Technology and social media – good for society or bad for our health?

Mobile by Simona / Flickr
Mobile by Simona / Flickr

In a comprehensive global study carried out last year it was found that Ireland’s population has overweight and obesity levels that are above the European average. The study carried out in the University of Washington, found that 26.5% of Irish girls and 16% of Irish boys under the age of 20 were either overweight or obese.

What people are eating obviously has a huge influence on these statistics but exercise and the way we work and relax are also major factors.  It is no coincidence that since the rise of the digital revolution people in western technological societies are having increased problems with weight related health problems. Increased interaction online on devices generally used while not exercising means less time spent trying to stay fit and healthy.

Some might argue that an increasingly busy technological society just means that we have to change the way we exercise and the time we find to do it.  Unfortunately as of yet the statistics would suggest that a balance has not been found. According to statistics from the World Health Organisation the worldwide prevalence of obesity almost doubled between 1980 and 2008. The WHO found that over 50% of adults in Europe were overweight and around 23% of men and 20% of women were obese.  The worry is that this could become a generational trend. Children of parents who grow up in a world where their parents are overweight or obese are likely to follow the same patterns.

Epidemic by Tony Alter / Flickr
Epidemic by Tony Alter / Flickr

It is not just our physical health that is being affected by this unchecked revolution in technological advances. The way in which people form relationships either platonically or sexually is also being directly influenced by our relationship with technology. Nowhere is this more evident than with the youth of our society.

In the past gangs of boys and girls played football on the street, skipped or cycled their bikes around causing mischief or trying to impress each other. Kids interacted with each other, girls and boys learned about attraction and rejection and learned boundaries in the actual physical world before interacting in a cyber world. Now most young teenage boys probably expect their first sexual experience to be like something they’ve seen on a porn site.

Again this raises another serious question; how do you police what children see on the Internet? The answer is you probably can’t, because if you can see something they’ll find a way to see it also. Parenting of course is a huge factor but children or teenagers have so much access to information on so many different devices that they cannot be watched 24 hours a day. Worryingly, it’s the development of the internet and social media that has given child abusers a vast medium from which to prey. This unfortunately has had a knock on effect where some parents are too paranoid to let their children out leading to less interaction and exercise for these children. Organised sports are important but they are not the same as youths interacting as friends in a group.

While instant access to increased amounts of information improves our knowledge of the world around us; does too much information make us less imaginative or intuitive?  Instead of trying to think of an answer to a question or problem while having a conversation, people will generally now just consult Google to answer it. Surely this lack of cognitive effort must be having an effect? If we are not constantly exercising our brains, how can they be improving? While knowledge is important, it is not the same as intelligence or imagination.

Mobile by Simona / Flickr
Mobile by Simona / Flickr

We live by means of our senses. If we are watching football on TV, we are seeing and hearing. If we are out playing football we are hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and communicating with the other players and the environment around us. Our imagination is driven by our senses. If people spend a lot of their time communicating remotely, how can they hope to maintain proper relationships? How can there be proper spontaneity and imagination if people are communicating through a medium where they are not actually physically engaging with each other?

Comically, in the past people said that long distance relationships couldn’t work because of the lack  of physical interaction, and now many people’s relationships consist mainly of those through social media that have no physical relationship.

It’s not even the fact of being on your own when using this technology. How many times have you seen a group of people sitting at a table eating lunch, not communicating because every member of the group is on some type of device looking at social media or the internet?  People checking how many friends they have on Facebook while ignoring the friend that is sitting in front of them!

While I understand the benefits of technology and what it has done for industry and the speed by which we can communicate with each other, there is just something about the whole scenario that I find quite disturbing. It strikes me that technology is being driven towards creating a society where we don’t actually have to physically engage with each other unless it is for procreation or competition.

What do you think?

How can we maintain a physically interactive society while still benefiting from technology?

Is the presence of too much information stopping us taking a step back and being more imaginative and creative?

1 Comment

  1. Although i agree with much of this article, i feel there are more factors to the rise of various societal problems than just whats being described here. The media and advertising plays a huge role in obesity and alcoholism. And the anxiety parents are feeling around phedophiles has much to do with the media too at the expense of there childs development. Also parents nowadays are increasingly stress resulting in more anxious offspring which can lead to a host of problems later.
    I do feel however that the currently generation growing up with there eyes firmly stuck screens will have negative consequences for them individually and to society as a whole.

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