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It’s the end of the world as we know it – again

Annie Wakefield
Digital Marketing Manager
31 March 2009

Once again some learned man has published an article on how some new technology, some new form of computer related interaction, will be the death of us all.

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The esteemed Dr. Aric Sigman published a paper in recent months highlighting the dangers of online social interaction. The paper, titled “Well Connected?: The Biological Implications of ‘Social Networking’” received a mixed reaction from the public, with many rebelling against the idea that being a member of a social media network like Facebook or Twitter could actually lead to an untimely death.

The good doctor suggests, with examples, that spending too much time online – chatting to friends – is bad for your health, and that it’s better to get out there and interact with real people in real situations.

Before I give you my (admittedly unlearned and un-researched) take on this, I must just point out that I am a huge fan of online social networking. That out of the way, and while I respect the doctors findings, I just have to point out that real time face to face communication is surely as dangerous to your health as online social interaction may be. How so?

Firstly, in order to meet people and make friends you have to find them…short of inviting random strangers in the vegetable aisle at your locals Tesco’s out for a drink, how do you meet new people anyway? Joining a book club, taking Chinese lessons and cooking classes, talking to people on a different floor at the office…these are all accepted ways to meet new people. Some of them are expensive too. Online interaction is virtually free.

Then in order to meet up with friends you have to get out there, so into the car or onto the tube you hop. How many car and train accidents are there every day, across the planet? Then, you meet up with your friend/s and usually proceed to eat, drink and be merry. Again, all this costs money.

Eating pub meals can’t be too good for your health, and imbibing large quantities of alcohol is never a good idea…especially if you have to drive home afterwards, or attempt to dance on a wobbly bar stool. Not to mention smoking, if that is a particular habit of yours. It’s an accepted fact that those out on the town smoke more cigarettes than they would if they were quietly at home in front of the telly/PC.

So a good night out with a bunch of mates may do much for your mental wellbeing, but it really isn’t good for your health or your wallet. Not to mention the fact that not only will you never get those hours back, but the next day is usually ruined by a lingering hangover – so the issue of time ‘wasted’ online is also null and void.

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In light of this, isn’t it then so much better to spend a quiet night in, chatting with online friends around the globe?

While Dr Sigman’s findings may provide valuable insights into how face to face interaction is better for your health, the idea that online interaction will be killing us off in our thousands is taking it a step too far. Once again the old adage “Everything in moderation” comes into play: too many lonely evenings in front of the PC, escaping into an imaginary world of friends and fun is not healthy behavior, but with the advent of social media platforms, it would to silly not to enjoy the rewards of online social interaction.

Personally, I believe I have a good balance: I use social media platforms to communicate with friends on the other side of the globe, and a good night out to interact with friends who live in my area – and I like to believe that most people on the planet do too.

Footnote: After publishing this I recieved a link to the Bad Science blog from Henry, where Dr Sigman gets taken apart by Ben Goldacre on television – highly entertaining.

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