The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health
It freaked me out a little the first time I sent a picture from Europe to my wife in the US and received a response in the next 10 seconds. These days, we think of that as being normal, but I grew up at the tail end of the American “front porch” days. Before central heating and air conditioning, most people would spend hot or beautiful nights on the front porch. They would talk, listen to music, and visit with friends, who were out sitting on their own porches. For many of you, that probably sounds like some strange, foreign country, or something you’ve only seen on old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. But for me, I often feel like I’m the one in a strange new land.
There have been many studies recently on millennials and on what they call “generation Z,” and the basic conclusion I’ve seen from most of them is that they’re connected to more people than any other generation in history, but paradoxically, they are also the loneliest. Why would this be? Well, imagine your relationship with a parent, spouse, or best friend if you never saw each other in person. Sure, long-distance relationships can be wonderful (platonic or otherwise), but clearly something is missing without being able to look them in the eye. I’m sure you’ve all heard the statistic that over 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, which implies that by only communicating over the phone or through social media, you’re only enjoying about 10 percent of the relationship’s potential.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I certainly don’t mean to say that any of these things are bad in themselves. Technology is just a tool that can be used for good or ill, and as a tool for keeping in touch with people and maintaining relationships, there’s enormous potential there.
One fascinating takeaway from those studies is that the average number of friends reported by those two generations is between 50 and 100. However, when asked “How many friends do you have that you could call if you really needed help?” The most common answer was zero. That’s a shocking statement to me! I think one reason for this is that it goes with that 90 percent. When you get off the porch and spend your time surrounded by walls, it naturally holds people at a certain distance. The nature of long-distance communication, especially over the internet where you can maintain a degree of anonymity, is that you are inherently less committed to the relationship because there is no physical connection. You can escape at any time.
Committing to relationships is what makes the difference, in my opinion—and I’m not just talking about marriage, necessarily. I mean investing time, effort, and presence into a relationship, because these things are what will make it significant. If you keep everyone at arm's length, you may find yourself all alone in a sea of friends.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
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