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Summary:

The U.K. press is reporting this morning that online networking may be damaging to your health. A few articles, including a particularly sensationalist piece by the Daily Mail, “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer,” are reporting the latest findings from every luddite’s favorite […]

The U.K. press is reporting this morning that online networking may be damaging to your health. A few articles, including a particularly sensationalist piece by the Daily Mail, “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer,” are reporting the latest findings from every luddite’s favorite researcher. According to an article written by Dr. Aric Sigman (author of the book, “Remotely Controlled: How Television Is Damaging Our Lives”) and published in The Biologist, the journal of the Institute of Biology, increased online networking may have biological impacts. Dr. Sigman is concerned that social networks like Facebook are displacing face-to-face contact. He claims that reduced face-to-face contact could, among other things, lead to a change in the way genes work, alter hormone levels and affect the functioning of arteries. These changes could increase the risk of serious health problems including cancer, strokes and heart disease.

As web workers we spend a lot of time online using social networks, but is it potentially damaging our health?

I’m skeptical. While I believe spending excessive time online and stuck in front of my computer with no breaks might cause health problems (in particular a lack of exercise, raised risk of RSI, and back problems), I think I’ll wait to see some more concrete evidence before altering my working habits significantly.

Do you think that online networking could be hazardous to health? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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By Simon Mackie
  1. I posted a slightly lengthy response to the media reports on my blog agreeing, as you did, that there are definitely health risks associated with spending excessive time doing anything, including social networking.

    But without being able to access the original paper, it appears that social networking is lumped in with all electronic media – and while there are definitely some health risks with new technology, there is also a lot of potential, and some anecdotal evidence, that it can lead to more socialising offline as well as online.

    I can’t remember many times I’ve gone out in the last 12 months which haven’t been accompanied by a Facebook invite – even for drinking down the pub after work.

    And I’ve also met a number of people having originally connected via Twitter – including events like Twestival etc.

    Any new technology has always had a certain level of risk – flying, driving, even building two story houses – but these are always balanced by the benefits they bring, and reduced over time.

    What I’d like to see is Stigman showing how we can continue to have the benefits of the collaborative, connected world, whilst reducing the risks – until then it’s a pointless argument because so many of us are in front of PCs for 8 hours+ a day as a necessity for working.

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  2. Exactly, Dan.

    This kind of paper is the type of thing that newspapers salivate over as it’s easy to put a sensationalist spin on, but it didn’t sound too conclusive to me, lots of “could”s in there.

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  3. It seems far more logical to assume that increased web usage is more likely for folks who are not out being active and social. Perhaps it is a symptom and result of those factors rather than the cause of the health problems.

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  4. I find this to be a bit far-fetched. Possibly the increase of social media networks hurts your health, but its harmful because you spend more time on this and less time exercising or going to meet others. Until there is some solid information backing up these claims, I am selling this argument.

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  5. [...] Keep Going: How to Create and Maintain New Habits By Celine Roque Apr. 24, 2010, 9:53am PDT No Comments      0 Web workers are creatures of habit. Those of us who are lucky enough to control all aspects of our work — schedule, location, process, and output — depend on such habits. We may schedule work hours for peak productivity, batch process our email, and even find a way to do household chores in between. But most of us also have destructive habits. These may include digital fiddling, spending too much time on social media, and working such long hours that our health pays the price. [...]

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