through a thumbs up, a heart, or a like, there is much power associated with the numbers game of digital likes. While garnering a thousand hearts underneath a flattering vacation shot can certainly become a self-esteem booster, the ego crushing power of garnering only a handful of hearts on the same photo can dole a blow that is difficult to recover from. These self-esteem highs and lows can ebb and flow endlessly, enticing individuals to develop a compulsion related to the performance of their social media content.

What You Can Do

While this may be easier said than done, the simple solution lies in disabling comments on your social media posts, eliminating the constant need to watch the numbers climbing. If that simply isn’t an option, consider actively pursuing the rule of “quality over quantity,” where smaller quantities of comments from individuals actively involved in your physical life are recognized as being more worthwhile within the scope of life than a larger quantity of hearts from strangers who don’t actively play a role in your life.

Like A Virtual Pet On Steroids

We’ve come a long way since Pong, Space Invaders, and even the quintessential first iteration of Super Mario Brothers. Mobile games have evolved since the pocket Tamagotchi, but the concept of a little midday mobile game distraction remains similar. The problem, however, becomes evident when constant pop-ups of extra tokens, cats that need a bath, limited edition in-app purchases, and hidden levels become so persistent that they overshadow more relevant notifications, like important calendar reminders.

Sure, it can be argued that a simple game of Roblox on the train home from work is a great stress reliever. However, lunging at the phone the moment a push notification magically appears for fear of missing whatever snake oil is enticing the return to gaming is most likely overdoing it.

What You Can Do

Based on how deeply entrenched your mobile gaming vice has become, there are several routes of opportunity in this choose-your-own adventure game. First, streamlining your gaming choices to only a select few favorite games is a very proactive way to clear out some e-clutter, and focus your resources on only games you have actively invested your efforts in. Secondly, try turning off push notifications for those games, which will not only leave you less tempted to play frequently, but will somewhat diminish the never ending need to continuously check your phone, despite the lack of a buzz, ring, or light. Finally, dedicate a set time for gaming, maximizing the games’ benefits, and leading to a feeling of “treating oneself” to a few moments of gaming, rather than constantly indulging in said activity.

You’ll Have Whatever I Tell You To Have

Did your singular search for “high impact sports bra” yield months of targeted and aggressive mobile advertising for bras across all platforms? Did it suddenly feel as though there were sports bras everywhere? While the power of suggestion has always been utilized within traditional methods of marketing and advertising, the advent of the internet has brought forth a brand new version of advertising, chugging along in a highly targeted, hyper-localized manner, all thanks to Big Data. Love it or hate it, Big Data has gotten very good at gathering personalized tidbits about users from otherwise “chaotic” data, leading to digital advertisers’ placement of highly targeted advertising based on those metrics.

What You Can Do

While remaining totally off-the-grid is almost impossible for anyone with a smartphone, simply fine-tuning location settings can offset Big Data marketing opportunities, like the magical pop-ups announcing sales at the local Gap when you happen to be standing across the street from the store. One small step for mankind, one big step for your wallet.

You’ve Got Mail…Tons Of It

When AOL’s dial-up tone sounded eerily similar to a bad EDM track, hearing that “you’ve got mail” delighted users logging on for the first time within a particular day. Some days, there was no mail, and that was okay. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, checking email was an endeavor only attempted once per day. A typical inbox might see an overly formal email from a relative, a college admissions department requesting additional application documents, and maybe the occasional Macy’s “digital catalog.” In those days, “Spam” only referred to the eponymous canned meat product.

Fast forward a few years, and email counts easily range in the hundreds per day, per email. With most individuals toggling between a professional email, and a personal email or two, this number can easily double. Now, digital invitations to your friend’s baby shower are surrounded by movie theaters begging to show you their newest releases, and a promise to earn $1,000 in 15 minutes by working at home. When dealing with such high volumes of emails, large consistencies of subscriptions, and the need to check said emails roughly every 10 minutes throughout the day, it becomes very easy to lose the things of importance in a sea of eye cream coupons. It also becomes almost impossible to avoid dread, anxiety, and disconnect associated with a seemingly out-of-control inbox.

What You Can Do

While there are many email “unsubscribe” tools, we recommend downloading Unroll Me, a new email management tool that not only allows users to streamline their subscriptions, but goes a step above and beyond, creating a daily curated panel of pertinent emails in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Unroll Me first creates a comprehensive list of all subscribed email listings, allowing users to choose the fate of said subscriptions. The lucky remaining subscriptions then appear daily as what the company dubs “The Rollup”. The best part? Unroll Me even finds the subscriptions you didn’t know you signed up for, allowing your cleanup efforts to be swift, streamlined, and effective. Now you’ll have more time for those cat memes.

The FOMO is Real

While casually perusing through Instagram, it can swiftly begin to feel like everyone you know lives in a mansion, sports a 19” waist, and vacations in the South of France with Victoria’s Secret Angels. While these scenarios may be true for a very select few individuals, the rest of us showcase retouched thighs positioned in a flattering angle, next to fancy sports cars that don’t actually belong to us. Photo and video heavy social media platforms have created their own competitive culture that thrives on showcasing the “perfect” life, full of glamour, adventure, and seemingly breezy lifestyle. In some ways, this can act as an inspiration for reaching personal goals, but the detrimental effects of only presenting one side of the full story far outweigh any potential benefits. In fact, some psychological studies suggest that social media based FOMO (fear of missing out) can cause social distortions, irrational thoughts, and diminished self-worth.

What You Can Do

While FOMO can certainly trigger negative thoughts, an individual’s mindset can be largely responsible for the way this feeling is handled in the physical world. For example, research suggests that a little bit of FOMO can actually be a motivator to become physically involved in the activities that one feels potentially left out of, resulting in increased physical social activity. Understanding that most people present a highly curated version of their existence on social media platforms can also be helpful in rationalizing why a feed is filled with only tropical vacations every July. Keeping things in perspective is key. While people may occasionally depart on a tropical getaway, they certainly aren’t posting about their work struggles, personal battles, and emotional demons, which all impact the daily lives of even the most glamorous celebrities floating through life on social media.

Text Thumb, Tech Neck

While there are many cultural, and psychological concerns associated with extended tech usage, there are also valid physical concerns that are emerging as the prevalence of tech use continues to grow rapidly. The constant downward tilt of the neck associated with looking at a cell phone screen is dubbed by doctors as causing “tech neck,” an otherwise unexplained pain in the back of the neck. While this newly growing phenomenon may not appear severe enough to scare off some people from engaging in practices attributed to “tech neck”, the effects of adding so much additional pressure on the neck, spine, and back have yet to be determined on a long-term basis.

As if that weren’t bad enough, short-term, and potentially long-term loss of thumb dexterity associated with “text thumb” is another unfortunate newly burgeoning concern. While smartphones have certainly changed in size and shape, they aren’t particularly ergonomic, and can cause thumb pain as a result of particularly extensive texting practices.

What You Can Do

Practicing good posture can alleviate some of the physical pressure placed on the neck, in addition to consciously placing the phone higher, and looking with the eyes only, in lieu of looking down with the entire head. As for relieving the symptoms of “text thumb”, the simple solution is merely to give the old thumbs a rest, and taking a few minutes out of the day to move them around in forgotten directions to maintain appropriate dexterity.

The current Golden Age of Mobile Technology has created a brand new global culture, bridging together people throughout every corner of the earth. Long before highly topical special interest groups found other like-minded individuals from all over the world to share their common interests, individuals with unique interests often found themselves feeling alone, alienated, or otherwise unvalidated. Now, if you’re into abstract garbage art, knitting hats for kittens, or anything in between, there is a sense of community merely a few clicks away. In this regard, the existence of social media has created brand new opportunities for communities of individuals to bond in a meaningful manner.

The growth of global mobile technology has also created profound change in the manner in which people communicate, allowing for instantaneous messages to be exchanged between individuals on a worldwide basis, all without skipping a beat. In the modern culture that values instant gratification so greatly, the ability to have real-time conversations has allowed people to feel connected, in control, and instantly able to communicate with anyone.

Conversely, these swift cultural changes have also left individuals feeling tethered to their devices, anxious about being able to keep up appearances of seemingly effortless perfection, and determined to finally take control over inboxes flooded with rampant spam. Thankfully, many companies, apps, and community groups are starting to recognize the detrimental effects of today’s mobile technology culture, and are working to alleviate these valid concerns. With increasing ingenuity, mobile technology innovators are finding ways to consolidate the chaos, streamline processes, and leverage the best benefits of mobile connectivity. Through various tweaks, heightened self-awareness, and regular self-insight, each individual possesses the power to cultivate a positive implementation of mobile technology into everyday life.

Innovation and Technology

Written by

A weekly download of the latest product launches, technology news and computer tips.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade