Feeds

UK boffin: Social networking causes cancer, heart attacks, lupus, dementia...

Death by internet

Remote control for virtualized desktops

There's mounting evidence that Facebooking, Twittering, and other "social networking" activities can kill you.

A study (PDF) published in Biologist, the journal of the British Institute of Biology, details how face-to-face contacts with friends and family are being replaced by face-to-screen isolation, and how the lack of real-world social interaction can increase your susceptibility to cancer, dementia, heart disease, diabetes, influenza, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus - even the common cold.

In "Well connected? The biological implications of 'social networking'," Dr. Aric Sigman, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, cites studies showing that social networking use in the UK is now the highest in Europe and that the isolation it causes can lead to measurable physical changes - destructive measurable physical changes.

The culprit is solitude. "Couples," writes Sigman, "now spend less time in one another’s company and more time at work, commuting, or in the same house but in separate rooms using different electronic media devices."

He reports that social scientists have determined that over the last two decades, "the number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled." The number of both kin and non-kin confidants is "dramatically smaller."

The average Briton, Sigman reports, now spends only about 50 minutes per day "interacting socially with other people."

We're also raising a generation of socially isolated kids. "Children now spend more time in the family home alone in front of TV/computer screens than doing anything else," he writes. The good doctor also cites a study that "reports that 25 per cent of British five-year olds own a computer or laptop of their own."

Aside from the fact that the art of intelligent conversation is being lost, Sigman says that digitally induced solitude has nasty physical implications. "Social connection, both objective and subjective, is increasingly associated with physiological changes known to influence morbidity and mortality," he writes.

Social isolation, for example, has been shown to impair the genes involved in the development of leukocytes, those helpful cells that float around in your blood, fighting disease.

Other studies have proven that social isolation reduces the effectiveness of tumor-fighting cytokines. Sigman cites a number of studies that have shown that socially active women with breast and ovarian cancer produce more and more-effective tumor-fighters, including the charmingly named Natural Killer cells.

Isolation can induce loneliness, which Sigman says has been linked to "low-grade peripheral inflammation." And that, he says, has been linked to inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders.

"Lack of social connection or loneliness is also associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease," he continues, citing studies that link the production of the heart-healthy neuropeptide oxytocin to "hugging" and "touch."

It gets worse. Women with fewer social relationships experience strokes at more than twice the rate of those with more social relationships, and those with smaller social networks have narrower arteries - approximately one-third narrower, to be specific.

Real-world friendships help prevent heart attacks.

Sigman identifies the villain in this health-destroying isolation. Over ten years ago, a study of 73 internet-using families dubbed Internet Paradox (PDF) argued that the net decreases real-world communication while increasing depression and loneliness.

Internet Paradox has been the subject of some debate since its release in 1998, but its closing words are hard to argue with: "People should moderate how much they use the Internet and monitor the uses to which they put it."

In other words, skip that next Tweet, postpone polishing your LinkedIn profile, put off updating your Facebook status, and go hug someone.

You'll live longer. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Microsoft to bake Skype into IE, without plugins
Redmond thinks the Object Real-Time Communications API for WebRTC is ready to roll
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Mozilla: Spidermonkey ATE Apple's JavaScriptCore, THRASHED Google V8
Moz man claims the win on rivals' own benchmarks
Yes, Virginia, there IS a W3C HTML5 standard – as of now, that is
You asked for it! You begged for it! Then you gave up! And now it's HERE!
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Ubuntu 14.10 tries pulling a Steve Ballmer on cloudy offerings
Oi, Windows, centOS and openSUSE – behave, we're all friends here
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.