By Ric Epley
Tech stress is the negative psychological link between people and the introduction of new technologies. Craig Brod, a psychotherapist and consultant on integrating new technologies into the workplace, was one of the first to define tech stress. Brod’s description of tech stress as a “modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with new computer technologies in a healthy manner” (Brod, 1984). Tech stress is not a modern issue. Since men appeared on Earth, there have been technical problems that caused frustration, anxiety and even the existence of the species. Some millions of years ago, we enter what is called the Stone Age. The first major technologies, then, were tied to survival, hunting, and food preparation in this environment. Fire, stone tools and weapons, and clothing were technological developments of major importance during this period (Leakey, 1981). Not having any of them when needed was a steep negative outcome. This is was stress at it’s highest level.
The French-Canadian adventure film, La Guerre du Feu (Quest for Fire) is set in Paleolithic Europe (about 80,000 years ago) with its plot surrounding the struggle for control of fire by early humans. Fire was essential to their daily lives and since they were unable to create fire, they guarded the flame with everything they had[National Geographic, 2004]. This had to be stressful!
The wheel is often quoted as the single most important advance in early technology at around 3000 BC. But, as the cartoon below illustrates, there are stressors with new technologies.
Moving ahead to the 15th century, prior to the rise of the Internet, no innovation did more for the spread and democratization of knowledge than Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. His machine improved on already existing presses through the use of a mold that allowed for the rapid production of lead alloy type pieces. This assembly line method of copying books enabled a single printing press to create as many as 3,600 pages per day [AwesomeScience, n.d.]. Other technological milestones such as the domestication of the horse, the light bulb and the compass, gunpowder, steel, currency, among many others. The telegraph was the first in a long line of communications breakthroughs that later included radio, telephones and email. The steam engine was also a huge breakthrough (Andrews, 2012).
In 1947, Bell Labs introduced the transistor. Originally used in radios, transistors have since become an elemental piece of the circuitry in countless electronic devices including televisions, cell phones and computers. The amount of transistors in integrated circuits doubles nearly every two years—a phenomenon known as Moore’s Law—so their remarkable impact on technology will only continue to grow.
All of these technologies (and many, many more) provided new growth and opportunities for humankind; and stress that accompanied it. Either from early models that did not work as intended or from lack of being able to get the invention, etc. During his lifetime, the great Leanardo Da Vinci was not coveted for his artistic ability in so much as his technological and/or military inventions [Leonardo da Vinci, 2017. ] However, never in human history has this stress and acceleration of it been so prevalent as it is right now at this very moment. With the various inventions throughout human history, none are as impactful in our minute-by-minute lives as is the smartphone. Coupled with the internet and various derivatives from both, we have “connection” and widespread accessibility through Wi-Fi and other means causing lots of various problems including nearsightedness, neck pain, sleep disturbances and more. Since these technological advancements have occurred so recently as in the last decade or so, it is fair to say that we have no idea of what other issues they are creating.
Early Modern Tech Stress
Modern tech stress is a result of altered habits of work and collaboration that are being brought about due to the use of modern information technologies at (sic) office and home situations (Sami, 2010). In a study conducted by Tarafdar et al entitled The Impact of Technostress on Productivity, five conditions are defined as causation for tech stress. 1) “Techno-overload” describes situations where use of computers forces people to work more and work faster. 2) “Techno-invasion” describes being “always exposed” where people can potentially be reached anywhere and anytime and feel the need to be constantly connected. The 40-hour workweek is no longer the norm, people can and do work all hours from all locations and are accessible 24/7. 3) “Techno-complexity” describes situations where the complex computer systems used at workforce people to spend time and effort in learning and understanding how to use new applications and to update their skills. People find the variety of applications, functions, and jargon intimidating and consequently feel stressed. This happens very rapidly now as software is changing at an extreme pace. 4)“Techno-insecurity” is associated with situations where people feel threatened about losing their jobs to other people who have a better understanding of new gadgets and computing devices. This is especially true for baby boomers and even some Millenials (Wolfe, 2012). 5) “Techno-uncertainty” relates to short life cycles of computer systems. Continuing changes and upgrades do not give people a chance to acquire experience with a particular system. People find this unsettling because their knowledge becomes rapidly outdated and they are required to re-learn things very rapidly and often (2007).
Mark Prensky, in a two-part series titled “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” described a generation gap between today’s students (digital natives) and their teachers (digital immigrants). His analogy holds true for baby boomers too. The digital divide along this native/immigrant fault line exists and is widening for several reasons (Wolfe, 2012).
As early as the 1990s, Richard Hudiberg developed a “Hassle Scale Measuring System” to evaluate the kinds of stress technology was causing. After surveying 1199 college students using computers, he reported the following results:
The three severity of hassles scores from the Computer Hassles Scale have been shown to correlate with reports of somatic complaints and anxiety reactions (e.g., headaches, nausea or upset stomach, trembling, feeling fearful, feeling pushed to get things done). Therefore, those who report high severity of hassles tend to report high levels of somatic complaints and anxiety reactions. It might be concluded that the person is experiencing a high level of tech stress (Hudinberg, 1996).
The initial early modern stressors were computers, pagers, cell phones and other devices as stated in Murrary (sic) & Rostis’s study (as cited in Barley, Grobal, & Meyerson, 2011). These devices cause stress because they make it easier for work to spill into times and places formerly reserved for family and self (Walz, 2012). Of course, all these items have increased exponentially with the advent of the internet (http://www.tech-stress.com/1-3-early-dependency-on-the-internet/), the widespread use of Wi-Fi (http://www.tech-stress.com/1-4-wifi-zones-and-staying-connected/) and the various results from the invention of the “pocket computer’s” increasingly widespread ownership manifested in the smartphone. The smartphone is a phenomenon. It’s different views across generations (http://www.tech-stress.com/1-5-how-the-smartphone-is-viewed-by-different-generations/ ) and the multiple effects of its use (http://www.tech-stress.com/1-6-are-ux-and-tech-stress-synonymous/), including one original usage result study correlating it with neck pain (http://www.tech-stress.com/smartphone-usage-and-neck-pain-introduction/) make the smartphone the single largest technology inducing stressor mankind has ever witnessed.
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