Impact of digitization on people

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Digital stress

According to a study on “Young people in digital time stress” by the Institute for Youth Culture Research commissioned by Saferinternet.at and ISPA (Internet Service Providers Austria) from 2019, 35 percent of young people in Austria already perceive digital time stress. This arises mainly from the following factors:

– “excessive” cell phone use: many young people are annoyed when people around them constantly look at their cell phones – this applies to friends as well as parents. 55% are even bothered by the fact that they themselves look at their cell phones too much.

– The stress of having to reply immediately: Since most messengers show the sender of a message when the recipient has read it, many people expect a quick reply. This can create pressure to respond immediately. Groups in social networks, where sometimes hundreds of messages are exchanged daily, increase this stress.

– Constant availability: In addition, young people – and adults, too – often have their cell phones within easy reach during the night, so that in the morning, as soon as they wake up, they glance at the display – where, in turn, they may have accumulated notifications that provoke reactions.

A 2015 study conducted by the Media Convergence Research Center at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz also found that many messages sent and received, as well as so-called “Internet multi-tasking,” (using online content while doing other activities at the same time), lead to digital stress. This can have a negative impact on mental and physical well-being. For younger study participants, Internet multi-tasking was the main source of stress, while older participants tended to suffer from too many incoming messages.

Problem: FOMO

Fomo, short for: “Fear of missing out”, is a particular stress factor when using digital media. This feeling can have various causes:

  1. social networks nowadays make it possible to find out what acquaintances and friends are doing at any time. However, if you observe others doing something without being there yourself, this can lead to a feeling of exclusion.
  2. 2 What is shared on social networks is, of course, only the “polished” part of other people’s lives. Unfortunately, you are rarely aware of this when you scroll through the pictures and posts of others, and quickly feel bad for not having such great experiences yourself.
  3. a flood of options: The tremendous amount of choices in terms of one’s lifestyle that seem attainable can also cause stress: should I have gone to a concert instead of a movie? Wouldn’t the other job have been much better?
  4. permanent information overload: the impossibility of always being up to date and reading all new posts can cause immense pressure. In social media, this pressure is intensified by techniques such as infinite scroll to keep people on the relevant platform for as long as possible.

A first step to freeing oneself from digital stress in the private sphere is to know about these mechanisms and be aware of how to deal with them. Another step is “digital detox,” i.e., consciously switching off or putting away digital media and turning off all notifications that are not absolutely necessary.  

Digitalisation and occupational safety and health (OSH)

A research programme by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) focused on the following topics:

 – What the opportunities of digitalization are

– how they affect people’s working lives, safety and health

– Challenges faced and how they are being addressed to maximize the opportunities of digital technologies and improve working conditions, among other things. 

Digitalization is rapidly changing the world of work. The goal of the EU-OSHA research program is to provide policy makers, researchers, and workers with credible information on the potential impact for occupational safety and health so that timely and effective safety measures can be taken for the health of employees.

Here are some quotes from the study that give an idea of what the most important factors are in the digitization of the workplace:

„There is a risk of work-related stress due, for example, to being monitored at work, working alongside robots or, in some sectors, job insecurity. However, wearable technology is also used to help individuals monitor and manage stress..“

“Overall, work-related stress, anxiety and depression are common because of the precarious nature of most jobs, job insecurity, work intensification, working for multiple employers, continual monitoring, working alongside robots and pressure from AI systems to increase productivity (known by some as the ‘digital whip’). Cyber-bullying is also common in many workplaces, across many sectors.”

A  high pace of technological change could cause mental health problems or exclusion from good-quality work for those unable to cope with constant change or ‘newness’ (sometimes referred to as ‘technostress’) (Suh and Lee, 2017).

 The researchers also thought about possible future scenarios for the world of work:

“Generally, people work alongside AI systems or ‘cobots’, and many are supervised, assessed, coached, managed and monitored by AI. This can put excessive cognitive load on some individuals. Others suffer stress/anxiety due to the loss of control or responsibility and peer support at work or are concerned about how much they are monitored.” 

“People are generally better able to balance personal and work-related demands due to the highly flexible nature of most work. In addition, AI supervisory algorithms are built into work interfaces to prevent unhealthy working practices. However, stress can still be an issue for some people because of the temptation to work intensely; the blurring of work and private life; increased task complexity; being continually monitored; the expectation to conform; and the loss of human interaction at work. As a consequence of automation, robotisation and AI, some workers may also suffer from stress due to task deprivation, for example not having enough to do, their job being monotonous or their job not requiring them to use their cognitive skills.”