Way back in 2017 I found an article from 2014 – The Progression of Seclusion. This article was looking at old schools of thought when it came to technology and social connections. I was so surprised to see how our pandemic situation today was diametrically opposite of this thinking.
Socialization has been a critical piece of having a healthy brain and I have been diligent in presenting how important it is for our cognition. This article takes socialization seriously. I am going to list the statements on how TV and the internet are counterproductive to good brain health.
· In 1963, while the television was becoming mainstream into the homes of all Americans, poet T.S. Elliot warned:
o “[television] permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.”
· As recent as 2000, Norman Nie, director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, found that
o “…for every hour people spent using the internet, their face-to-face contact with friends, coworkers, and family fell by 24 minutes.”
New research into face-to-face socialization shows that interactions play a key role in reshaping our brain, through ‘neuroplasticity’. Repetition and consistency can sculpt the brain shape, size and number of neurons and their synaptic connections. As explained, our key relationships can change our neural circuitry. We collectively are modifying not only who, but how we are.
· “We take on a toxic state simply by being around the wrong person at the wrong time…like secondhand smoke, the leakage of emotions can make a bystander an innocent casualty of someone else’s toxic state.”
(Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: “The New Science of Human Relationships”)
Socialization and Cognitive Function
Most modern online technology (2014 -remember?) offers varieties of nominal communication while the content creators are in actual social and psychological isolation. As Daniel Goleman writes:
· “This inexorable techno creep is so insidious that no one has yet calculated its social and economical costs.”
The Health Cost of Internet Isolation
Research has determined that social and personal relationships are important to our development. People with strong social relationships are 50% less likely to die prematurely. It is as beneficial as giving up a 15 cigarette/day smoking habit. Low levels of social interaction are equally as detrimental to your health as being an alcoholic and more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity.
Social relationships further improve health by buffering our nervous systems from stressful situations and creating a normalcy of healthy behaviors. Most psychological processes that are linked with disease risk can be directly associated to the ties of social relationships. Having a strong support system is correlated with lower blood pressure, better immune system functioning, wound healing, aging, inflammation.
(Anthony Richardson, May 22, 2014)
What Happens Now?
The government has put forth a number of initiatives to alleviate chronic conditions:
· The Clean Air Act to fight pollution
· Health initiatives to fight obesity
· Campaigns to teens to not text and drive
As it turns out, low levels of socialization are more dangerous than all of these put together. Will there be a government program that leads us to positive social interactions?
(Adaptation of Anthony Richardson’s How Technology Has Created a Disguise of Socialization)
We just read the compelling case of how heavy internet use was dangerous to us and our cognitive function. Here we are in 2020 and we have a pandemic that is mandating social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Where are we as a society when we must stay home and maintain 6 feet of distance between each other. What will happen to our relationships under these conditions? How will our brain health, cognition, and mental health come out of this isolation? The toll of the pandemic has been heavy economically and with loss of life. Of course, these are the top most concerns as we try to figure out how to go forward. What will the secondary consequences of staying at home and being socially distant from our fellow humans?
As much as this virus has taken everyone by surprise, we will not know the complete outcomes of social isolation until the pandemic has run its course and we make attempts to find our normal life. The costs of this pandemic will be significant on many levels.
Richardson, A. (May 22, 2014). How technology has created a disguise of socialization. The progression od seclusion. Retrieved from https://medium.com/neuroscience-internet/internet-friends-can-kill-yoy-885d9c94f841