The United States is no stranger to self-improvement, from the meditation and essential oils of the 60s to the Jane Fonda aerobics tapes of the 1980s and the fat-free-everything 1990s. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841, sounding a bit like a modern SoulCycle instructor. From these deep roots, the $11 billion self-improvement industry has grown.
Today, like so much around us, that industry is heavily influenced by tech. Our focus is shifting away from the actual self — our bodies, minds, and spirits — and toward data about the self. With iEverythings around us at all times, we expect our steps to be enumerated, our REM cycles to be recorded, and our breathing patterns to be measured. It’s not enough to just feel better — we need our devices to affirm that we are doing the work.
Everyone agrees that Millennials are an overwhelmingly “plugged in” generation. 85% of Millennials own smartphones, and 80% sleep with their phones beside them in bed. I am one such Millennial.
Other research suggests, however, that Millennials seem to find technology stressful. Surveys have shown that technology is causing us all — Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers — more stress. But according to both a recent study by the University of Cambridge and a recent study by the University of Southern California, Millennials are even more stressed out by technology than older generations are. Moreover, a 2014 study out of California State University suggested that Millennials regard not being around their smartphones as a major anxiety trigger. So we’re stressed when we’re around our phones, but also stressed by their absence.
As David Ellis, director of communications studies at York University in Toronto, recently told the PEW Research Center,
I came to mindfulness as a healing practice after overcoming an addiction to Adderall during my junior year of college. I found myself in this situation because I thought that using Adderall to help me focus was no big deal — an attitude shared by 81% of students nationwide.
Adderall simply seemed like an innocuous shortcut to getting things done – and to do so efficiently yet effortlessly. I still remember the rush I felt my first night on Adderall: I completed every page of assigned Faulkner reading (not easy), started and finished a paper several weeks before the due date (because why not?), Swiffered my room (twice) and answered all of my unread emails (even the irrelevant ones). It’s also probably worth noting that I had forgotten to eat all night, and somehow found myself still awake at 4 a.m., my jaw clenched and my stomach rumbling.