Every new medium or technology has generated worry—in the 18th and 19th centuries, the then “new” novel was thought to be the ruin of its young female readers. Television, it was feared, would make us numb and dumb. And then came the internet, with mobile and social media on its heels. Taken together, all of these digital technologies and the glut of constant information they provide have widely been thought to increase psychological stress. But according to a new study from the Pew Research Center, frequent use of digital media does not appear to be related to higher stress levels.
In the survey, 1,801 adults were asked about the degree to which they felt their lives were stressful, using an established scale of stress called the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Overall, frequent internet and social media users did not have higher levels of stress, and women who were frequent users of Twitter, email and mobile technologies actually reported lower stress levels. The one circumstance in which social media use did result in higher stress was connected to what is called “the cost of caring”—when people, especially women, learned about adverse events in the lives of friends or acquaintances, their own stress levels increased.
Bring it on—“information overload” is not a problem
Another report released by Pew in December revealed the positive effects of digital technologies on most users. “Rather than crushing them with too much information and making it hard to find useful material, most Americans say the internet and cell phones have brought benefits in learning, sharing and diversifying the flow of information into their lives,” according to the study. In fact, most of those surveyed said that average Americans and U.S. students are better informed than in the past. Of the 1,066 internet users who participated, 87% percent said that the internet and mobile technologies have improved their ability to learn new things. In addition, 72% said they like having a lot of information at their fingertips and only 26% reported feeling overloaded by it.
Two findings of particular interest to marketers and communications professionals: respondents overwhelmingly agreed that digital and mobile technologies have made them better informed about products and services, national and international news, and popular culture. Asked if their internet use made them better informed on these issues compared with five years ago:
- 81% of said that their internet and smartphone use has made them better informed about products and services;
- 75% said that they were better informed about national news, 74% said they were better informed about international news, and 72% said they were better informed about pop culture as result of using digital and mobile media.