As cited in a recent Reuters news article on MSNBC, a study by British scientists published in the journal Psychopathology found that people who spend a lot of time on the Internet are more depressed than those who don’t. In this study, the researches analyzed the Internet use of 1,319 Britons between the ages of 16-51. Of their sample, they classified 1.2 percent as “addicted” due to their high frequency of surfing, gaming, visiting sexually-related sites, and online communities.
The researchers found that people who were classified into the category of Internet “addiction” had a significantly higher incidence of experiencing moderate to severe depression. What wasn’t clear from this research is whether depressed people are more likely to become addicted to the Internet. Thus, excessive Internet use might not necessary “cause” depression, but rather be a symptom of it.
In my opinion, it is probably a bit of both. That is, people who are depressed might be more likely to spend exorbitant amounts of time on the Internet and, as they do so, they are likely to become more depressed. This fits very well with some other research that I read recently which indicated that people who use social networking sites such as Facebook to enhance existing relationships…people whom they associate with in real life…experience positive effects on their well-being. However, people who use social networking sites and the Internet as a substitute for real-world relationships are likely to become more depressed from the use of such technologies. This research found that older people in particular tend to use social networking sites as a replacement for real-world relationships whereas teens and young adults tend to use social networking sites to enhance their real-world relationships.
What can we do with this information in practical terms? Here’s something that you can hang your hat on: to be happy, we need real-world relationships. Research indicates that about 70% of our happiness comes from our relationships. This makes perfect sense. We are social creatures by nature and evolved to be in relationships with others. After all, for an infant to grow, he/she must be nursed and cared for by his mother. From birth, we need to be connected physically and emotionally in order to grow into healthy adults.
As wonderful as technology is, when it begins to replace real-world relationships, we will pay the consequences for it. We are fighting against hundreds of thousands of years of evolution when we start to disconnect from the physical presence of others. Yes, we might be socially networked through Facebook, texting, online gaming, etc., but this can’t serve as a substitute for real-world relationships.
So, keep an eye on your technology use and your real-world social networks. Are you meeting with friends several times per week? Are you involved in some clubs, hobbies, or sports that help you to connect with others? Are you finding that you are spending more and more time on your laptop or iPhone…playing FarmVille, texting, and so on? Be mindful that you will not be happy if you disconnect from people in the real-world to connect with others online. It is not that you have to give up technology or anything…this is not a forced choice. You just want to strike a careful balance. By keeping your finger on the pulse of your technology use and real-world social interactions, you can get the best of both worlds. Now, here I am alone in front of my computer blogging on a Saturday…DOH! I’m going to go spend some time with some friends and family now… 🙂