The Unsettling Ways Tech Is Changing Your Personal Reality
New research highlights how people’s relationship with tech is reshaping thoughts and emotions
During the winter and spring of 2017, researchers at Cass Business School in London interviewed local commuters to learn about their use of mobile technology. Some of the interview questions focused on device battery life and whether a person’s awareness of their phone’s power levels could affect how they felt and behaved.
The researchers found that most of the people they interviewed fretted about their phone’s battery life and their proximity to a power source, and that this “range anxiety” influenced the commuters’ itineraries and moods. People chose their next destination — the gym, the coffee shop, the market — in part based on whether they would have easy access to a charging outlet. One 23-year-old told the researchers that when her phone’s battery life fell to 50%, she began to feel anxious. By the time it dropped below 30%, she was “not having fun anymore.” A 35-year-old compared the depletion of his phone’s battery to having his bathtub drained on a cold day. “You are freezing… naked and cold,” he said.
“During interviews, respondents discussed how a full battery gauge made them feel positive and as though they could go anywhere or do anything,” Thomas Robinson, lead author of the study and a lecturer in marketing at Cass Business School, said in a press release. “Anything less than half full, however, induced feelings of profound anxiety and discomfort.”
From the existential dread caused by a low phone battery to the identity-nudging power of online ads, the evidence is mounting that interaction with technology has peculiar and, in some cases, pernicious effects on how people think and feel.
Some of this research hints at the memory-distorting power of brief visual distractions. For a series of computer-based experiments, researchers at Ohio State University asked people to look at four different-colored squares and to take note of the color of one highlighted square. During some of these tests, the researchers also flashed white dots around another of the squares, causing a distraction. When the people in the study…