The Effects of What You are Holding in Your Hand
The study authors speculate that some of the culprits may be social isolation, cyberbullying, and the lack of sleep associated with excessive smartphone use. Self-harm techniques may also be spread among young women through social media itself. As lead author Dr. Melissa Mercado of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta warns, these techniques are a primary risk factor for and can often lead to …
Suicide. Many studies point to the link between social media use and feelings of ostracism, especially among young people whose brains are more highly attuned to rejection. This unmet need to belong—especially critical in the lives of young people, who often lack a history of feeling like they belong to anything at all and can feel distraught when satiating this need appears out of reach—can lead to tragic consequences. The numbers are deeply disturbing and point to a common culprit: 46 percent more teens in the US killed themselves in 2015 than in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released.
Three years later, in 2014—a year before 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone—the teen suicide rate was already 32 percent higher than the teen homicide rate, the largest gap since these statistics were recorded. In short, teens are now killing each other less and killing themselves more.
Picking Up Where the Smartphone Left Off
Enter the pandemic and social distancing. We must understand the implications of further isolating already isolated people. And not just our teens. Loneliness impairs the self-regulation of all of us. In other words, when we are lonely, we do not tend to act as our best selves. On the contrary, we tend to protect and help our fellow citizens less. Lonely people also, as Sarah Wright of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and I discovered in two recently published studies, tend to feel awkward socially, leading to poorly orchestrated social overtures that exacerbate their loneliness, creating a vicious spiral.
Given the importance of social distancing during the pandemic, never has it been more important that we treat each other with kindness, empathy and compassion. Soon the pandemic will hopefully be over. Yet the decay of our civic institutions and sense of community—documented a quarter century ago by Robert Putnam of Harvard University and then compounded by social-media-induced slacktivist norms—will not be.
During the pandemic, we have more time to reflect on how we go about our lives. If we do not wish for the post-pandemic “new normal” to be a repeat of the dysfunctional “old normal,” it’s imperative that we devote our mental energy to thinking about how we can develop healthier and more sustainable connections with ourselves and the people around us in the digital age.
About the Author:
Anthony Silard, Ph.D. is a world-renowned leadership educator and coach. He has coached G-20 cabinet ministers and the CEOs and senior leaders of Fortune 500 companies such as Disney, IBM and GE and the world’s largest nonprofits such as CARE and Save the Children. He has taught leadership at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, California State University San Bernardino, Claremont McKenna College and IESE Business School and has lectured on leadership at Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown. His new book, Screened In: The Art of Living Free in the Digital Age, was just released in March 2020. You can find more articles on his weekly blog The Art of Living Free.