Does New Technology Really make People Happy?

We live in a consumer culture. In our modern, industrialized world, few are concerned with the ancient issue of survival. We don’t worry about whether or not our children will survive the winter or if our crops will provide enough food in the event of a drought. No, most citizens of first world nations have less pressing concerns. But even if these concerns aren’t really matters of life and death, the absence of real threats elevates our (relatively) inconsequential worries to levels of high importance. Thus, we become fixated on certain goals or interests that our ancestors never would have had the time to pursue.

For some, this means sports or other forms of entertainment. For others, it might have to do with a desire to improve one’s own physical body, and for the vast majority of Americans, it’s all about making purchases. Whether consciously or not, we tend to apply value to ourselves—and to others—based upon what they have and what they can afford. This has led to a society in which new technological innovations are released almost yearly. Mobile smart devices have only been around for a few years, but Apple is getting ready to release the iPhone 6. iPhone users are expected to upgrade their phones approximately every six months, and many are eager to comply. However, the real question regarding purchasable technology is a deceptively simple one. When we drop a few hundred (or even thousand) dollars on some unnecessary gadget or device, does it, in fact, make us happy? 

Well, to start, there is certainly an adrenaline rush of excitement when we make new purchases. That alone could be considered happiness were it not generally so short lived. However, buyer’s remorse often sets in not long after. Real happiness must be longer lasting. Thus, the question of whether technology can make people happy needs to be focused on what it can do for us.For example, let’s take a look at the modern automobile. Few could argue that the invention of the car made it easier for people to safely travel long distances in a short amount of time. On the other hand, motorized vehicles carry with them their own commitments, including the need for expensive fuel, maintenance, and insurance. So, when one weighs the benefits against the costs (both financial and personal) of car ownership, in which direction does the scale tip?

Home automation providers such as Vivint, or ADT believe that smart home technology can make life easier. Indeed, home automation has been proven to increase home energy efficiency and to reduce the time spent on household chores. It also allows homeowners to better enjoy their time away from home through the use of remote monitored security systems. Those who have embraced home automation would suggest that it really has improved their quality of life. Likewise, businesses that use the latest technologies as tools in the workplace make it easier for employees to do their jobs, thus decreasing employee stress and lowering employee turnover rates.

These applications make aspects of our lives easier, and we often interpret “ease” as “happiness.” Then there are technologies that are designed for the sole purpose of entertainment. A large portion of the people who are using the internet at any specific moment aren’t doing it for any reason other than to pass the time. Even purely informational sites are leaning in the direction of entertainment in the hopes that their content will be enjoyed by enough people that it will “go viral,” but web surfing comes with its own costs and dangers. People may become exposed to unsettling ideas or images, and malicious online programs might infect their systems or compromise their personal data.

Of course, technology has grown to assist us with these problems as well, providing advanced threat protection that allows users to enjoy technology without taking risks. Is enjoyment happiness? Is entertainment? Do all of these advancements together make us, as a society, happy? It’s impossible to say. The United States is one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet, and yet it also has one of the highest percentages of clinically depressed people. However, there are too many factors involved to be able to draw empirical connections between the two points.

When asked directly, most people are quick to confirm that technology has improved quality of life. Many focus on the ease of modern communication or the instant gratification that it entails. However, some are less happy about the need to always be connected while others complain that technology has had a negative impact on society’s “people skills.” Whether it’s improving the quality of our lives or not, one thing seems obvious: In our modern consumer culture where products and services have become goals in and of themselves new technology isn’t going anywhere. It’s up to each of us personally to evaluate our own lives and ask ourselves, Does this make me happy?