Is social media bad for us?

For years, the idea that the internet and social media are making us [insert ill here] has been a common trope in newspapers and magazines. It’s making us lonely! Narcissistic! We don’t communicate anymore, like really communicate, man! Despite the frequency of such claims, the evidence has pretty roundly contradicted it, as I’ve written seemingly over and over.

But is that the end of the story?

The honest answer – one that I’m loathe to admit sometimes, partly out of bias, and partly out of a frustration with the anti-tech bias of so many critics – is that we don’t yet really know.

So, in this spirit of reasonableness, I’m recommitting to keeping an open mind on this issue. I haven’t yet given some of the more credible critics the chance they deserve, but to start, here’s a list of interesting and recent arguments that give me pause.

Via BuzzFeed:

According to a University of Michigan study published yesterday in the online journal Plos One, Facebook use was seen to predict declines in the well-being of surveyed participants, negatively impacting both how people feel from one moment to the next as well as overall life satisfaction.

Separately, what impact are screens and the web having on children? Here’s an NPR segment that comes highly recommended:

Very young children, like many of their parents, can become totally absorbed with mobile touch-screen devices. Some argue that compared to the essentially passive activity of watching television, children and even toddlers using i-Pads, i-Phones, Androids and other kinds of touch-screen devices can have a far more stimulating, positive and educational experience. But parents and their children are way ahead of any research: No one can say for sure how using this technology shapes developing brains,if at all. Please join us for a conversation on young children and touch-screen devices.

Finally, here’s one more critical take that comes recommended from a former editor of mine.

Too often, tech critics have not only taken on straw men, but done so with an almost willful disregard for existing evidence. But that’s no reason to ignore serious, thoughtful analysis that questions the value of technology in our lives. I plan to give all the authors above the consideration they’re due, and hope you will as well.

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