How technology can make you happier, healthier and more popular

In 1999, the first mobile phone with a camera was spear in Japan. It can store up to 20 images. Today, 350 million photos are uploaded every day on Facebook alone. The average person uses approximately 30 apps each month. For better or for worse, technology is fully integrated into our lives. These everyday technologies, namely our phone applications, are reshaping consumer well-being.

This has led many people to argue that we need to turn off our phones, especially when we are in the middle of an experience, say a concert or a gathering. But I have conducted significant research on the role of taking pictures on our enjoyment of experiences. My research revealed that generating content about an experience can help us enjoy it more, making us feel more immersed in itNot less.

Elevate our senses

Compared to leaving our phone (or camera) aside, taking photos during an experience forces us to search the environment for elements or aspects to capture. As we pay attention to more details, it increases our sense of engagement. The net result: time flies. And if you don’t like taking photos, the same benefit applies to taking notes or texting.

This is different from what most people expect. I found in my research that about 40% of people expect taking photos to reduce their enjoyment of an experience. Another 20% or so said it would have no impact. Many of us are prone to such errors of anticipation. Even if we have a lot of experience with something, we’re not good at predicting how it will affect us in the future.

There is, however, a caveat. In other research, I’ve found that the immersive benefits of taking photos aren’t as clear when the main purpose is to share photos on social networks – instead of taking them for memories. In this case, it depends on the target audience. If we take photos to share with our loved ones, it allows us to connect with other people in much the same way as slideshow parties older generations would host to welcome their neighbors, family and friends.

But nowadays, when we share our photos on social networks, our audience is much wider. It’s easier to worry about being judged or evaluated based on these images – what academics call “self-presentation worry.” The same goes if we’re too focused on capturing the perfect image or how many likes or comments we’re going to get. It can take us out of the experience, reduce our immersion and therefore our enjoyment.

Posed photos vs candid photos

Also for the sake of our image, most of us prefer to post posed photos of ourselves on social media. Posed images are those where we look directly at the camera, in a static pose – the one we believe will make us look our best. We guess showing off this polished, organized version of ourselves will increase our likability. But like my to research showed, candid photos are the way to go if our goal is to make viewers feel more connected to us.

In candid shots, it’s not clear if the person in the photo realizes their image is being captured. Maybe they do, but the viewer can’t be sure. In experiments, participants showed that both photo types were more likely to want to date, be friends with, or generally interact with people seen in candid photos. It was for a simple reason – candid photos made the person seem more authentic.

Of course, reading the context is important. Although we would like to use more candid photos on our dating profiles and other social media, it is advisable to stick to our posed shots on a professional platform like LinkedIn where the purpose is not sympathy.

Sequences as goals in themselves

Another way technology influences our well-being is through its ability to reinforce healthy behaviors. For example, apps can draw our attention to “series,” which is when we’ve repeated a behavior, like going to the gym, at least three times in a row. Being told about a streak increases the chances of continuing the behavior.

My future research shows that in fact, the sequences become objectives in themselves. We do a lot to maintain our streaks when it doesn’t necessarily matter if we miss a day here or there. The result for app developers is that their users may be willing to watch ads or even pay money to “buy a free day” up front or fix a streak.

But apps that also highlight our failings can have a disproportionate demotivating effect. Footage notifications can be a double-edged sword in this sense. Companies might consider notifying users of their footage, but keep quiet when a footage is interrupted because users may simply abandon ship.

Three tips for using social media to your advantage

1. Wait 24 hours before sharing photos of an experience. This will allow you to reap the benefits of taking photos as a tool for deeper immersion, while limiting any associated anxiety. As you go through the experience, you want to avoid worrying about how you look or how many likes and comments your post will garner.

2. Delete social media apps from your phone. This handy tip is intended to help you implement the first one above. Only post to social media from your laptop.

3. Keep an audience close. Many social media platforms allow consumers to divide their followers into different groups. The more content you share with casual acquaintances and even strangers, the more self-presentation issues it can raise.

Donald E. Patel