Is The Internet Good for You?

Business, US, World

By

Howard Bloom

The Internet has been under constant attack for the last 20 years as the source of all of our emotional woes, from depression, cyberbullying, and suicide to negative body image.    

The anti-Internet attack has been so fierce that nine states have tried to ban social media access for kids under sixteen or to require the consent of a parent.  Five states have succeeded. 

In fact, numerous countries are “working to enact new [Internet] regulations,” and the Federal government has been urged to ban TikTok outright.

On the left, Internet critics like Shoshana Zuboff at Harvard, and Tim Wu at Columbia University have said that we are now living in a surveillance state where our very attention is being bought and sold. 

The anti-Internet hysteria has been so powerful that social media outlets like Facebook have been forced to censor their content.  Internet paranoia has become so strong that the surgeon general blamed an epidemic of teenage mental illness on the Internet and on the Internet’s child, social media. 

All of this criticism begins with the assumption that the Internet is deeply harmful.  But now the biggest study ever done on the Internet’s harms and benefits has just been published, and it has come to the opposite conclusion: the Internet is good for you. 

According to the new research,  the Internet boosts your “life satisfaction” and your “sense of purpose.”

The study’s data-set is massive, and dwarfs any previous research on the Internet’s impact.  The scope is not limited to one country.   It covers 168 of them. It doesn’t just look at a span of months.  It covers sixteen years.  And it doesn’t just survey 20 or 120 people—it surveys 2.4 million.  Yes, 2.4 million people.  

What’s more, this massive study has scientific heft.  It’s published in the peer-reviewed American Psychological Association journal Technology, Mind, and Behavior. One of its authors is from the University of Oxford.  The other author is from Tilburg University in Holland.  And the study has an impressively incomprehensible title: “A Multiverse Analysis of the Associations Between Internet Use and Well-Being.” 

In its abstract the new paper states what should be obvious, but isn’t, that Internet technologies “have spurred new forms of commerce, education, and leisure.”  In other words, Internet technologies have increased the landscape of human possibility.  The landscape of your possibilities and mine. 

The survey dove into questions like, ““Did you feel well-rested yesterday?”; “Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?”; “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”; “Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?”; and “Did you experience” enjoyment “during a lot of the day yesterday?”

What was the grand conclusion of this massive 22-page report?  Write the authors, “individuals who had internet access, mobile internet access, or actively used the internet reported greater levels of life satisfaction, positive experiences, experiences of purpose, and physical, community, and social well-being, and lower levels of negative experiences.” 

In other words, there may be harms to the Internet, just as there are harms to sidewalks, roadways, and cars.  But on the whole, the Internet increases your happiness. 

Yes, the Internet improves the quality of your life.

References:

Vuorre, Matti, and Andrew K. Przybylski. “A multiverse analysis of the associations between internet use and well-being.” (2023).  https://tmb.apaopen.org/pub/a2exdqgg/release/1

Wong, Carissa. “Is the Internet bad for you? Huge study reveals surprise effect on well-being.” Nature.

https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-01410-z

Haidt, Jonathan, and Nick Allen. “Scrutinizing the effects of digital technology on mental health.” (2020): 226-227.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00296-x

Surgeon General Issues New Advisory About Effects Social Media Use Has on Youth Mental Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, May 23, 2023. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/05/23/surgeon-general-issues-new-advisory-about-effects-social-media-use-has-youth-mental-health.html

Surgeon General Issues New Advisory About Effects Social Media Use Has o… Surgeon General Urges Action to Ensure Social Media Environments are Healthy and Safe, as Previously-Advised Nat…

Abbasi, Jennifer. “Surgeon general sounds the alarm on social media use and youth mental health crisis.” JAMA 330.1 (2023): 11-12.

Walsh, James P. “Social media and moral panics: Assessing the effects of technological change on societal reaction.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 23, no. 6 (2020): 840-859.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7201200/ 

______ Howard Bloom of the Howard Bloom Institute has been called the Einstein, Newton, Darwin, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV.  One of his eight books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT.  His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American.  He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM.  For more, see http://howardbloom.institute

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