The report from the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center asked technology experts, scholars and health specialist to share an anecdote about how digital life has changed their daily lives and those around them.
Responses included both the ups and downs of being constantly connected, like director of the Media Psychology Research Center Pamela Rutledge, who said Facebook helped her 90-year-old father connect with children and grandchildren spread across the country.
“Reading and commenting on their posts gave him the ability to participate in the process of their lives,” said Rutledge. “Knowing what the family members were doing increased his sense of involvement and the overall intimacy he experienced with them all.”
Retired research scientist and professor Srinivasan Ramani said the internet allowed him to stay in touch with his daughter when she left India to attend college in the United States around 1993.
“My wife had, to that point, carefully stayed away from the dial-up terminal I had on my study table at home for years. Now, she suddenly demanded to be introduced to the system,” said Ramani. “Our daughter was, for the next four years, our daughter on the net!”
The report highlights that technology is both a blessing and a curse, with the always-working mentality that comes from having access to the internet 24/7 and how some people can feel overwhelmed from the prospect of being in touch with employers or work tasks.
Simeon Yates, a professor of digital culture at the University of Liverpool, noticed a person’s workload can increase with our digital lives dominated by email and time-management tools that constantly pile up, which can have a negative impact on a person’s health.
“But digital life is also good,” said Yates. “Nearly everything we do for enjoyment has been helped by tools and apps: Going climbing (using an app for route guidebook), reading (endless access to books), music (endless access to music), film (endless access to film and TV), keeping in touch with friends and family, organizing time together. All of these are much easier.”
There’s also the human element, where people butt heads on political ideologies. In the case of social psychologist Rosanna Guadagno with the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University, it happened through a Facebook post.
She lost many friends during the 2016 presidential election due to a divisiveness caused by the spread of misinformation on social media. She shared a New York Times story on her Facebook wall about the honesty of the candidates, which said Donald Trump was the least honest.
“Some of my Republican friends thought this was a joke and laughed in response to it,” said Guadagno. “I ended up unfriending a couple of my Republican friends. It made me sad, distressed and confused, and my Facebook use never returned to pre-2016 levels because these things kept happening.”
But the majority of respondents say their digital lives benefited many of the dimensions of their careers, social and home lives.
Primary researchers in the study include Janna Anderson, director at Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and Lee Rainie, director at Internet and Technology Research at Pew Research.