Posted by Kym Bidstrup
So called “social” media is killing us.
Talk about a killer app.
We’re FaceTextTweeting ourselves to death.
Social media is a serial killer – it’s lowering life expectancies by the millions.
We should start calling the various platforms “ANTI-social media.”
It turns out that the new mediums we’ve increasingly chosen to communicate with aren’t always connecting us as we imagine.
Instead – as we sit by ourselves in front of our laptops, phones, tablets or whatever – they’re making us feel more isolated.
When we rely too much on social media, we’re lonelier, more disillusioned with our own lives, more envious of others’ and feel more and more alone.
And this kind of social alienation – according to a battery of scientific surveys – is twice as bad for us as being obese and almost as bad as smoking.
Yep, that’s right – OMG! – it’s seriously bad for our health.
And – yes – I’m aware of the irony of posting this article online.
So, what in the world of Facebook statuses or 140 characters is going on?
Let’s get one thing straight; I’m not blaming the technology, nor am I opposed to it.
Tech is morally neutral and I freely admit I “live” on the internet.
But any new technology always arrives before its consequences, so we can rarely predict with any degree of accuracy what effects it will have.
Who could have foreseen the incredible implications of – say – the world wide web itself, for example?
The list is endless.
But in the case of social media, we can’t say we weren’t warned.
For decades, psychologists and social theorists have been warning about a coming Age Of Loneliness.
Well, now we’re in it; the evidence is overwhelming.
Study after study around the world confirm our growing sense of dislocation and alienation.
We’re feeling it in every aspect of our lives – at work, at home and even socially.
(Yes, it’s very, very possible to feel deep loneliness in a crowded room, all the while pretending to be the “life of the party.”)
Social position, financial success, talent, fame – nothing seems to insulate us.
Comedian Robin Williams – whose suicide shocked the world – admitted to a prevailing sense of sometimes unshakeable loneliness.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone,” he once said, “It’s not.”
“The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”
Singer Janis Joplin said shortly before her death that she was working on a tune called, “I just made love to 25,000 people, but I’m going home alone.”
Popular idols Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana, were famously lonely.
Experts are scrambling to explain why – but the usual suspects are our high pressure, time-poor lifestyle, the proliferation of “stay at home” entertainment sources, the disintegration of the family unit, our increasingly transient working lives and a prevailing tendency to ask “what’s in it for me?” before anything else.
Whatever is behind the isolation epidemic, it’s not good for us, big time.
We’re social creatures and we crave human companionship.
Real, face to face human contact.
But the cyber soup of social media in which we’re swimming feels more like cement.
Or quicksand – the more we struggle, the deeper we sink.
The technology is everywhere; we feel we must be part of it.
We have to keep up.
We have to contribute or at least take part.
What are others saying, doing, sharing?
What are we missing when we’re not online?
We mustn’t be left out.
What will others think of us?
Yet the reality is that social media offers so many choices – and demands so much time and such rapid responses – we are often overwhelmed, rather than empowered, and we get stuck.
We feel damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
We are left feeling plugged in…. but tuned out.
There are, of course, many wonderful things about the communication revolution.
We can, if we choose, stay in touch with family and friends, and make new ones, anywhere, anytime.
Distance is no longer a barrier.
All we need is a basic internet connection or mobile phone carrier.
It’s instant, cheaper than it’s ever been historically, and incredibly accessible.
So why then is the most common message we sms something like; “we must catch up?”
We don’t make an actual appointment, a definite date, time and place but rather a vague suggestion, however heartfelt at the time.
It’s what psychologists call “distance regulation.”
We’re actually using the very technology that connects us to distance ourselves emotionally; to keep ourselves safe, to control the level of intimacy – in effect, to reinforce our isolation.
Social media has the power to do this.
Britain’s Mental Health Foundation warns; “social media users can feel forced to present idealised versions of themselves to the world and spend their time comparing their lives to other people’s at the expense of physical social interaction.
“While Facebook can mean getting in touch with a loved one in a distant country, hungering for online responses is far from healthy.
“While the young generation is often thought of as being the most connected, few realise quite how alienating social media and modern life can be. “
And that dislocation – say an overwhelming number of medical studies – is a ticking time bomb.
According to the prestigious New Scientist; “The range of harmful neural and behavioural effects of perceived isolation include increased anxiety, hostility and social withdrawal, fragmented sleep and daytime fatigue, increased vascular resistance and altered gene expression and immunity, decreased impulse control, increased negativity and depressive symptoms, and increased age-related cognitive decline and risk of dementia.”
Collating 70 different studies involving more than three million people, a recent US University meta-study concluded:
loneliness increases a person’s risk of death by 26 percent
social isolation by 29 percent
and living alone by 32 percent
Specialist women’s counsellor Marian Spencer says; “the younger generation are growing up in a world where interaction with others is predominantly through a screen.
“Although communication is taking place, there is no physical interaction,” she says.
“It is very difficult to effectively send or receive messages correctly without facial expression or body language to help decipher the true meaning of the message.”
But it’s not all gloom and doom.
Perhaps the best news about all of this is that we are – to a large degree – in control of our engagement on social media.
And that means we can balance the negative and positive effects.
Even the most extreme prophets of digital doom aren’t recommending a permanent digital detox.
Rather, they say, awareness is the key; genuine awareness of when we’re really engaging…. and when we’re using the tech to avoid it.
When we’re neglecting other aspects of our non-digital life.
When we’re feeling addicted, compelled, rather than making a choice about social media.
And when it makes us feel worse, rather than better.
Hiding in plain sight on social media is easy.
Claiming back our real lives can be a lot more rewarding.