Chapter 6: 21st-century media and issues
6.6.2 Mobile devices and social anxiety (research essay)
Anonymous English 102 Writer
Mobile devices are improving at an astronomical rate, with every year upgrading and receiving improvements that, most people, did not even think was possible. With these improvements, people are using technology and their hand-held devices for more and more tasks on a daily basis. Almost everyone that is capable of obtaining one of these smart phones has bought one and continued to buy the generations that have followed. With all this being said technology, but most certainly mobile devices, have become a staple in everyone’s lives. Although there are many advantages that these phones bring to the table, are there any disadvantages that come along with it?
Mobile devices are typically associated with social media. Many applications such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat are platforms that allow people with the access to internet to communicate with their friends. This is a great way for people to communicate however there are many addictive principles and aspects to these applications that create a sense of need from the user. Later in this paper I will dive deeper into these aspects and how they are affecting the way we use technology. However, these applications do not help with face-to-face interactions and conversations. This is a prominent reason to the thesis of this research paper. Many people are so used to interacting with other people behind a virtual screen and it is affecting the way that they interact in person. The first underlying issue that needs to be tackled is where our addiction to mobile devices started.
Before diving too deep into mobile devices, let us take a look at what social anxiety is and some of the symptoms that are common to someone that has social anxiety. Eleanor Leigh and David Clark published an insightful paper that provides a lot of information on social anxiety disorder and what this disorder looks like. “Social anxiety disorder is a debilitating condition characterized by a marked and persistent fear of being humiliated or scrutinized by others” (Leigh). Leigh and Clark really make it clear and understandable what social anxiety disorder entails. By understanding this, other people can understand what it looks like when someone has this disorder and how to collectively make it more comfortable for said person to interact in a conversation or social gathering. However social anxiety disorder does not only have to do with communication, many people also that have this disorder experience anxiety when walking into a room full of people, performing in front of people or presenting a speech, and eating in public (Leigh). Many times, this is due to the same reason as when communicating. People with social anxiety disorder fear that they will do something humiliating in front of the crowd. Whether this be stumbling over their words when presenting their project or tripping when walking into a room full of people. These are just some of the symptoms that are correlated with social anxiety disorder. This article published by Leigh and Clark provides a lot of important information and even more that is detrimental later on in this essay. Now that social anxiety disorder has been defined and apparent what it looks like, understanding mobile devices and the rate they are improving is just as important.
Think of some of your closest friends and family and ask yourself, how many of peers do not have a mobile device? It may take you a while to actually come up with someone that does not own some type of cell phone or smart phone. Even young kids that are just learning to walk and talk already can function an iPad better than most adults. “Just over half of children in the United States — 53 percent — now own a smart phone by the age of 11. And 84 percent of teenagers now have their own phones” (Kamenetz). After looking at this statistic many parents could be frightened. The majority of kids in America own a smart phone only by the age of eleven years old Although, kids are not the only age group that are forming an addiction to their mobile devices. Just over 50 percent of Americans now own a smart phone (King University). Another study conducted by Mashable presents even more statistics about how young kids are inheriting smart phones. Natasha Pinon states that, “between 2015 and 2019, the age at which a majority of kids have a smartphone dropped from roughly 13-14 to 11” (Pinon). The age that kids are receiving a smart phone is lowering drastically and has no sign of slowing down any time soon. “In 2015, for instance, 24 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds had smartphones. Now, 41 percent of kids in that same age group have them” (Pinon). This study was conducted in 2019, so in just four short years the percent of 8- to 12-year-olds that possess a smart phone has risen 15 percent. The majority of kids that had their first smart phone was approximately between the ages of 13 and 14 in 2015. Now, that age has lowered to approximately 11 years old (Pinon). At this rate kids will be receiving smart phones even younger and may even receive other devices such as tablets at an even younger age. Giving these kids the ability to access any information that they choose just by the click of a button is a frightening future.
For many kids, the pre-teenage years are years that are spent playing sports or getting together with the other neighborhood kids. These are connections that help kids grow into young adults and advance their communication skills. Dr. Russell Belk at King University goes on to explain, “our possessions, such as smart phones, have become integral to how humans operate on a daily basis.” As previously stated, American people, not only children, are using their mobile devices more and more and are creating a daily dependency of them. King University goes on to explain that around 68 percent of adults sleep with their phones in arm’s length distance. This creates an emotional attachment to your device. Also, this can heavily affect the way someone sleeps. With notifications constantly buzzing and ringing through the duration of the night, it makes it nearly impossible to get a peaceful, uninterrupted night’s sleep. With this being said, the majority of kids are receiving them at lower and lower ages each year. However, an issue that is associated with this is the connection and addiction that they are forming at such a young age. This is really where the issue of social anxiety comes into play with mobile devices.
Continuing with the growing tendency to society’s addiction to our smart phones, there are any signs that portray that someone is addicted to their phone. Some of these include visual agitation or anxiousness when the phone is out of sight, inability to cut back on cell phone usage, and reaching for their device after immediately waking up (King University). Many of these symptoms are very common and can be seen just by observing individuals in public. Even many individuals reading those reasons can select at least one that applies to them. However, it does not just end there, “they became an extension of the self, so that separation from devices can cause anxiety, irritability, and even psychological symptoms similar to substance addiction for some” (King University). It is widely known that checking one’s phone after hearing a notification can trigger a chemical in their brain to be released called dopamine. Dopamine is the same chemical that is released when someone wins money gambling at a casino. This chemical is what causes gambling addictions and is also considered to form our addictions to our smart phones. Cell phone addiction symptoms being used interchangeably with those of substance abuse, or gambling addiction symptoms, creates a very serious discussion with the trajectory of our mobile device usage.
Part of the growing addiction to our mobile devices stems from the advancements that are being made to these devices. Greg Hall is a professor at Bentley University and teaches a course under the title Cyberpsychology. In this course, Hall researches and evaluates the relationship between how fast our technology is advancing and how it is affecting the mental health of our society. As we all know, technology has been advancing at an incredible rate. Only a decade and a half ago the first iPhone was released. Now the iPhone has made tremendous improvements and even been combined with smart watches that can accomplish nearly everything that the phone itself can. Hall explains, “if we’re in this mode of constant change, social anxiety increases” (Bentley). Hall continues to explain this constant mode of change by comparing the original telephone with today’s smart phones. Hall explains, “the original telephone remained relatively unchanged from the 1900s to 1980s… versus today’s smartphones that are ready for an upgrade every two years” (Bentley). This constant change is what is making it hard for young adults to adapt and making them more socially anxious. Teenagers and young adults are so invested into learning the new gadgets and updates that come with the new generations that they do not spend nearly as much time conversating and making friends. Hall agrees that there are many advantages that come with these improvements, however there are many disadvantages that he points out as well. Just to name a few, low attention span, decrease in patience, bad social development, and “brief shelf life” when it comes to retaining information (Bentley). Hall collectively calls these the “psychological by-products” of mobile device advancements. Greg Hall creates a great argument for the disadvantages of the constant improvements of smart phones and how they can cause social anxiety and other mental health issues in teenagers and young adults.
In regard to advancements of technology and their influence on today’s youth, a documentary published by Netflix called The Social Dilemma dives deep into this relationship. The Social Dilemma is a documentary that takes many developers that have worked for big tech companies and allows them to speak on the agenda that these companies pursue. Some of these companies include Google, Facebook, and Snapchat. Many of them have similar responses such as “Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram… their business model is to keep people engaged on their screen” (The Social Dilemma 13:40-13:50). This could be frightening to most, imagine the source of all your entertainment and news attempting to keep you sucked into their platform for as long as possible. This is another reason why today’s youth is becoming more and more dependent on their mobile devices. Some of these big-name developers entered a course at Stanford that taught about the connection between psychology and technology. Not all of these developers have endured this course, however almost all of them use the topics and concepts taught in this course while developing these applications. The field of study is considered persuasive technology and The Social Dilemma explains it as “[a] sort of design, intentionally applied to the extreme where we really want to modify someone’s behavior” (24:10-24:20). The developer continues by explaining one of the key components of a lot of social media platforms, the infinite scroll. Every time you refresh there is a new post at the top and in psychology this is considered a positive intermittent reinforcement (The Social Dilemma 24:30-24:40). The people that create the applications we use everyday are using psychological concepts to keep us addicted and constantly opening the application. Lastly, the workers from these companies conclude this by saying “a whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed… this is a real change in a generation” (The Social Dilemma 41:30-41:40). The addiction caused by the tools and devices in social media are growing into bigger problems that were completely unintentional.
Now that it is apparent that there is a prominent issue when it comes to today’s society and their dependency to their devices, let us examine one of the most important issues that cause social anxiety. Cyberbullying is bullying another person using technology. This can be a text message, unfriending someone on a platform, or even commenting something hateful directly on someone’s post. One in every three people in today’s youth have been affected by cyberbullying. With that being said, one in every five have reportedly skipped school due to the bullying happening over the internet (Enough). That means that 33 percent of children in this country have been bullied online and 20 percent have been so affected that they decided it would be better to stay home from school. This is a frightening statistic and a genuine problem that deserves more attention. “A majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying. 59% of U.S teens have been bullied or harassed online” (Enough). As children get older, it appears that they are more susceptible to harassment. At a frightening rate too, more than half of teenagers in the United States have experienced cyberbullying.
Adding onto cyberbullying, Charisse Nixon dissects the correlational studies between cyberbullying and health issues in adolescents. “Researchers have examined the relationship between involvement with cyberbullying and adolescents’ tendency to internalize issues” (Nixon). These internal issues include loneliness, social anxiety, and depression. This research has been conducted over many countries including the United States, China, Finland, and many more. researchers have examined the relationship between involvement with cyberbullying and adolescents’ tendency to internalize issues. Later in the paper supports this evidence, “past work has shown that adolescents who were victimized via cyberbullying were more likely to lose trust in others, experience increased social anxiety, and decreased levels of self-esteem” (Nixon). There is prominent evidence that the use of mobile devices can cause cyberbullying. With that being said, cyberbullying can cause social anxiety and other psychology issues in adolescents. But it does not stop there, “the relationship between cybervictimization and adolescents’ psychosocial problems remain even after controlling for relational and physical forms of victimization” (Nixon). Even after the discontinuation of using the mobile device, adolescents may still experience the trauma from cyberbullying. According to one of the tables over 20 studies have been conducted on wide range of age groups prior to experiencing cyberbullying and in 11 of those studies the participants reported having social difficulties. These social difficulties include loneliness, social anxiety, and decreased number of friendships. All of these studies were using a cross sectional design, meaning that the researchers collected data over a specific duration of times (Nixon).
Now that the issues of addiction and cyberbullying have been presented, these issues lead to an even bigger issue in today’s youth, social anxiety. The first that needs to be addressed is a study called “Digital media, anxiety, and depression in children.” Elizabeth Hoge, David Bickham, and Joanne Cantor present the impact that social media has on the youth’s mental health. The authors break down the thesis into six different areas and research each category meticulously. The first area that needs to be discussed is that social anxiety derives from lack of social interaction because of substituted digital media. Studies show that texting, emailing, and instant messaging have become the preferred choice of communication as opposed to face-to-face interactions (Hoge). Many benefits come with these sources of contact. Some of these include being able to contact anyone at any time and having the ability to communicate with someone across the world. However, these benefits come with some setbacks. “[This] behavior may actually increase risk in individuals vulnerable to social anxiety disorder” (Hoge). This research makes complete sense, increase in communication behind a screen can increase in anxiety when communicating in person. Furthermore, the increase in this type of communication due to the avoidance of in person situations can actually worsen the severity of one’s social anxiety (Hoge). The next area that is applicable to this thesis is anxiety as the result of cyberbullying. This area’s first big discovery is that “adolescents who experience cyberbullying are at increased risk for a wide range of mental and physical health problems” (Hoge). Research like this may seem like common sense, however it is something that should take precedence in society and not go unnoted. Some of the feelings that are associated with victims of cyberbullying are embarrassment, fear, and loneliness (Hoge). All of these are symptoms that line up with symptoms of social anxiety previously discussed in the paragraphs above. Social media and cyberbullying, that both predominately take place on mobile devices, are strongly associated with social anxiety.
The next study that I would like to assess is a study conducted by Jessica Peterka-Bonetta called “Personality Associations with Smartphone and Internet Use Disorder.” Her study aims to find if there is an association between internet and smart phone use disorder and a person’s personality. In doing this, she used 773 participants, 303 being males and 470 being females, and gave them an online questionnaire. Almost all of them participants came from English speaking countries and from a variety of 59 different countries (Peterka-Bonetta). The diversity is key when conducting a study of this magnitude. Having a wide variety of participants from many different demographics gives this study a lot of credibility. This study used a combination of three scores. A score indicating internet addiction, a score indicating smart phone addiction, and a score indicating interaction anxiousness. The results of the study revealed that there was a noticeable correlation between smartphone addiction score and interaction anxiousness score (Peterka-Bonetta). Meaning, that many participants that willing admitted to being addicted to their mobile device, also admitted to experiencing some sort of social anxiousness. The study’s results also found “a negative correlation between Extraversion and IUD (internet addictive score)” (Peterka-Bonetta). The indirect correlation means that the more extroverted a person is the less addicted they are to the internet and vice versa. This study is extremely important and significant to the thesis that smart phones and mobile devices are indeed a contributing factor to social anxiety in today’s youth.
Another study, “Are We Becoming More Socially Awkward? An Analysis of the Relationship Between Technological Communication Use and Social Skills in College Students”, analyzes if the use of technology to communicate has decreased our communication skills. This study took place at Connecticut College where “112 male and female undergraduate students… were surveyed about their social skills, social anxiety, technology use, and technology preference” (Brown). The survey was optional and split into eight different sessions. The researchers used the same methods as the previous study, asking participants their usage of technology and then asking questions related to social anxiety. The study concluded that “participants with a higher preference for communicating in online settings had lower social skills than did those with a lower preference for mediated communication” (Brown). Similar to the previous study, the more people use their mobile devices for communication, the more they feel anxious in a social situation.
Yasser Alghamdi at Oakland University conducted some great research when it comes to the relationship between kids using technology for educational purposes and their advantages/disadvantages. Alghamdi acknowledges that there are many benefits that are associated with education and technology, however many drawbacks are associated as well. Alghamdi writes about some physical but also some psychological disadvantages. Alghamdi attacks this issue through a more conceptual route, “they spend every spare minute they have on a gaming system or online or through text messages which reduces their ability to socially interact with others outside in the real world” (Alghamdi). Alghamdi goes on to explain that kids who surf the internet are likely to spend 100 or more minutes less with peers rather than someone who does not. The author continues by stating that kids “feel much happier when they are on Facebook or playing video games with their virtual friends online rather than socializing with their real friends and doing something funny outdoors” (Alghamdi). Alghamdi refers to a study where 1000 students dispersed between 10 countries disconnected themselves from their devices voluntarily for 24 hours. After the 24 hours, the participants reported that they were significantly more lonely and more anxious (Alghamdi). Although this study addresses some physical issues with kids spending too much time on their mobile device, it also provides some insightful research as to why today’s youth is feeling more socially anxious.
The last study that will be analyzed is “The Association Between Mobile Game Addiction and Depression, Social Anxiety, and Loneliness.” Although this study has more to do with mobile games, it still applies to the idea that mobile devices are causing this issue. The study starts off by defining what a mobile game is and the growing popularity of these games. “Mobile video games refer to games played by either single or multi players via online mobile devices. These games are particularly popular when they can be downloaded for free” (Wang). Data from this study was taken from a population of 600 student volunteers across the grades of seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. These participants were supplied with a questionnaire that asked them to answer questions in which they would give them scores based on four scales. These scales were mobile game addiction scale, depression scale, child loneliness scale, and child social anxiety scale (Wang). Through statistical analysis, “mobile game addiction was positively related to depression, social anxiety, and loneliness” (Wang). With all mobile games being played on mobile devices, it is safe to say that mobile devices can directly be correlated with these characteristics as well.
With the growing popularity and innovation of mobile devices, our lives are becoming more and more dependent on technology. These devices provide a lot of benefits and convenience, however there are some drawbacks that these devices carry. These provide the ability to communicate with anyone around the world at any time. However, this ability also decreases an important trait, that being the ability to communicate with other people face-to-face. Not all of this is contributed to the mobile device itself. Cyberbullying and the general addictive principles that some platforms and applications offer also contribute to this idea. However, mobile devices and tablets, as a whole, have become more popular in the younger generation and have caused an increase in the development of social anxiety in today’s youth.
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