The advancements of technology are, at face value, meant to make life easier. But according to Dr. Luis Almeida, associate professor of communications at Lee, they're destroying the mental health of most regular users.
Ninety-five percent of Americans now own a cellphone and nearly eight out of ten U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop, according to 2017 research by Pew Research Center. And CNN reported in 2016 that Americans spend more than 10 hours a day devoted to screen time.
These sorts of staggering numbers were a rude awakening for Almeida, who started seeing symptoms of health problems in himself as a result of his consistent media use.
Originally from Brazil, Almeida moved to the United States when he was 24 years old. After seeing the value in technology early on, Almeida chose to turn his passion into his career focus.
Deciding to conduct his dissertation in video gaming, he went on to produce many video games along with podcasts and tutorials.
Almeida had no idea that his passion for technology was causing a dire effect to his health.
“In 2011, my second year in Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I got very sick,” Almeida said.
Experiencing a dizziness that resulted in having to use a golf club as a cane, Almeida decided to search out an answer. After undergoing several tests, all with negative results, a conversation with a psychiatrist provided the answer he was looking for.
He learned that the cause of his trouble was an imbalance in his right ear, a diagnosis called uncompensated labyrinthitis.
“You have stressed your body to a degree that has caused your inner ear to be unbalanced,” Almeida’s psychiatrist said.
Plunging further into the depths of the problem, Almeida began to recognize a link between the use of technology and his dizziness.
“I started noticing that every time I looked at a cell phone I got dizzier,” Almeida said. “I started to think about this and I said, ‘Man it feels to me that the more that I use those computerized devices, cellphones, laptops, you name it, the more that I become like a computer.’”
The feeling of operating like a computer can result in anxiety when people are unable to keep up with the demands of their daily lives.
“Six in ten people want to get something immediate,” Almeida said. “That’s a cause of anxiety—because if you cannot do something immediate it can cause you anxiety. That’s why we also have a problem with anxiety in Millennials.”
Having noticed a similar trend, Dr. Nancy Cheever, professor and chairperson in the Communications Department at California State University, recently conducted research on the link between cellphone use and anxiety.
“If you're constantly connected, you're going to feel anxiety,” Cheever said in an ABC News article. “The more people feel anxiety, that can lead to other things like mental health and physical ailments.”
Determined to do something about society’s overuse of technology, Almeida began a movement called Escape the Machine in 2014.
“This is the meaning of what we are trying to accomplish. Escape the Machine is a call to action for folks to use technology in moderation,” Almeida said. “Escape the Machine is trying to say, ‘No, value your health!’”
Thanks to his intense research and knowledge, Almeida has given TED talks throughout the country and taught multiple classes and seminars on the topic.
Alyssa Durham, a senior public relations major, recently began working for Almeida at the beginning of the fall 2017 semester.
“I think it comes down to getting so caught up in technology—whether that be cellphones, or laptops or watching Netflix. We really do tend to ignore the warning signs that our bodies are giving us, mentally or physically,” Durham said. “Mentally, it leaves us in a rut where we are not noticing the fact that we are exhausted and need to take a break.”
Zackery Dean, a junior public relations major, quickly caught on to Escape the Machine’s vision.
Having experienced the damaging effects of technology in his family, he too sees the need for moderation.
“A lot of my anxiety issues and my family’s anxiety issues that I’ve witnessed have come from being burned out on technology usage,” Dean said.
This past summer, Dean interned for the Department of State with their Office of Press Relations. He was struck by the amount of time people in the professional world spend in the cyber realm.
“People in D.C. never look up from their phones at all,” Dean said. “I think it’s because it is such a fast-paced environment.”
Durham has also personally experienced anxiety related to use of technology, and she shares Almeida’s vision for a society that uses technology in moderation.
“We want Escape the Machine to be around Lee and Cleveland for a long time,” Durham said. “It’s not about Escape the Machine; it’s about providing people with the facts to give themselves wellness in their lives.”