Get Used to Technology Burnout

Social media fatigue is here, but this isn't the first or last time technology has overburdened humans

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It's happened: too much Internet socializing. Humans can't handle any more--they're tuckered out. Or at least that's what the New York Times's Stephanie Rosenbloom says in her piece "For the Plugged-In, Too Many Choices." "The relentless pressure to partake of the newest networks was underscored in June with the debut of Google+, Google’s social networking site. According to Nielsen, social networking is now the most popular online activity, ahead of sending e-mails, searching the Internet and playing games." Amid this "relentless pressure," Rosenbloom profiles those struggling with their social media fatigue--they're addicted and they can't handle it, so they're taking a stand and opting out. But this isn't the first or probably last time that technology has and will overburdened the masses--it's happened before, and you can bet it will happen again with whatever's next.

News Fatigue. As media migrated from print to online platforms and cable news stations with 24-hour coverage popped up, people could find news anywhere and anytime. By at least 2005, possibly sooner, the fatigue set in, at least for SFGate's Mark Morford. "Whatever the reason, news fatigue is rampant right now. Do you feel it? Have you succumbed? My media colleagues complain of it and regular readers lament it almost every day: people are, apparently and quite understandably, deathly sick of the media and sick of the news."

A 2008 study confirmed his sentiments, finding that young adults couldn't handle the news. "A key finding was that participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting but had difficulty immediately accessing such content because they were bombarded by facts and updates in headlines and snippets of news."

Over E-Mail. There was a time when the words "You've Got Mail" defined the Internet. Part of the excitement of the Web was how easy it was to send and receive messages--a new e-mail was fun, not dreadful. But, oh how things changed, explains Lifehacker's Adam Dachis.

You may not like spending long amounts of time in your inbox, but you probably think about checking it pretty often. When you hear that ding (or vibrate), you know there's something waiting for you. To make things worse, because you do not receive email at set intervals and you don't know if that email is going to be something you want, your curiosity is piqued the moment the ding occurs just so you can find out if you've received something you want or if it's a waste of your time. 

E-mails became both mundane and annoying, especially with the proliferation of spam. The novelty wore off and checking email became a burden, leading to email burnout, as a marketing study confirms, which noted that Americans are opting out of opening and engaging with their e-messages. "In North America, less than one out of every three recipients opened marketing emails and clicked on a link."

Maxed-Out on Social Media. Social media has overtaken other online activities as the most popular Internet passtime, according to Nielson, reports Rosenbloom. And there are oh so many sites out there. Just as the shine wore off of e-mail and online news, social networks have become tarnished. "I'm on tech overload," Jessica H. Lawrence, a recovering social media addict of sorts, told Rosenbloom. Lawrence admits to loving Twitter, but also explains that she can't handle all the social media, and thus just sticks to the one service. "In a time when anyone with Internet access is expected to be engaged on multiple networking sites and keep a day job, Ms. Lawrence decided to focus on a singular site rather than to spread herself thin among a half-dozen."

This social media burnout might be peaking, but it's not new. A Pew study from 2009 documented the rise of the social-media addiction and burnout, reported CNN. "The report, written by John Horrigan, the project's associate director of research, says 7 percent of Americans use the Internet as their primary means of social communication and also feel conflicted about that fact. These online social network users, which Horrigan calls 'ambivalent networkers,' are so connected they feel like they can't quit." Since then social media has gotten even more popular. More networks equals more overload equals more burnout.

No More Internet. The Internet has been around for awhile now, but constant connectivity it relatively new. Those who access the Internet on the go tend to have much more active online presences, the Pew report found. "Mobile connectivity is now a powerful differentiator among technology users. Those who plug into the information and communications world while on-the-go are notably more active in many facets of digital life than those who use wires to jack into the internet and the 14% of Americans who are off the grid entirely." All Internet, all the time, is only making things worse, explains Dachis. "Back when we were tethered to desktop computers, this wasn't such a problem. First of all, technology had yet to proliferate in society at the enormous level it has nowadays, but more importantly we didn't have little computers (read: smartphones) that we could stick in our pockets. "

For Josh Kaufman, the author of The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, it's gotten so out of hand, he needs to  limit his Internet time, Rosenbloom reports. "When he has to focus, he relies on Freedom, a productivity application that blocks the Internet for up to eight hours. Alternatively, he configures his computer so that when he tries to point his browser to, say, Google+, the computer takes him to a page on the desktop instead."

So you're probably obsessed with some technology now and you will probably weather another addiction to some other shiny new gadget or Internet doodad--get used to it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.