THEY may be glued to their phones and computer screens but young Scots don’t believe technology is making them happier.

A five year study of youth in Scotland, Canada and Australia has found an apparent love/hate relationship between young people and digital technology.

Researchers at York University found they held both a deeply ingrained and taken-for-granted connection to their phones, while simultaneously feeling despair about “a foreboding sense of technology taking over their lives”.

“From these accounts, it’s clear to me they don’t think technology is the panacea for wellbeing it was once argued to be,” said researcher Kate Tilleczek, who co-edited Youth in the Digital Age: Paradox, Promise, Predicament along with Valerie M Campbell. The young people, aged between 16 and 24, said they wanted more investigation into the ways digital technology was affecting their wellbeing.

“Young people say that digital tools and ways of living are morphing beyond recognition,” said Tilleczek.

“They live a deep modern techno-paradox and are left to their own devices – pardon the pun – to sort it out.”

Tilleczek raised concerns that schools had “too frequently” introduced digital technology without drawing up guidelines on their use that properly considered long term environmental, health or ethical impacts on pupils.

Reporting the research in The Conversation, Tilleczek pointed out that other studies had highlighted how access to technology has been driven by commercial interests and data about outcomes is generated by people who stand to profit.

“Today, when digital surveillance is higher than ever, there is a hollowing out of learning, a shallowness that comes with abuses of privacy and surveillance and from a loss of cherished human contact,” she said.

As part of the research the young people were asked to live without their phones for a week.

Although they reported finding more freedom and focus, some said that without the phone, they lacked the confidence to solve basic problems or feared for their safety.

“Believe it or not I had to walk up to a stranger and ask what time it was,” said one. “It honestly took me a lot of guts and confidence to ask someone.”

Another said: “One thing I didn’t like about not having a cellphone that made me kind of scared at times was if someone were to attack me or kidnap me …

“I really wouldn’t be in any position to get help for myself ...”

Many reported feeling bereft without an instant online connection with one saying that living without his phone was “like the Earth stood still”.

The others around them also saw the effects.

A typical comment was: “My mom thought it was great that I did not have my phone because I paid more attention to her while she was talking.”

Another youth noticed that simply walking “by strangers in the hallway or when I passed them on the street” caused almost everyone to take “out their phone right before I could gain eye contact with them”.

Those researched expressed anxiety about how fast technology was developing, with several feeling they were being exploited by companies.

“Most of their apps and social media apps are geared towards our age group … I don’t know why, it feels like they want to make us do damage,” said Naomi, one participant in the study.

“I don’t know who ‘they’ even is but I feel like we’re just the most vulnerable crowd for them to zone in on, and for them to get as much as they possibly can out of us for their benefit.”

Piper, another young person in the study, said: “It’s good that technology is advancing fast because then maybe it will help some for a good cause.

“But also then there’s the downside of … how do you control it?”

Tilleczek said she had been interested to find they wanted research into “the depth and paradox of young digital lives”, saying that it was necessary to fully understand youth wellness.

As a result of what she heard from the young people in her study Tilleczek has become involved in a global research network concerned with youth and the Anthropocene age – a proposed epoch dating from the start of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

“This network is investigating what it’s like to be young now and how young people navigate wellness in this fragile time,” she said.

Ironically researchers involved in the network have connected with the help of digital media – while also raising concerns about the technological and capitalistic worldview in which these tools are developed.

“It is time to ask whether and how societies will support youth wellness in the Anthropocene and digital age. To do this well, we must engage and listen to young people,” said Tilleczek.

Youth in the Digital Age: Paradox, Promise, Predicament is edited by Kate C Tilleczek and Valerie M Campbell

The Conversation is a not-for-profit media outlet that uses content sourced from academics and researchers