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How technology is changing our emotional behavior?

What do you do when you are very stressed? What’s your immediate reaction? Do you take a break, watch a video, or go for a walk? Do you go for a drink or sit before Netflix?

Whatever it is, we try to “cope” in response to stress. Phones and social media are often blamed as the “unhealthy coping” partners, like a bad friend who encourages smoking. But is this really true?

Let’s take another scenario. Why people are checking phones in a theatre or auditorium? There doesn’t seem to be a stressful situation here, right? Or why do kids look into their phones in awkward social meetings or family gatherings?

Our intelligence identifies situations when we might get stressed or bored or irritated and asks us to use strategies that can avoid the “impending lack of psychological comfort”.

While we were busy blaming technology for our troubles, our emotional behavior has already transmuted and evolved with technology in interesting ways -

  1. Coping — where we use our phones to distract ourselves during stress. Most of us use social media this way when we are stressed.

  2. Regulation  — where we use our phones when our mind predicts that there might be a stressful situation awaiting us. I used to have an annoying colleague. Every time he’s about to open his mouth, I used to sigh. I was not stressed yet, I was just managing my emotions in ways that my colleague annoys me less. Emotional regulation is when we try to manage our emotions and body signals before it becomes too stressful for us to handle. We used to do this by sighing, taking deep breaths, taking a walk, talking to friends, etc. But our life has so many mini-moments of probable stress that a phone is much more effective in dealing with it. And ambient. And all-encompassing.

  3. Processing  — Emotional processing is defined as the modification of memory structures that underlie emotions. Okay, in layman terms, it’s changing the logic based on which stress is induced in us.

Phones as an integral part of our Emotion fabric

When we use our phones to interface with our subconscious and try to modify our “rights” and “wrongs”, we are engaging our phones for our Emotional processing.

We do this already, to an extent. Movies, stories, novels — these all help us edit our emotional memory. Most of us aren’t aware when we are doing Emotional processing. And we don’t use our phones much to do this today. But we are getting there.

The real power of the internet is in extending our cognition. It’s just a matter of time before phones morph into emotional processing enablers where we co-create emotional experiences with technology.

For further reading -


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