Autumn is the season for new beginnings. Young people are back at school and parents are returning to the office – making this the ideal time of year to reflect on how we spend our time and what we can do to balance work and life.
As the days get shorter, darker and busier technology has the power to make our lives easier, but also the capacity to make them infinitely more complicated. In our pockets we hold the key to improving our physical and mental health through fitness, meditation and time management apps. On the other hand, smartphones can also damage our mental health through access to social media and ever-present news alerts delivering a brand-new reason to be anxious.
The top tech stories of the month reflect an increased focus on the power of tech to cure societal ills and also to exacerbate them.
Health tech is certainly having its moment. New inventions have the ability to monitor our health in ways that would have been inconceivable in the past. Probably in part due to the pandemic driving an increase in need for virtual health solutions, devices like Fitbit which were initially conceived to track fitness goals are now able to detect everything from skin temperature, stress and oxygen saturation to breathing rate.
Fitbit's new snore detection feature gives a more holistic view of the user’s health by detecting abnormalities in sleep. Scientists have also devised a T-shirt that monitors the heart rate of the wearer with more accuracy than a chest strap. It's safe to say that we can expect more health tech innovations on the horizon.
In addition to new technology that can potentially cure our physical woes, stories about the impact of social media on our mental health have dominated the headlines this month – and with good reason.
With the Age Appropriate Design Code coming into effect this month and sending shockwaves through the tech community, a spotlight has been shone on the potentially harmful impact of social media and unregulated internet access on the mental wellbeing of children and young people.
In August, Apple announced plans to begin scanning iCloud to detect photos of child sex abuse. The initiative was widely criticised by child privacy campaigners, which led to Apple indefinitely postponing the launch of the software earlier this month.
After revelations that Facebook knew about Instagram's negative effects on the mental health of teenagers but did not act, a UK lawmaker, who is scrutinising the new heavily-critiqued Online Safety Bill, called for Facebook to be punished if they withhold evidence that social media channels can harm users.
Some social media companies are taking actions to combat the negative impacts of their platform on users' mental health. Earlier this month, Twitter began testing a new safety mode to silence abuse and trolling on their platform. TikTok has also begun to roll out a new feature to help users that may be having suicidal thoughts. If users search terms such as 'suicide' they will be directed towards mental health support and local resources in their community.
While small, these actions have the power to really impact lives for the better. It's common knowledge that technology opens the door to endless possibilities for solving physical and mental health issues, while also potentially causing significant harm to our mental health. As we enter the Autumn months, we all have to strike a balance to determine how much, and in what ways, we allow our tech to influence our daily lives.
That's all for our September tech news roundup. Want to receive daily alerts to the top stories in tech? Sign up to Firewire here.