man poiting at screen with different smiley faces

Technology: A Force for Good or Ill?

Technology can help solve world problems including climate change and geopolitical issues, but devices can also cause serious addiction. Clinical psychologist Dr. Saliha Afridi of Lighthouse Arabia, discusses the pros and cons

We have a love hate relationship with technology. We are so grateful that we are able to accomplish so much within such a short amount of time and yet we are so stressed that we are able to get so much accomplished in such a short amount of time.

As burnout, stress, and mental and physical health conditions are on the rise, many people are pointing to the most obvious scapegoat—invasive and pervasive technologies. But is it too easy to blame the recent rise in mental health conditions on technology?

The short answer is yes and no. I’ll explain…

Camp 1: Yes! I blame technology for our poor mental and physical health:  

  • Increased efficiency equals increased workload. Whereas before we could only arrange for meetings in person at certain places at specific times, now we can virtually meet with anyone from anywhere at any time. That means what would have been two to three meetings a day, is now 8+ hours of Zoom conference calls with the follow-up emails and action points needing to be done when when people are not online, which is code for after working hours. For those of us who work in the Middle East, the 8-hour day can easily extend to 12-14 hours as we try to serve other regions in the world.
  • There are addictive technologies. People jokingly say things like ‘Oh I am so addicted to my phone’ or ‘I can’t live without social media’ without really knowing that they may actually be struggling with a real addiction. Most people do not realise that there is a serious neurochemical, biological and psychological addiction that they can develop, where they spend all their waking time on their devices as they deliver a constant stream of dopamine into our brains. Increased engagement might sound innocent but Internet Addiction Disorder is an actual disease that needs treatment.
Most people do not realise that there is a real neurochemical, biological and psychological addiction that they can develop to their devices
  • Addictive and entertaining technologies encourage unhealthy and passive self-soothing. When we’re physically and mentally exhausted, we seek passive self-soothing instead of an active and engaged lifestyle. And because people are feeling so tired and depleted, they are more likely to engage in behaviors that are numbing or passive during their downtime and on the weekends. Just think – if you’re tired and grumpy, do you make themselves a salad and go to the gym? Or are you more likely to opt for fast food and Netflix, followed by hours of social media scrolling because it requires less energy and makes you feel momentarily better? While passive self-soothing habits do make us feel good in the moment, done over a long period of time, and used as the only way to care for oneself can be draining and harm us mentally and physically.

Camp 2: No, technology is not to blame, humans need to take responsibility for their health:

  • Unconscious use of technology. It is not technology that is the issue but our unconscious use of it. There are people on this planet who have social media, answer their emails, engage in hybrid working, and are able to live healthy, engaged, meaningful lives – which means it is not technology that is the issue but the way it is being used. Most people are engaging in unconscious technology use versus conscious, considered, deliberate use that improves their life and productivity, and putting that above their personal and professional life.  
  • Technology is more than just phones, personal computers and social media. Technology impacts almost every area of our life and has made it easier for us to build cities, create globalisation, grow economies, travel, farm, communicate and do business. Overall technology has improved the quality of life for the majority of the world’s population.
Technology can be a source of good helping with climate change problems
Technology can also be harnessed for the greater good
  • Technology, when used right, can be a force for good. When used consciously it not only makes us more aware, but also helps us solve major world problems such as detecting and treating physical and mental health conditions while helping us to combat climate change, discrimination, and geopolitical issues. If we ask someone who has a pacemaker in their heart, or someone who is able to walk with a prosthetic leg or someone whose house is being powered by solar panels whether technology is a force for good or ill, they might have a different answer than an overworked, burnt-out executive, or a teenager hooked to video games. 

American president John F. Kennedy said: ‘Technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether they become a force for good or ill depends on man.’ The reality is that technology has been, and will be a common existence in people’s lives, and it will continue to be so. The pace of life is getting faster, connectivity and accessibility will make work and life even more fused. If we are aiming for longevity, and a healthy mind and body, we must have a relationship with technology whereby we are in control rather than algorithms, codes, and AI. In other words, we must use technology or technology will use us.  

If we forget our humanity and keep pushing our mind and our body as we are currently doing, the price for our ‘advancement’ will be our physical and mental health.

But If we take ownership and accountability and are conscious and deliberate about our lifestyle habits and how we spend our days, technology has been and can continue to be a force for good.

Dr Saliha Afridi discussing technology

If you are struggling with any of the mentioned behaviours, you can reach out to The Lighthouse Arabia here

Subscribe to The Ethicalist and Help Save the Planet!

We’ve joined up with One Tree Planted who plant trees around the world to help global reforestation efforts. For every person who joins our tribe we’ll plant a tree in Kalimantan, Indonesia on their behalf. So sign up below to receive more of our exclusive stories and we’ll let you know when your tree is in the ground!