Which is more harmful: smartphones or potatoes?


Scientists have been puzzling and arguing about the question for a long time: what positive and negative effects do all the modern technology that we use day in, day out have? A new look at a huge amount of data and analyses shows that the effects could be one thing above all else: rather insignificant, actually.

Peter Przybylski and Amy Orben have used new statistical methods to examine thousands and thousands of data points, especially from surveys of people of different ages, to clarify – like so many before them – whether technology is harmful or useful to our well-being, and to what extent. “Scientists will torture the data until they give them the statistically verifiable result they want to publish,” says Przybylski. In her case there are three results:

  1. Small changes in the analysis can lead to dramatically different results.
  2. The interaction between the use of technology and the well-being of adults is negative.
  3. This interaction is extremely small and makes up a maximum of 0.4 percent of all factors for a person’s well-being.

The effects on the well-being of an adult can be compared to whether one eats potatoes or not – so rather tiny, however healthy potatoes may be.

According to the study, other things have a much greater effect on our well-being. Smoking, for example, affects our mood 18 times more than the use of technology. Bullying is just as significant as the smartphone, namely by a factor of 4. A good breakfast? Factor 30. Enough sleep? Factor 44!

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How early can technology play a role in life? / © Morrowind / AndroidPIT

There are still not enough hard facts

And what does that tell us? First of all, there is enough of a large amount of data, which is primarily based on feelings, that everyone can get out what they need. In view of such a complex topic as the impact of technology on people, I take one thing in particular with me: There are no reliable truths, no hard facts, no black and white. Every person reacts differently to such influences, and not every person finds it a blessing if the smartphone has no reception for three weeks on holiday. It can also be brutally stressful to bounce back and forth through digital detox.

For me, technology is as much a part of everyday life as many things: The dose makes the poison. It’s good for me to switch off now and then – I can tell by how hard it is for me. Nevertheless, I do not think it is appropriate to make general recommendations about who should consume when, how much and which technology in order to increase well-being. Those who listen to themselves will find their personal best practice.

PS: Television makes stupid. Always. 😉

Do you feel technology poses a danger to our health and wellness? How to do manage digital well-being for yourself?

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