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Is Social Media Healthy for Us?

What is a digital detox? It can come in the form of a retreat. California based The Digital Detox (www.thedigitaldetox.org) is a “tech-free personal wellness retreat where individuals give up their smartphones and gadgets, unplug from technology, and get away from the stress of everyday life for a few days to recharge their mind, body, and soul.” They offer the four day retreat for 10-14 individuals at a time as well a summer camp for adults “where grownups go to unplug, get away, and get to be kids again.” Professionals in the digital and Marketing field ranging from Google to TOMS have attended such retreats and describe it as “transformational,” “nurturing,” and “life changing." It makes us wonder, just how entrenched are we with technology? Have we "wired" ourselves to our digital devices.

Digital detox can come in the form of group action. Many have caught onto the detox trend, even entire communities. The town of Ely, Minnesota participated in a town-wide digital detox, as it announced a mandatory ban on social media on April 1, 2013. Ross Petersen, Mayor of Ely, stated that the ban was meant to raise awareness about how much time people spend online and the importance of human contact. All residents and visitors were asked to refrain from the use of social media and were instead encouraged to spend their day in nature, visiting the town’s historic sites and local offerings.  Linda Fryer, administrative director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce, stated, “I think when all this social media started, it was supposed to make our lives easier, but people are just spending hours and hours and hours on the Internet. I’m not sure it’s making things easier. We hope, not only for our visitors but also for our residents and people who live in the surrounding area that it’s a wake-up call. We hope it makes people realize how much time they’re actually spending doing these things, and not connecting with people as we knew connecting with people years ago.”

In this digitized society, are we forced to take advantage of social technology to stay relevant, while simultaneously diluting the strength of our more human connections? Do we pay for the cost of productivity with our health and the wellbeing of our interpersonal relationships? More and more studies are proving that spending quality time off the grid is beneficial to your mood, relationships and overall health. According to The New York Times, being plugged in more frequently lessens our focus and productivity. Our time spent engaged with social media serves as a distraction and also heightens stress levels. Experts have also expressed that our technology addiction can be damaging to our sleep habits. Studies have shown that computers and smart-phone screens emit a blue wavelength of light that triggers the brain to be alert, therefore “delaying the natural release of the sleep-aiding hormone melatonin.” And the health effects don't stop there; doctors are also finding more thumb, wrist, and hand injuries linked to computer and cell phone use.

So, where do you stand?

In opposition, Brooke Foucault Welles, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University makes her case in favor of digital media and our reliance upon technology. As digital media becomes more accessible, we begin to rely on it to work, play, and socialize. Welles asks if digital media is displacing something more important, if we are “missing out on something because digital media is increasingly involved in our daily lives?” She answers, “People will continue to adapt their behaviors as new tools become available, but fundamentally, communication practices and the ways in which we relate to one another will stay the same.” She believes that social media actually makes us more social and personable as it illuminates our “existing social behaviors” and allows us to cultivate formerly inhibited relationships. She states, “Recent research suggests that social media users tend to have larger social circles and more close social ties than non-users. They are also more likely to perceive their networks as socially supportive and more likely to be politically engaged than non-users. So, contrary to popular concerns that people who use social media are somehow limiting their abilities to make real interpersonal connections, the research suggests that social media can catalyze close, supportive, civically engaged relationships.”

Healthy or not healthy, beneficial or damaging, strong bonds or loose ties? What has social media done for you lately? Do you feel a digital detox coming your way or are you in digital control?

Blog by Diana Oh

Source Material: The Huffington Post,