With cell phones chirping and playing music, wireless devices vibrating, and emails signaling their arrival at the computer’s inbox, is it any wonder that many people feel stressed and distracted by technology? Our minds may wander as we start to read a book, or we can be surprised to look at a browser window and see how many tabs we’ve opened. This can lead to feeling fatigued, anxious, and disconnected from the real world, or overwhelmed by technology. For many, it has been a long time (if ever) since they took a true vacation where they were really “off” and not answering emails or voicemails.

The world is increasingly using technology in every facet of life. Of the 7 billion people on the planet, almost 6 billion are cell phone subscribers, and China and India lead the way. Children (especially girls) between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States text an average of 60 times a day—that’s more than 3,400 texts per month, or 7 times every hour. The average American sees, hears, or reads 34 gigabytes worth of information daily (about 100,000 words) from television, the Internet, books, radio, newspapers, and other sources, and that number grows every year.

We might have access to millions of people across the globe, yet for most of us today, being “connected” means being constantly available through phones or email, juggling numerous tasks in our personal and professional lives, and sorting through mounds of information coming from multiple sources. All of this can contribute to technostress— any negative impact on attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, or body physiology caused either directly or indirectly by technology.

New technologies have many benefits. These can be time-saving, help us work more effectively and efficiently, provide valuable communication, and can even spark cultural and global change. Technology makes it easier to respond to work or personal questions while waiting in line, send notes so grocery items are not forgotten, buy an item online, or check the latest stock quotes. But without limits, technology can also be stressful and lead to difficulties in social, business, and personal lives, as well as contribute to illnesses.

How often is “family time” simply multiple members in the same room, with parents chatting on the phone with friends or catching up on emails from the office, and the children texting or playing video games? Have you ever arrived at work only to be greeted with dozens of “must call” notes, email messages, and text messages about “important” issues? Cell phones in restaurants or airports are ubiquitous. The Blackberry has even been labeled the “Crack-berry.”

Technology and Health

Technostress can be challenging to control. Without clear limits, we can find ourselves continually multitasking and dealing with information overload, and our health can suffer. We can experience:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased stress hormone secretion
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or think clearly
  • Inability to communicate effectively
  • Feelings of social isolation
  • Premature death
  • Increased incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders
  • Increased incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, computer-related eyestrain, tendinitis, or repetitive stress injury
  • Possible increase in brain cancers