Can Digital Technology Improve Resilience?

September 2, 2022


Brad Hook

Resilience is the learned ability to bounce through adversity, stay energized, build strong connections, and stay focused on what matters. 

Organisms adapt to their natural environments over millennia to increase their chances of survival and reproduction. Humans mastered tools like fire and complex language, giving us an edge over apex predators and protecting us from the elements. 

We are a species that invents things to increase comfort and convenience, and this relentless pursuit of creation defines us. 

From tribal groups of 150 members or less, we now connect to our global community via tiny glass screens in our pockets. Is increased connectivity causing increasing anxiety? Are we buckling under pressures we have not yet adapted to?

Resilience: overcoming stress and suffering 

Resilience enables people to overcome hardship and emerge stronger. Those who aren’t resilient are overwhelmed easily and may embrace unhealthy coping methods. 

According to Amit Sood, executive director of the Global Centre for Resiliency and Well-Being, resilience is “the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns.” At the Resilience Institute, we concur - it is the capacity for growth (mental, emotional, physical) amidst and beyond adversity that defines high resilience. Some call this anti-fragility - relishing chaos rather than simply surviving it.

The technology layer

The weather has shaped our behavior for eons. It’s still the staple conversation opener because our climate is the common denominator. “Lovely day out there today?” is a way to assess someone’s level of awareness and emotional state. It establishes trust and connection. But now we have a new atmosphere surrounding each of us, honed by intelligent algorithms that understand our limbic brains better than we do. These are information systems. High-pressure information directs us towards action, while low-pressure systems bring storm clouds of notifications, overwhelm, and distraction. 

How does a full or empty inbox influence your emotional state? How do incessant notifications impact your attention? 

From radio to airplanes, television to the smartphone, technology reflects our aspirations: the drive to connect with others and interact with the surrounding environment. 

The benefits and risks of digital technology  

The benefits of digital technology are indisputable. It is a marker of human progress. Our lives would be far more difficult without it. Yet, it’s not without its risks. On a macro scale, we have cybercrimes like hacking, phishing, and more. On the individual level, digital technology poses risks to our resilience and wellbeing. These include lack of focus, adverse impact on mental health, negative news impact, reduced sleep quality and more. 

Inflicting invisible harm 

Technology platforms are under unprecedented pressure to prioritize growth and engagement, creating a race for attention. Society has suffered significant harm because of this, which isn’t visible to the naked eye. Here are some examples.

Social isolation

Social media were supposed to bring us closer together. Paradoxically, they can have the opposite effect, contributing to social isolation. The more time we spend alone in front of the screen, the less we’re inclined to go out and socialize. The pandemic has fortified this tendency. Moreover, social media use is a reliable predictor of mental illness. A longitudinal study of 11,000 people of all ages showed it predicted the level of anxiety. 

The mere presence of a device can disrupt communication. People’s ability to connect emotionally is diminished if a mobile phone is present, research shows. It’s a powerful distractor. 

Health problems 

A longitudinal study of teens in Holland shows excessive social media use correlates with the emergence of serious cognitive issues, such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and a limited attention span. Unacceptable behaviour related to social media use, such as lying to get access to it, was a predictor of attention deficit in the near future.

Almost a third of US adults report feeling anxious if they haven’t checked social media in the last 2 hours, according to a recent survey. Around half were so addicted that they would check them while driving or having sex. 

As little as one month away from Meta (Facebook) can result in substantial improvement in emotional health, which is closely linked to resilience. A study of around 1,500 adults, who deactivated their profiles after prolonged and regular use of the medium, showed their emotional wellbeing improved significantly. They reported feeling happier and less lonely. 


Young victims of cyberbullying are three times more likely to think about suicide. This form of bullying can be more painful than the “traditional” kind as it’s happening in front of a much larger audience.

Alcohol abuse 

A study showed the amount of time teenagers spent on social media correlated with alcohol use four years later. Perhaps surprisingly, video games, TV, and other digital technology didn’t have this effect. The authors of the study believe repeated exposure to images of role models and peers drinking normalizes this behaviour. 

Last but not least, self-harming videos are circulating on social media, most notably TikTok. The hashtag #selfharm is censored on the platform, but videos of teens harming themselves and other triggering content are widely available for viewing under other hashtags. The hashtag #passoutchallenge had almost half a million views at the time of writing. 


Popular COVID misinformation sites generated more views than WHO, CDC, and other major international health institutions. Studies show that people have used major social networks like Meta to spread misinformation globally. In the first half of 2020, they generated around 3.5 billion views. More than four-fifths of a large sample of misleading posts and articles had no warning label, although Meta claimed to have fact-checked them. 

Meta can reduce the reach of such misinformation by more than 75% by altering its algorithm to downgrade misleading information in news feeds. On the flip side, misinformation can also be traced to mainstream media, who are sponsored by corporate interests. Many fact-checking services are funded by wealthy companies with an interest in silencing alternative views.

How digital technology can improve our resilience 

Digital technology can help connect friends, co-workers, and family where physical connection is not possible for whatever reason. There is also the Digital Technologies for Resilience Inventory, with hundreds of examples of technologies being utilized to make people, families, companies, communities, and governments more resilient. 

The technologies in the inventory emphasize a set of unique challenges related to food security, health, climate, and livelihoods. They are divided between technologies that enable people to respond to traumatic events more effectively and those that help them prepare.

Resilience and smartphones 

Many of the examples in the inventory involve the use of smartphones, which was a bit unexpected as less than 50 percent of the population of developing countries owns smartphones. A lot of the technologies also use ground sensors and geospatial data, which is important for climate resilience. 

Some digital technologies are making use of emerging trends like unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), 3D printing, the Internet of Things (worldwide device connectivity), and artificial intelligence.

Productivity and collaboration apps

Online collaboration tools can save time, among other valuable resources. The average person spends almost 30% of their time at work reading and answering emails and about a fifth looking for and collecting information. That’s about 50% of your time wasted on administrative-type tasks. Productivity and collaboration apps can accelerate the process. By using collaboration software, the staff members of Lexicon Pharmaceuticals could work on a single document in real-time. They saved hundreds of hours and were spared the tedious process of collecting feedback and comments from emails.  

Improve communication

Workplace connectivity improves with online collaboration tools. This is particularly helpful for employees who aren’t physically in the same office, which is becoming more and more common.

Online tools can improve communication even when not working vast distances apart. Helpful, reliable online collaboration tools reduce the risk of employees missing important updates or emails and guarantee that everyone working on the same project stays current.  

Better productivity

Employees have more time for important activities by streamlining work processes and automating certain tasks. Then, they can get more done. This also lets them focus on the tasks that digital tools cannot alleviate. For instance, you can focus on brainstorming great ideas and making the best possible contributions instead of gathering feedback from co-workers on a proposal you’re working on together. 

Apps to improve health 

Physical and mental health is an important component of resilience. Meditation and mindfulness apps have not been around for very long, so research on scientific benefits is not readily available. According to users of these apps, their biggest benefit is stress reduction. This shouldn’t be overlooked because stress is the main cause of many physical and mental health issues and the number one enemy of resilience. The little research that is available indicates that people can feel less stressed for up to two weeks after using one of these apps. People who don’t report this still show physiological signs that the apps are helping to reduce their stress.

Additional benefits of mindfulness and meditation apps:

  • Increase in overall positive emotions
  • Enhanced focus
  • Lower susceptibility to distraction 
  • Increased compassion
  • Improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Self-acceptance improves
  • Reduced aggression and judgment of others
  • Lower levels of fatigue
  • Reduced sense of external pressure

Fitness apps 

Many health and fitness apps offer useful guidelines and tips to help users achieve their health goals. They also give free exercise or workout ideas to help you to plan your routine more efficiently.


People who want to monitor their diet enter what foods they consumed per meal and how much of them in the app, which then calculates the calories, protein, carb, and fat content. It can help them avoid unhealthy foods. It’s easy to track food intake and check your food diary regularly. Research has shown that maintaining a food log or a food diary helps people become more conscious of nutrition. 

Of course, the app itself won’t give you the motivation to stick to your healthy diet. You need to find this within yourself because resilience correlates with health. People who are naturally more resilient will find this easier. 

Most apps allow people to share progress with friends on social networks, which helps motivation grow. They can even create personal workout groups with competitive goals.

Monitor progress 

Apps make it possible to monitor health and fitness progress with one click. You can use fitness apps to record blood pressure or glucose levels, which helps you to track health details. To see if your health has improved, you compare recordings over a period. 

Track daily activities 

By tracking daily activities, your health will improve significantly, according to research. Tracking can make you keep a healthier diet, sleep better, and exercise more effectively just by showing the areas that need improvement. Best of all, this happens in real-time.

Find your balance 

Incoming emails, texts, and notifications are a fact of life for many. Our mindfulness capabilities are being fragmented to a degree never seen before. Going ‘cold turkey’ is not realistic. Here are some effective measures to take to find balance. 

Devices: the enemy of sleep 

Devices are overwhelmingly harmful to the quality of sleep, especially if you use them right before bedtime or, worse yet, sleep in the same room with them. One study compared people reading a print book to people using an e-reader at night. The second group demonstrated delayed melatonin release, slept worse, and felt less rested the following day. 

Many people are tempted to check their devices “quickly”, which often leads to prolonged use. This causes them to have more difficulty falling asleep. 

Final thoughts 

To improve resilience, it’s important to reconnect with nature and positive people and to be disciplined about exposure to news and social feeds. It must be emphasized that digital technologies can’t improve it on their own. What they can do is enable progress, such as improving data collection and analysis, expanding access to information and services, and increasing efficiencies within existing networks. 

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