Technologies Impact on Mental Wellbeing

Exploring the impact technology has on our mental wellbeing and how to design with wellbeing in mind—a Hyper Island Industry Research Project.

From my own experiences with digital technology, I am surprised at my dependance on devices and being online. My use of digital technology has massively impacted my behaviour over time. I find myself feeling a range of emotions when I’m connected and disconnected; anxious, jealous, shocked, surprised, happy, disappointment, fear, inspiration, and the list goes on. Of course, these feelings are dependant on the context. But what surprises me is the power of technology on my emotional wellbeing.

Reflecting on my love/hate relationship with technology has lead me to consider the impact it has on our mental wellbeing. Those unintended consequences, both positive and negative, that digital technology has on our lives. After all technology is here to stay. As Bruce Sterling states we have gone past the “Line of No Return”. We can no longer go back to a world without digital technology, and why would we? It seems that our future lives are only going to become more connected and entangled with technology.

This lead me to consider the unintended consequences that digital technology has on our lives, behaviour, and wellbeing. By looking at the design process, where these products and services start their journey, I decided upon my research question.

How might we…design better digital products and services with user wellbeing in mind during the design process?

This question alone is too wide to answer in two months, so I have narrowed it down to three research questions.

1. What impact is social media having on teenage girls mental wellbeing?
2. How does design play a role in the impact social media has on teenage girls wellbeing?
3. How might designers consider these impacts within the design process for future products/services?

Why social media and teenage girls…

Social media use is on the rise and has been a popular point of discussion in recent years, especially the impact social media has on teenage girls. An American study by Pew Research Centre in 2015 found that 56% of teenagers (aged 13–17) go online several times a day. The number of teenages having access to mobile phones has increased, facilitating this online behaviour (Lenhart, 2015).

There have been many news reports on how social media has affected teenage girls, from depression, stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and cyberbullying. However, not all cases are negative. Social media enables us to connect with our friends around the world in many ways and reduce feelings of isolation.

Why this project…

Technology is here to stay, and it is impacting our behaviour to some extent. As technology and systems become more complex, we should be asking whether it is impacting us in the right way, for ourselves and future generations.

At what point does the design of a product or service facilitate addictive and unhealthy behaviour? Where is the line between a nudge and manipulating behaviour?

I believe we have the responsibility to design with people’s wellbeing in mind, before we reach the “Line of No Return”. My goal in this project is to explore ways we can question the reasoning and the impact of future products and services on its users and the wider society. Putting human wellbeing into the human centered design process.

At the moment I am looking to talk to designers, technologists, behavioural scientists, and ethicists to further understand the role technology plays on our mental wellbeing and how we can design better products and services for the future.

If you have a story to share or would like to discuss this topic with me, get in touch via the comments section below. Or you can find me over here…@nmccarthy_

Thank you :)


References

Lenhart, A. (2015) Teens, social media & technology overview 2015. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/

Sterling, B., Wild, L. and Lunenfeld, P. (2005) Shaping things. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.