Thursday, April 9, 2009

Can e-social Networks be the Latest New Health Hazard?

We are all looking for ways to handle today’s difficult economic realities. As unemployment heads toward record levels many people are turning to the comfort of e-social networking instead of seeking opportunities for actual face-to-face social interaction.

In a recent blog, I mentioned how unemployment is hitting the male machismo right where it hurts. More and more unemployed people are conducting their job searches entirely online with little or no face-to-face reinforcement to the actual employer. Now, new research indicates that there may be long term health risks and higher rates of premature death among those who heavily rely on e-social networking rather than physical social interaction. Preliminary research suggests that e-social networking may not have very much social benefit after all, especially when it takes the place of meaningful literal social activity. Dr Sigman spells out his warning in the spring issue of Biologist, the journal of the Institute of Biology, and maintains that social networking sites have played a significant role in people becoming more isolated.

For many of us, the bombardment of email, FaceBook, MySpace , Twitter and the like can leave us too mentally weary to seek out face-to-face social activities. Perhaps using e-social networks to augment social interaction, rather than replace, would be a better way to go. In everything, there must be balance.

What we must guard against is the tendency to use e-social networking as a security blanket to avoid sharpening our social skills in the flesh. It can be all too easy to hide behind the keyboard to escape sometimes awkward social realities. However awkward face-to-face interaction may initially be, we learn from each encounter. By using our computers as a distancing object in our interaction with others, we reinforce this unhealthy comfort zone, become more sedentary and more socially isolated.

Are we using social networks as a substitution for social interaction? If so, we may be doing so at the expense of our health. Maybe we all need to get off the keyboard and find a healthy balance of social interaction the old fashion way.

Start monitoring your e-social time tomorrow, because we would really like to hear from you today! Comments, criticisms, manifestos and questions are always welcome.


kae said...


Yes, these online social networks are NO substitute for a real live person to person interaction or a one to one conversations over a healthy meal or even a cup of coffee.

We, in our American society, tend to seek out a "quick fix" to so many areas of our lives. For example, a quick diet, a fast instant meal in the car as we drive home after work, or an instant message within our professional and personal communications to keep up "appearances".

When are we going to slow down a little and remember how important it is seek out each other in person, face to face and to value the time it takes to engage in even a rather short, yet important serious consideration with our valued friends or family?

I wonder if? What do you think?

Joseph A. Banken, MA, PhD said...

Dear Kae,

You make excellent points. It seems that when we over-rely on online social networks we will come up short. Online, we as well as others, can be anyone we want to create. We can also block, ignore or delete any interaction that we don't like. This can work well in e-social networks, but does not work very well in real life, does it? One thing online social networks can teach us is that we will always need to seek out face-to-face social connections to function optimally. The internet will not make face-to-face interactions obsolete!

Thanks for your insightful post. I hope to hear from other readers as well.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have to agree. I think many of us are treading in dangerous waters with these so-called online social networking groups. Silly as it sounds, it is very easy to become additcted to such sites.

Using this type of communcation to "socialize" can be quite unhealthy, especially if it causes our "real" one on one socialization to decrease. Good communication skills are important for everyday life and that takes practice. It takes real eye to eye, mouth to mouth practice. It is important to deal with both pleasant and unpleasant situations in a real life interaction as we learn from each of these experiences.

I am a member of a popular social networking site, but I like to think of it as more of an online "journal". I put it to use to allow far away family members to see what's going on in my life. It's nice to be able to show photos and tell a short story. Then, those who want to comment, can. It doesn't replace that good ole phone call,hand written letter, or family visit, but it does offer a way to communicate in real time with not only a voice, but photos and video.

Like you said, I think the key word here is "balance". Anything over/under used can be unhealthy.

Joseph A. Banken, MA, PhD said...

The idea of "balance" is key. For some folks the internet has become somewhat like a drug that is misused. There is even some recent research on internet addiction, which I rather refer to as "internet dependence". Thanks for bringing this up. I like your example to use social networking as a "journal", rather than to replace real time social interactions. We have to get away from the idea that these networks can replicate real social interactions; perhaps we have coined a new word, "e-social", in our blog here. Thanks for the great Post!

Anonymous said...

To spend too much time on e-social networking instead of in person is socially crippling that person. They don't learn or practice the social nuances of reading body language when talking, and we say a LOT with body language.Using e-social networking can become a crutch just like most other things can. If it's easier, or helps us avoid something we find awkward like poor in-person social skill, we'll use that crutch. This also increases the couch potato effect. If you are staying home on the computer every evening, it's just like staying home watching the boob-tube. You aren't moving your body. You become sedentary and open the door for all the nasties like obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes. We are training our youth to increase this e-social isolation. You don't even have to talk to a live person to order a pizza anymore, you can do it online. Remember when we used to hate getting a recording prompting us to choose option 1 or 2 when we called a business? I heard a young person the other day, gripe that he had to talk to a person and why couldn't he just talk to a computer.