Psychologist Links Social Networking Sites to Poor Health
Dr. Aric Sigman, a respected biologist from the UK, has suggested in his latest article for The Biologist, a peer review magazine, that the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace could be linked to a decline in our immune systems and could lead to an increased instance of Heart Disease and Cancer. Remarkably Dr. Sigman claims that the replacement of face to face contact that these sort of sites are engendering with the younger generations could lead to a reduction in the levels of hormones such as oxytocin, the so called cuddle hormone that decreases when we are not in close contact with others. Dr. Sigman states …(there are) 309 socially regulated genes…including ones involved in the immune system, cell replication and responses to stress… and suggests that the more isolated one becomes the more adversely affected the genes become.
Biology and Society
Many biologists including the eponymous Richard Dawkins have long suggested that our genetic makeup is predisposed to social interaction and now are going even further and suggesting that these genetic dispositions are dependent on face to face social interaction for optimum operating efficiency. Put simply, the more time we spend isolated from each other physically the worse these genes operate. As these genetic markers are related to our physiology, specifically to our immune systems, we are more susceptible to serious illnesses. Could Facebook leave an entire generation of children with weakened immune systems?
The Rise of Social Networking
A quarter of children in the UK have a laptop in their rooms by the age of five, and it is a similar amount in the US. Many of them have access to social networking sites aimed at their age group. As they grow there are social sites aimed at each phase of development, from pre-teen to teenage to adult sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and this has all emerged within a five year time frame. It is an example of how the Internet has fundamentally changed the way we live with frightening speed. In the past, great social changes, especially to the way we communicate with each other, have happened over a much longer time frame, and the effects have been studied by professionals in the fields of biology, psychology and medicine. With the advent of the Internet social change happens simply too fast for any meaningful analysis of the wider medical and social effects to be undertaken. Dr. Sigman’s claims are worrying, as a generation of children grow up becoming more isolated by the use of social networking (which is a real contradiction in terms) and could have underdeveloped immune systems because of it.
Health not the only concern
Much has been made of the changes the technological revolution has engendered in the way in which we communicate, from the rise of TXT Speak (R U All right M8) used on SMS messaging and in chatrooms and online messaging, to the reduction in the ability to read faces and body language because of lack of face to face communication. Many experts in the fields of human communication have suggested that the lack of face to face communication poses a real worry to the development of empathy by youngsters. Empathy is the ability for an individual to recognize and understand the emotions of others around them, and the lack of empathy in subjects has worryingly been linked to a marked increase in violent tendencies. Many so called socio or psychopaths demonstrate a serious lack of ‘social skills’ and empathy, and the rise of the serial killer as defined by the FBI (a killer who kills for pleasure or recreation rather than a motive of advantage) has been attributed by some psychologists to the increasing isolation experienced by large sections of society. Will these changes we are experiencing due to the increasing use of the Internet as a means of communication mean that we will also see a rise in the instances of serial killers? Whilst this may be alarmist it would not be contrary to the currently held scientific view.
What is the future of social interaction?
The future seems set on a course which is inevitable, and the Internet has changed all of the ways in which we communicate, work and live our lives; from using chatrooms to making friends, to ordering the latest gadget online. Our generation may be the last one that remembers the good old days when you had a chat with the guy at the shop whilst you were buying a new bike (or even a computer) or perhaps bumped into a friend on your way there and stopped for a chat. Communication, even with our peers, is going to be over the Internet in some form or other. The increase in the number of people working in a virtual office from home, connected to their employer over the Internet, is increasing, and the trend seems certain to increase exponentially. Will we become a world of people who lose all sense of communicating with the next door neighbour whilst chatting to someone on the other side of the world? What do we stand to lose by doing so? The future holds great changes, most of them to come in our lifetimes, and whatever emerges from the chrysalis of the Internet revolution will be remarkably different from the caterpillar which entered it only a few years ago.