Life for most people in the modern world is undoubtedly safer than it was 100 years ago. And yet the demand of 24-hour global news channels means that our perception is that it’s become more dangerous as we’re fed a constant diet of crime and reasons to worry.
By the same token, 100 years ago we’d generally have known a smaller circle of people, but the internet and social media has allowed us to exceed Dunbar’s number of 150 contacts we can maintain a social relationship with to include far more at a lower level of ‘ambient intimacy’. Whether or not you can argue we can have close social ties with a larger group, we’re certainly more aware of what happens to them than ever before.
And I wonder what effect that may have on our outlook. Statistically, we’re more likely to encounter the loss of someone if our number of relationships increase, and we’re more likely to see connections that are the victims of crime etc. By the same token, we’re as potentially likely to also encounter more positive experiences, and certainly various studies and research show that positivity generally tends to be shared more on social networks than negativity.
I’ve had a look back through various articles I’ve saved, and there are certainly studies which show usage of social media can trigger depression, particularly if you’re prone to comparing your reality with the edited highlights which your contacts are constantly sharing.
I’m not suggesting everyone is actively lying about their lives, but that we’re all more likely to share a fabulous meal than the fact we’re scraping together something between two slices of stale bread. And therefore most updates you see will either be the better side of life, or the other extreme of frustration and tragedy.
In some ways that may actually justify the mundane updates for which Twitter has always been criticised. Maybe it’s a positive thing for us psychologically to know that other people in the world also forgot to go shopping and are scrabbling through their cupboards, or are stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus, etc.