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The dangers of social networking

Man being the social animal that it is, one would think something called a “social networking” site would be beneficial for mankind. I, however, disagree. Obviously, these sites are incredibly popular due to their ability to keep everyone in touch all the time. I’m not saying that social networking isn’t great, but in many ways, these sites could be interpreted as vastly detrimental to the way we, as humans, function. 

While research on the subject is still in its relative infancy, researchers are already alluding to the potential problems that could arise from a society in which Facebook interaction is the norm.

One factor being affected by these sites is how we process information. A popular feature on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the “status update” feature. Experts say that taking in large amounts of personal information can be detrimental to one’s ability to react to it.

According to an article on Suite101.com, “Modern scientists say: Every interaction with others needs time, and the processing of the received information is often related to ethics. For instance, when a person learns about the depression of a close friend, she has to process this information in order to feel sorry for her friend.”

The rest of the article goes on to say that this leads to “insensitive and numb personalities, as they are reading the most intimate and sometimes most horrible details of other’s lives without the need of reacting to them as they would have to in a real conversation.”

In an article on the BBC news website, Dr. Himanshu Tyagi of the West London Mental Health NHS Trust said that, “People with online activities might place less value on their real lives,” which “could raise the risk of impulsive acts or even suicide.”

Once again, experts are trying to say that social networking sites are making the real world seem, as Dr. Tyagi says, “unstimulating” to this generation. This, in turn, could make them lose touch with the real world to a certain degree.

Beyond the effects these sites may or may not have on mental health, some experts claim they may take a certain toll on physical health as well. According to the Office of National Statistics, face-to-face social interaction time has slipped from six hours a day in 1987 to two or three hours a day in 2007. One of the biggest contributing factors to dwindling real social interaction is thought to be the invention of the Internet. 

Now, experts are noting that this isolation can actually cause some negative health effects in the body.

According to Britain’s National Health Service, research performed at the UCLA School of Medicine found that “social isolation can affect the level to which genes are active in white blood cells.” This greatly affects, among other things, the immune system, which leads to an increase in risks ranging from infections to cardiovascular disease. In addition to these potential risks, experts say that isolation can potentially lead to adverse effects in sleeping patterns, and skewed views of morbidity and mortality.  

But the most disturbing part of the social networking fad is not any of the “health” effects, but the social mindset these sites encourage. In a modern society with many problems to fix, these sites promote a philosophy of intellectual laziness and inherent self-centeredness. Everyone has seen peoples’ status updates – they’re the online equivalent of drivel. Not to sound insensitive, but no one really cares that you’re watching “The Hills,” or that you’re walking your dog or whatever mundane crap is in your status update. Do I mind that you’re doing these things? No. Should you waste everybody’s time with informing us about every little thing you do? Again, the answer is no. Some experts think that by 2012, the Internet will be filled with so many “band-width hogging” sites, it will be clogged and “too slow and unreliable for important business,” according to Asylum.com. But forget that you’re wasting space on the Internet – you’re furthering an incredibly faulty system of social interaction. 

What I mean is this – A site that convinces you that everyone cares about every non-important thing you do is encouraging a selfish mindset.

Yes, I do understand that plenty of people use Facebook and Twitter in ways that is very productive, and yes, for those ends, it is a productive tool. If you’ve got a friend halfway around the world, it’s a great way to keep in touch with them. But let’s face it – most of the individuals people interact with on social networking sites are friends they see everyday, anyway. There is most certainly a great deal of people who are using these sites in a detrimental way. And that could be quite dangerous. 

Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at dscoffey@student.umass.edu.

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