Is the internet bad for you?

A global, 16-year study1 of 2.4 million people has found that Internet use might boost measures of well-being, such as life satisfaction and sense of purpose — challenging the commonly held idea that Internet use has negative effects on people’s welfare.

“It’s an important piece of the puzzle on digital-media use and mental health,” says psychologist Markus Appel at the University of Würzburg in Germany. “If social media and Internet and mobile-phone use is really such a devastating force in our society, we should see it on this bird’s-eye view [study] — but we don’t.” Such concerns are typically related to behaviours linked to social-media use, such as cyberbullying, social-media addiction and body-image issues. But the best studies have so far shown small negative effects, if any2,3, of Internet use on well-being, says Appel.

From separate Gallup polls:

Pryzbylski and his colleagues analysed data on how Internet access was related to eight measures of well-being from the Gallup World Poll, conducted by analytics company Gallup, based in Washington DC. The data were collected annually from 2006 to 2021 from 1,000 people, aged 15 and above, in 168 countries, through phone or in-person interviews. The researchers controlled for factors that might affect Internet use and welfare, including income level, employment status, education level and health problems.

…The team found that, on average, people who had access to the Internet scored 8% higher on measures of life satisfaction, positive experiences and contentment with their social life, compared with people who lacked web access. Online activities can help people to learn new things and make friends, and this could contribute to the beneficial effects, suggests Appel.

Do note that in these latter data sets women ages 15-24 still are worse off from internet access.

Here is the Nature piece, via Clara B. Jones.

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