I originally wrote this post in October 2013 and thought it was worth a repost as I'm talking about similar issues in 2021.

Recent news items have highlighted New Zealand’s on-going struggle with the “western diet”, as people eat more and more convenient yet un-nutritious junk food. By it’s nature junk food is easily manufactured, triggers our pleasure centres and leaves us temporarily satisfied, but soon craving for more.

The transition from healthy, nutritious, whole food to unhealthy over processed convenience food and it’s impact on our health is well documented and much lamented. But what if the same thing is happening to how we communicate?

As full disclosure I was one of the small number of people in New Zealand that was online in the late 80s. At the time it seemed like we were on the cutting edge of a technology that would revolutionise how human beings communicate - and that it would ultimately lead to great knowledge, understanding and happiness.

Unfortunately recent studies like this one have shown the mass adoption of “social media” as a means of communication might be making us more unhappy. Anecdotally many people are struggling with social media making them unhappy, but they are unable to stop using it.

What’s going on?

Human beings are very social animals, and high up in our hierarchy of needs (sleep, water, food) is social interaction and the desire to connect with other people in a meaningful way. Social media offers us a quantity of social interaction we never imagined, but much like junk food it lacks the emotional nourishment we actually need.

So instead of putting our time and energy into a small number of deep meaningful interactions (which are sometimes hard to find amongst the rush of modern life) we find ourselves investing in a large number of shallower interactions instead.

Don’t get me wrong - not all forms of electronic communication are shallow or pointless - most people highly value a well written e-mail or video call. But the style of interaction that most social media encourages rates high for quantity, and very low for quality.

We tweet, we update our Facebook statuses, we upload photos, we add hashtags to everything - it feels like we’re connecting with people, but the reality is we’re not connecting in the emotionally healthy way our psyches crave.

If what I’ve written sounds familiar you’re probably wondering what the alternative is.

When changing our diets it takes time, effort and commitment to change from convenient junk food to nutritious filling food - but the health benefits are noticeable. A change to more fulfilling electronic communication is going to be just as challenging, even more so. I hope to explore this process in future posts

Banner Photo by Rod Long

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