There’s no doubt that social interaction is a healthy and essential part of human existence; most people flourish when they enjoy strong, positive relationships with other people – a fact that has been borne out by several studies. However, our need to interact socially may be getting out of hand, if the amount of time we spend on Facebook every day is anything to go by. James B. Stewart, writing for the New York Times reports that almost half an hour is spent on Facebook daily, while many smartphone users have made a habit of checking their social media apps first thing every morning, sometimes even before they get out of bed.
It’s already on record that use of social media in communication undermines face to face relationships and can reduce the amount of time spent doing meaningful activities. Social media also increases reclusive behaviour, can lead to internet addiction and erosion of one’s self-esteem occasioned by negative social comparisons. When people misrepresent their lifestyles on social media, they lead others to believe that their lives are not as good as their counterparts’, creating a sense of less self-worth among social media users. Still, another school of thought holds that it could be a case of people with lower well-being taking to social media rather than social media being the cause for lower well-being.
A study by Shakya HB and Christakis NA sought to find out what kind of relationship exists between social media use and well-being. The study entitled Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study, using a sample of 5208 adults maintained by the Gallup organisation, sought to find out how well-being changed over time due to Facebook usage. The parameters used to measure well-being were life satisfaction, self-reported physical health, self-reported mental health, and body-mass index (BMI), while the measure of Facebook usage included how many times one “likes” of other’s posts, the creation of individual posts, and clicking on links. The subjects in the study were required to name up to four friends with whom they discussed important matters and four with whom they shared their free time.
The results were kind of interesting. They showed that on one hand real-world social networks had a positive impact overall well-being, but on the other, the use of Facebook had a negative association with overall well-being. The results on mental health were especially damning as most measures of Facebook use in a year predicted a decline in mental health in the subsequent years of usage. For every “like” and click there was a corresponding reduction in self-reported physical and psychological health, as well as life satisfaction.
In the end, the study showed that Facebook somehow leads to diminished well-being although it did not explain exactly how that happens. One thing that did come out, though, is that online social interactions can never be a substitute for face to face interactions.