By Megan Flemmit, photography by Pixabay
“We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalise us instead of bringing us together.”
Admit it. You often reach for your phone to check your social media accounts before your eyes are even fully open in the morning. Or you use the last few minutes before going to sleep to check your accounts one last time. Don’t worry you’re not the only one.
Research suggests that nearly 60% of South Africans connect to the internet using mobile devices. Of this number 13 million people use Facebook, 7.4 million people use Twitter, 8.28 million people use YouTube and 2.68 million people use Instagram. One survey even suggests that, on average, South Africans spend nearly three hours a day on Social Media.
But while the purpose of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter is to help you stay connected to others, the increasing number of time you’re spending on these sites could in fact be making you lonely.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine surveyed 1 787 american adults aged between 19 and 32, to determine whether the amount of time they spent on various Social Media platforms could affect their sense of social isolation. They focused on the time participants spent on social media and the frequency of their usage.
The results of the study showed that individuals who spent more than two hours on social media were twice as likely to have an increased sense of social isolation than those who spent less than half an hour a day. Similarly people who visited social media sites more than 58 times a week had triple the odds of feeling socially isolated than those who visited sites less than nine times during the week.
Senior author, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, professor of paediatrics at Pittsburgh and chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, explains they’re not sure which came first – the social media use or the perceived social isolation. “It’s possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It also could be a combination of both. But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations,” she said.
Why You Feel Lonely
There are three factors contributing to your perceived sense of loneliness:
— The more time you spend online, the less time you’re spending creating authentic social experiences which could help decrease feelings of social isolation.
— Stumbling onto pictures or other evidence of events you weren’t invited to might facilitate feelings of exclusion.
— Social media feeds are highly curated to show only an idealised representation of people’s lives. Constant exposure to these feeds may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others live happier and more successful lives, which increases your sense of social isolation.
READ MORE: Searching For Happiness? Ditch Facebook
Not All Bad News
The researchers noted, however, that social media could be beneficial to certain groups of people. Those who have mental health issues or long-term illness could find support groups on social media. The support groups would help them deal with their issues and motivate them to stay positive.
“People interact with each other over social media in many different ways,” said lead author Dr Brian A. Primack, director of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “In a large population-based study such as this, we report overall tendencies that may or may not apply to each individual. I don’t doubt that some people using certain platforms in specific ways may find comfort and social connectedness via social media relationships. However, the results of this study simply remind us that, on the whole, use of social media tends to be associated with increased social isolation and not decreased social isolation.”