Darcy and I have been fortunate to have attended the World Economic Forum in the remote Swiss Alpine village of Davos a number of times. It is an annual think tank of business, academic, NGO and political leaders from around the world with the mission "to improve the state of the world."
The Internet and cell phone access were late to arrive in Davos, and before it did delegates would gather in the hallways and coffee bars in that remote Alpine conference center between sessions and engage in face-to-face conversation with everybody around. Not so much anymore. While still the Mecca for great conversations and in-person contact, today, delegates are as likely on their cell phones and blackberries as chatting up a new acquaintance. 'Social networking' has in fact become less social. It is the same at gatherings around the world. Turns out, this may be bad for our health.
Rather than expanding our network with new contacts, increasingly we seem intent on reinforcing our existing contacts with more frequent phone calls, emails and texting with people we already know. And it may well be deadly.
No kidding! Rik Myslewski of the UK's The Register reports on research that says, "There is mounting evidence that Facebooking, Twittering, and other 'social networking' activities can kill you."
This is according to a study in the Biologist, the journal of the British Institute of Biology by Aric Sigman. It details how face-to-face contacts with friends and family are being replaced by face-to-screen isolation." Lack of real-world social interaction or in-person networking--can increase susceptibility to cancer, dementia, heart disease, lupus and even the common cold according to the study. In less than two decades, the number of hours per day in face-to-face contact has halved, matched by a similar increase in the use of electronic devices. The number of people saying there is no one with whom they can discuss important matters nearly tripled. Check out this BBC article and interview with Sigman.
We are surprised these findings have not been more widely discussed. They square with myriad earlier studies that show the value of connecting in-person with others. Daniel Goleman in his famous book, Social Intelligence, cites research that shows people are wired to connect face-to-face, and that it impacts health positively. Hence the value of support groups for patients after major illnesses or operations to speed recovery.
Harvard Professor, Robert Putnam, cities research in Bowling Alone (page 331) that shows if someone is a member of no group, but joins one then their chances of dying the following year are reduced by fifty percent, same as if they quit smoking!
The message here is the Internet, face-book, twitter and social networking are great extensions of your in-person network, but a not a substitute for it. Like TV, it can be addictive and if it keeps you from having friends and family to dinner, or from social gatherings, it is likely bad for your health and longevity. So join something, like The Board of Trade or Y and go to functions in person. Connect, for real, and for good. Beware of "Death by Internet"