It’s a technology-driven world. We are surrounded by technology all the time, and some people literally couldn’t do what they do without it. More than would admit, anyway. So with all this technology all over the place, are we happier? This is a big question. Far bigger than we have time for in this blog, but we thought we would unpack the question a little bit and discuss some elements of this new technology-run society that can give us some insight into people’s feelings.
Before we get into the question at hand, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that modern society is basically an example of how innovation fuels progress. I mean the spoon and the wheel were examples of technological improvement. If you consider that the whole of modern computing happened in the past century (mostly the last half century), you’d have to consider that things like the advent of electricity, the manufacturing of the first microprocessor, and the invention of modern networking were all new technologies that have allowed our society to get to where we are today.
So has technology made us happier? Whether it has or hasn’t, the Internet seems to have made people happier. One poll found that 90% of respondents admitted that their lives have improved due to the Internet’s existence. That probably isn’t a surprise, but it does say something about how society has changed. People rely on the Internet, especially in the mobile age. We interact with the people around us over mobile phones and video conferencing, many of us work via the Internet, and every part of our lives has some type of technology tied to it. People can now never leave their houses and live a relatively normal life (not that it is recommended at all).
But does this ubiquitous technology make us happier? There’s no way to know, but we can break down the major parts of a person’s life to come up with what will do for an answer in this space. For our purposes, we’ll consider work, leisure, relationships, and other social interactions.
Most of us use technology for our jobs. In fact, a lot of our jobs wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the underlying technology. Many younger workers, who have entered the workforce over the past 10 years, seriously consider the merits of an organization’s commitment to technology as a factor when choosing whether or not to apply to a company. For older workers, there has been a learning curve but with the advancements in technology, hosted systems, and automation, most people can do more actual “work” than ever before. This improves employee morale and leaves workers with more time to themselves, a consideration that has come to be known as “work-life balance”. With all this considered we’d have to admit that technology has made today’s average worker happier than in the past.
Technology has a marked effect on the way people spend their leisure time. Activities that were once universally popular like family outings at the park, going to the mall, and even going for a leisurely drive have all been pushed out of the social lexicon because the technology that surrounds us at all times has changed the way people view these activities. For example, before we had ubiquitous technology fueled by a seemingly unlimited number of applications, people would go for a drive. They would take a day when they didn’t have anything to do and they would drive. Technology doesn’t like aimless tasks. If every task has a purpose then an aimless trek in your car is taboo. This can be said for most things. There is a reason why every video game developer puts in worthless achievements into their games, because everybody has to accomplish something with all of their time. Technology has taken a lot of leisure out of leisure time. Being able to shop from your couch is nice, but having to meet benchmarks in every part of a person’s life can leave them feeling as if everything is a chore.
Technology’s effect on relationships could be a series of articles because it has changed for everyone. The best way to see the effects technology has on personal relationships is to view the way people who have had use of this technology their whole lives go about it. For people who grew up without the Internet or mobile devices that fuel a lot of today's communication, their more traditional view of relationships can be altered significantly by what psychologists in the space call “technoference”. For younger people, they are pretty conditioned to always have their phones on with notifications on. This means that younger people have a tendency not to be too concerned when they are in the middle of a conversation and someone checks their phone. For older people, this is considered rude and can have a major impact on their happiness inside of a relationship. On the other hand, more relationships are possible with access to more people. Technology is shifting the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and that may or may not make people happy.
The biggest effect all the technology we have within reach today has had is on the social aspect of life. Social media in particular has completely altered society and the way people view it. Consider all the good and bad that has happened in the world since the advent of social media and you may find it to be a remarkable technology, but consider the countless people that you come into contact with on social media that just come off as complete lunatics and you may consider that particular technology to be a waste of your time. Unfortunately, even when you feel like that, there is some other social network out there that will fill the gaps. With so many people able to finally share an opinion with others with just a few keystrokes, there are bound to be opinions shared that don’t mesh with your worldview. This can sometimes lead to social isolation, which is ironic considering all these platforms' marketing efforts are centered around community.
We probably haven’t answered the question we set out to, but we did outline some of the things that technology has changed about the way we live in the 21st century. What are your thoughts? Are you happier with the technology you have today? Do you think that the technology you have come to depend on makes your life any better than it was prior? Leave your thoughts in the comments and share on social media to get your friends opinions on the matter.