BY: DUSTIN BATTY
Social media provides many benefits to its users. It allows us to keep in touch with friends from high school that we would have lost contact with. It lets us communicate with people on the other side of the world. It gives us an easy way to keep those we care about informed about the important things in our lives. In short, it allows us to maintain a social life from the comfort of our own homes. So why does it make us feel so alone?
Though social media helps us stay connected, it has been directly correlated with feelings of social isolation.
A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that young adults (aged 19 to 32) who spend a lot of time using social media feel more socially isolated than those who don’t use it as much. This paradoxical result is perhaps not as unexpected as some might think. As is suggested in the study, “frequent exposure to highly distilled, unrealistic portrayals on social media may give people the impression that others are living happier, more connected lives, and this may make users feel more socially isolated in comparison.”
Another reason that social media use can lead to feelings of social isolation is the fact that people sometimes use it to replace physical social interactions. People often assume that online social support networks—which are easier to find than in-person support—will decrease their feelings of social isolation. However, it seems that there is no good substitute for face-to-face interactions.
Social isolation is associated with health risks such as depression and obesity.
Feeling socially isolated is an unfortunate mental state that is associated with a lot of potential health risks, including depression, obesity, and disruptions in sleep, cognition and the immune system.
The study is admittedly ambiguous; although it shows a clear proportional relationship between social media use and feelings of social isolation, it is unclear whether the use of social media causes people to feel isolation, or people who feel more socially isolated use social media more. If it is the first case, then decreasing social media use and spending that time with others face-to-face instead should decrease their feelings of social isolation. If it is the second case, then it seems that their excessive social media use is not helping their feelings of social isolation go away, and an increase in “authentic social experiences” would likely make them feel less isolated. In either case, less time on social media and more time spent interacting with others in person should help.
The best way to feel like part of a social community is to spend time with people face-to-face.
This is not to say that social media is evil and should never be used. It is still useful for catching up with old friends, keeping in contact with people around the world and informing others about big life events. However, your social media life should not be your whole social life; the only way to feel like part of a social community is to unplug for a while and spend time with others in person.