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20 May 2017, 20:49
You may have seen gaggles of youths hanging around with each other, with their necks craned, staring into their phones.
They appear to want to converse with anyone except the people they are with. You may have thought that kind of behaviour is a bit odd and that it might not be very good for them.
If you did, that is very astute of you. You should go into social work, that's where the money is!
The Royal Society for Public Health and the charity Young Health Movement recently conducted a survey of about 1,500 people in Britain aged between 14 and 24 to gain some insight into their use of social media, and how it is affecting them.
It turns out your concerns are justified. It isn't doing them any good at all.
They were asked to rate how each social media site made them feel. They gave scores on emotions like anxiety and depression, on whether the sites made them feel lonely, or made them lose sleep and about the problems of bullying and how they experienced a fear of missing out.
The latter is pertinent because, like the manufacturers of junk food, social media companies calibrate their offerings to twang the pleasure senses enough to create an addiction, with all the problems that come with that.
Instagram was listed as having the most negative effect overall. In case you have not had the opportunity to waste your life looking at it, Instagram is chock full of hot celebrities and beautiful people uploading pictures of themselves having a fabulous time surrounded by friends who are so tanned and taught they look like they just stepped out of an ad for sunscreen lotion.
Not unsurprisingly, Instagram was said to harm perceptions of body image, increase the fear of missing out and have a detrimental effect on sleep.
The kids are up all night wondering why Kim Kardashian hasn't invited them to a naked Jacuzzi party on her yacht. She seems so nice, and they are sure they would get along, so WHY HASN'T SHE CALLED?!
Social media is a carefully curated stream of other people's lives that are better than your own. No wonder the kids are depressed, if that is their diet every day.
Snapchat was the second least positive platform, and as far as I can tell, it is the same thing as Instagram. Here's some celeb in a Ferrari by a lake in front of a £100m mansion and you're penniless and stuck in your parents’ house on an estate in Huddersfield and it is raining outside.
Other sites scored badly for on-line bullying. Children are not very nice - they are like adults in that respect, except that they have much greater opportunities to bully each other and a lot more time on their hands to do it. Social media is the ideal weapon.
Oddly, and quite sadly, some of the sites gave the youngsters a sense of community. That used to be held by people that were geographically near to each other. A sense of community used to be neighbours chatting over the garden fence, now it is two solitary individuals thousands of miles apart swapping pictures of their personal parts.
The only other positive that was reported from using social media by the young people surveyed was being able to express themselves.
Looking in from the outside though, it seems that means posting a comment on someone else's selfie, which doesn't really count as self-expression.
YouTube was the only social media platform to have a largely positive effect on mental health, which might be because it’s where the kids steal their music from.
Facebook is the young person's television. Facebook is sit-back viewing rather than the tense, shoulders hunched, sit-forward stuff that is the experience of using the so-called social media sites.
The researchers called for a warning to users that would pop up and tell them they had been using the site too much, but that would probably seem nannying.
They also called for sites to alert users to any pictures that had been manipulated to enhance the appearance of the people in them.
But every photograph of every celebrity and model on earth has been manipulated in some way: lighting, make up, carefully chosen angles and smoothing out the lines, but even knowing that they are doing that does not change the effect the pictures have on us - that depressing feeling that everyone is better looking and more successful than we are.
The answer is not to regulate or change the on-line experience, the answer is for young and old alike to look up from their phones once in a while and change their relationship with these sites, to realise that they are built to create addictive behaviour and a constant nagging fear that if you don't check in every five minutes you will miss something important.
If people would raise their eyes from their screens, they will find that there is a whole wide-screen, 3-D, high definition world in surround sound that is going an all around them.
They should try it, they might like it.