We are more connected, in ways, than ever before. With our smartphones and social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, we can connect with people with an ease that was not available to previous generations. Ironically though, we don’t seem to be any happier as a society. In fact, there is evidence that rates for anxiety, depression, and suicide have gone up in America. This is especially true for teens and young adults. As discussed in my previous blog, relationships are the key to our happiness. Thus, despite our ability to connect with one another through screens, it doesn’t appear that this is resulting in increases to societal happiness. So, we must ask: Is social media causing greater social isolation?
Is Social Media Causing Greater Social Isolation?
A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, also discussed in this CNN article, found that the more young adults used social media, the more they tended to rate themselves as feeling socially isolated. This was a correlational study. So, the researchers couldn’t prove that social media use was actually causing these young adults to feel more socially isolated. It could very well be the case that people who feel more socially isolated are drawn to using social media to “fill the void,” so to speak. It’s likely that the relationship is bi-directional. Thus, people who feel isolated are more drawn to social media and, as they use it more, they feel more isolated.
The Takeaway Regarding Social Media and Social Isolation?
The world is complicated. It’s not correct to vilify social media. There are plenty of benefits to it, and just about all of us experience these on a daily basis. Still, we evolved to relate to one another in-person. Thus, to truly meet our psychological need for connection, we need to have in-person relationships. If some of our connections are through our screens, this can still be okay. But if our social media time begins to displace our in-person relationships, then we will likely pay a price in the form of increased anxiety, depression, stress, and feelings of social isolation. Ideally, our social media use facilitates greater in-person relationships.
There’s an old saying that too much of a good thing isn’t good. For instance, drinking water is a healthy thing to do, but drinking too much can literally kill us. I believe that our social media use falls in this category. It’s fine in small doses. But if we spend too much time with social media, we are displacing the in-person connections that are the true source of most of our happiness. We must never lose sight of this reality.