PSYCHOLOGISTS CAN’T SEEM to agree on what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.
As if that uncertainty weren’t vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant data sets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones.”