More ‘evidence’ this morning that too much time on the computer is harmful to our health. No, not because of damage to our eyes and backs – though we know this to be true. Not because of the lack of exercise is turning us into sedentary flabby-thighed weaklings (so maybe I’m only talking about myself here!). And not because what we see online is damaging to our minds or attitudes. No, the specific target this morning is social networking sites. And the reason they are harming us is because we are using them as a substitute for actually getting out there and meeting each other in the flesh.
Research recently published suggests that the number of hours people spend interacting face-to-face has fallen dramatically since 1987, as the use of electronic media has increased.
The report by Dr Aric Sigman in Biologist, the journal of the Institute of Biology, says that is indeed the flesh which bears the brunt of this lack of contact with others. Apparently, when interacting ‘in person’, the body experiences various levels of response which are good for our health: this probably an evolutionary throwback to the times when it was necessary for us to be tribe animals in order to survive.
He says that evidence suggests that a lack of face-to-face networking could alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels, the function of arteries, and influence mental performance. This, he claims, could increase the risk of health problems as serious as cancer, strokes, heart disease, and dementia.
Dr Sigman also argues that using electronic media undermines people’s social skills and their ability to read body language.
“One of the most pronounced changes in the daily habits of British citizens is a reduction in the number of minutes per day that they interact with another human being,” he said.
“In less than two decades, the number of people saying there is no-one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled.”
Dr Sigman says he is “worried about where this is all leading”. He added: “It’s not that I’m old fashioned in terms of new technology, but the purpose of any new technology should be to provide a tool that enhances our lives.”
If this is true, I wonder also about the impact of telecommuting – as we home-workers smugly congratulate ourselves on not catching the nasty office viruses or breathing in polluted city air, are we damaging our health in more subtle ways by not physically getting together around the water cooler?
Update: See this interesting story from NHS Choices website that suggests the article is not a Systematic Review and maybe flawed