G Stephen McGrath
Social Impact of Technology
April 10, 2014
What Is Social Isolation?
• A state in which a person, group, or
culture loses or does not maintain
communication or contact with one
• Social isolation is often involuntary, and
can lead to feelings of loneliness,
depression, and distrust of others.
• While physical presence is a large factor
of social isolation, it is not necessarily
mandatory; those suffering may feel a
personal disconnect even in the presence
• “An emotional illness in which a person experiences
strong feelings of fear or worry” (Neurosis)
• While neurosis is considered a relatively mild mental
disorder, especially when compared to conditions like
psychosis, it has the potential to cause a large amount
of distress in those afflicted.
• The persistent anxiety associated with neurosis may
lead to feelings of depression if not treated.
What is Neurosis?
While there are certainly far too many different technologies that have at
least some measurable impact on individuals in a social manner to list, there
are a few that are influential enough to focus upon.
These technologies include:
• The internet, particularly web-based social media;
• Interactive media such as video games;
• Mobile phones, especially with the introduction of the smartphone.
Technologies that Affect Social
The basic idea behind social media is simple: An easy-access network that
makes interaction with friends, family, and associates a fast and
This is an interesting example of one technology remedying an issue
created by another. With the transportation boom came the geographical
rift that occurs when family and friends decide to branch away from each
other. This divide sparked the need for convenient interaction, and in that
regard social media certainly fits the bill.
Websites like Facebook now take up a tremendous amount of our time
spent online, and have a far-reaching influence over our day-to-day lives.
In total, Facebook users spend 640,000,000 minutes on the site every
month. Nearly 50% of its key demographic check Facebook as soon as
they get up in the morning. ("Facebook statistics," 2014) Obviously, with
such integration into our lives, whatever impact that social media has on
us, positive or negative, will have a massively substantial effect.
The Social Media
• Over half of the participants in one
study admitted that Facebook
worsened their body image issues.
(Walton, 2012) This increased concern
regarding the perception of their
bodies and self-worth can lead to a
cycle of neurotic thinking.
• Children who engage heavily in social
media are more likely to develop
antisocial personality disorder, a large
indicator of future isolation issues.
• Virtual interaction often replaces face-
to-face interaction, stunting the
development of social skills, especially
• Allows users to stay in contact with
each other despite physical distance or
• Allows the sharing of life events
through text, photos, and videos.
• Some individuals receive a confidence
boost as a result of using social media.
While many people focus on the
negatives when observing themselves
in the mirror or photographs, friends
and contacts are much more likely to
point out the positives of posted
photos, which can lead to self-
assuredness (Shackford, 2011)
Social Media Pros and Cons
The ‘UsVersusThem’ Mentality
A study by the University of Stalford involving the affect of
social media on self-esteem and anxiety was conducted in
2012.When students from the university were asked if the
use of networks like Facebook andTwitter made their lives
worse, 50% of nearly 300 students felt that they did. Upon
further investigation, it seems that this anxiety often came
as a result of comparing themselves to their online friends.
While feelings of inadequacy are certainly a negative result,
there may still be an upside to consider. Jim Rohn, a famous
American entrepreneur, famously said that “you are the
average of the five people you spend the most time with”.
While this quote isn’t meant to be taken literally, it
demonstrates that being the most successful person you
know isn’t necessarily a good thing, as witnessing the
success of others can motivate one to do better. Being more
aware of the accomplishments of friends may inspire one to
pursue more accomplishments of their own.
Video games have garnered a significant amount of negative attention
from the media in recent years. From violence, to sexual content, to
issues with addiction, it seems that games are developing a rather dark
It is the capability to draw users into playing for hours at a time that
raises a red flag about video games in regards to social isolation. As this
interactive medium becomes evermore popular, our society, the youth
in particular, spend more and more time secluded indoors in lieu of
spending time with others.
As video games have many addictive properties, those that play them
may unintentionally segregate themselves from social situations to
spend more time playing. Between turning down invitations to interact
to being less likely to be take the initiative to ask others to do the same,
it is unsurprising that many gamers find themselves in a state of
isolation before realizing it. Due to the fact that isolation is cyclical
(isolation leads to depression, which in turn causes an individual to feel
uncomfortable interacting with others, which exacerbates the isolation,
ad infinitum) it can be very difficult to correct once it has taken hold.
Additionally, pathological gaming has other adverse effects. It has been
found that excessive levels of gaming can lead to depression, anxiety,
social phobias, and diminished school performance. (Vitelli, 2013)
The Grasp of Interactive Media
It is clear that playing video games can lead to social isolation if not
controlled. But is this a big deal? Surely an individual can set limits for
themselves, and balance out the amount of time they spend playing.This
may not be so, as recent studies have found many indicators of genuine
addiction indicators while researching video games.
• Clinics for video game addiction have begun to surface internationally in
response to the rising occurrence of game dependency. (Vitelli, 2013)
• It has been found that the brain activity of a gaming addict with an urge
to play video games is very similar to that of a substance addict’s craving.
Both obsessions share the same neurobiological mechanisms, which
indicates the seriousness associated with game addiction. ("Videogame
craving may," 2008)
Video Game Addiction
Some game companies employ workers, often with a
background in psychology, in positions such as ‘Behavioral
Game Design Specialists’, whose purpose is to
intentionally make video games more addicting for
players. John Hopson, a former employee of Microsoft, was
one such employee and came up with the idea for
unlockable achievements, which keep gamers playing
longer by enticing them with the possibility of raising their
virtual point total, or “gamerscore”. With subscription-
based games and the implementation of downloadable
content (game add-ons that are released for purchase
after a game’s initial release), there is a lot of monetary
incentive to keep players hooked.
The cellphone is a piece of technology that allows us to stay connected with just about
anybody – as long as we aren’t actually with them in person, it seems. Our ever increasing
fascination with smartphones has led to problems with face-to-face interactions by way of
neglecting those around us to constantly check our homescreen for notifications. This common
act demonstrates a shift in priorities that we’re facing as a culture; we often choose to put the
real world on hold to give us time to interact with our handheld devices.
This is a disturbing trend that only seems to be getting worse as smartphones become more
comprehensive, adding new applications and widgets that demand and hold our attention.
Combine this with the fact that phones also allow instant access to our favorite social media
sites, and it’s easy to see how the problems that come from social media now extend further
than the dim glow of our computer monitors.
Time Magazine conducted an online poll of 5000 smartphone users spanning
the globe, and the results clearly show that we are becoming dependant on
our phones to an alarming level.The statistics show that:
• 25% of those polled check their phones at least once every 30 minutes;
• 20% of those polled check their phones at least once every 10 minutes;
• 1/3 admitted to feeling anxious and uncomfortable if away from their
phone for even a short period of time;
• 2/3 actually confessed that they would rather have access to their phone
instead of having lunch if forced to choose.
• 75% of those polled between the ages of 25 – 29 admitted to sleeping
with their phones on a nightly basis.
While the internet, social media, and mobile phones were all designed with
interpersonal purposes in mind, it’s clear that in many cases they have had the exact
opposite effect. It is true that communication and connectivity have been simpler
and more convenient, but that has come at the cost, at least partially, of more
engaging, face-to-face interactions.This is a good example of technology being
accepted despite it not necessarily falling successfully into its intended niche or
completely solving the issue it was designed to iron out.
The Irony of It All
Technology has an immense impact on isolation and neurosis. It is not as simple
as being objectively good or bad exclusively, however, as there are both pros and
cons associated with the way these technologies affect us.
On the positive side, much of today’s technology is focused on keeping us
connected with each other quickly and conveniently. For those who are
geographically secluded, whether for work, school, or personal reasons,
technology may be the only viable way to stay in contact with friends and loved
ones. In these cases, technology could potentially be a factor in preventing the
feeling of loneliness and isolation.
That being said, there is, oddly enough, a case to be made for the harm that the
very same technology is doing regarding the very same issues. Individuals that
are unable to regulate their reliance on phones and social media networks find
themselves feeling isolated, with the only form of personal contact taking place
through a monitor.Video games can exacerbate this problem, attracting players
and getting them hooked to the point of avoided others. Finally, it has also been
shown that the constant exposure to the lives of others, and having our own lives
exposed, may lead to neurotic thinking and behaviour.This stems from the
feeling of always being on display for judgement or from comparing ourselves to
• Facebook statistics. (2014, January 01). Retrieved from
• Gibbs, N. (2012, August 16). Your life is fully mobile. Retrieved from
• Miller, M. (n.d.). Technology obsession creates isolation from society. Retrieved from
• Shackford, S. (2011, March 01). Our facebook walls boost self-esteem, study finds. Retrieved
• Soltero, A. J. (n.d.). The relationship between social media and self-worth. Retrieved from
• Walton, A. G. (2012, April 05). The true costs of facebook addiction: Low self-esteem and poor
body image . Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/04/05/the-true-
• Videogame craving may rev up brain's addiction circuits. (2008, November 11). Retrieved from
• Vitelli, R. (2013, August 19). Are video games addictive?. Retrieved from