Thursday, September 23, 2010

Finally, scientific validation

Yes, It’s True: The Internet Makes You Happier

A new British study released today found that access to the Internet and the web, and especially to social networks such as Facebook, can improve people’s levels of happiness. The study found that Internet access improves the overall well-being of lower-income users, those with less education and women — particularly those in developing countries — by giving them a sense of freedom and control over their lives.

The study, which was based in part on original research as well as on analysis of earlier studies on well-being and information technology, found that women, those with lower incomes and those with lower educational qualifications benefit the most from access to the Internet. “Much of the improvement in life satisfaction that arises from information technology flows to those on lower incomes or with fewer educational qualifications – what we might call the ‘disempowered’ groups in society,” the BCS report says.

The effect on the levels of life satisfaction for women were even more pronounced in developing countries, and the report says one reason for this effect could be that “in many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, women have socially controlled roles which may lead to a lower sense of freedom and autonomy and hence well-being.” Access to the Internet improves this aspect of their lives, the BCS report argues. The research also found there was a large improvement in life satisfaction for new users of the Internet, who also “are most interested in and derive most benefit from ‘social’ uses of the Internet such as social networking and instant messaging.”

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I hear a lot of talk from people - friends, co-workers, random acquaintances - about how the internet, like TV, makes us stupider, less prone to think deeply about things, isolates us socially...I'm sure you've heard some variations. I'm pretty nerdy and I use the internet a lot but I always just sort of passively accepted that the people making those kind of scornful assertions were probably right. I live pretty far away from some of the people I am (or was now, I guess) closest to. They live in a small town in the Canadian Rockies and I live in Vancouver. I have friends in South America, Ireland, England, one visiting Bosnia-Croatia right now and a bunch who are always traveling, or at least it seems like it. The internet connects us. Not as closely as we were connected when we lived together, or near each other but much closer than we would if letters were still the norm.

So I'm glad to see some scientific validation for my nerdy conviction that my personal happiness is greater because of the internet.

I'm trying to decide whether or not the evolution of my political ideals has made me happier. I spend a lot of time online reading about politics, participating in discussions about the nature and expression of feminism and the intersectionality of oppression and I can't say it's made me happier. I'm more comfortable with concepts I barely understood 5 years ago, I'm free to take positions online that I might not do so face to face for fear of getting angry or alienating someone I love. I'm much more aware of the logical fallacies most people have built their belief systems on and because of the time I've spent on sites like Jezebel I can identify them to my own satisfaction, although I haven't yet mastered the gentleness that would allow me to change people's minds rather than just pointing out where they went wrong. This is making me a lot pickier about who I want to hang out with in real life.

Is this happiness? I like participating in things like Kiva, the micro-finance site where I'm sponsoring an Ecuadoran small-business owner. I bet she's happier because of the internet - it's allowed her to receive $1200 and set up a store in Guayaquil.

Are you happier because of the internet? Are we happier? Or did the IT people who did this study want to convince us of that so we treat them like gods?

1 comment:

  1. The Internet has created a safe environment for me to interact with the daughter I gave up for adoption 25 years ago. (It also helped me find her without using a detective.) We've been able to get to know each other slowly and at her pace. Suffice to say, that's made me profoundly happy.