April 20, 2024

Internet is not bad for us, major Oxford study shows

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves after

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Tech for Good Summit at the Elysée Palace in Paris on May 23, 2018. Ludovic Martín—AFP/Getty Images

As recently as 2010, the Internet was simply the starting point: uniting humanity, subduing authoritarians, and generally creating solutions to any problem you could think of. And then it wasn’t like that. After the disappointment of the Arab Spring and disillusionment over Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations and Frances Haugen’s manipulation testimony, in fact It turned out that the Internet was destroying our societies and reducing us to enslaved and increasingly disturbed screen addicts.

I exaggerate for effect, but only a little: there is a very strong narrative today that technology is bad for us. So, in search of hard data, a pair of researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute studied the psychological well-being of 2 million people over the period 2005-22 and discovered… does it seem like we’re actually okay?

“We show that the last two decades have seen only small and inconsistent changes in global well-being and mental health that do not suggest the idea that Internet and mobile broadband adoption is consistently linked to negative psychological outcomes,” they said. read in the summary. of the study, published yesterday in Clinical Psychological Science.

“We looked very hard for a ‘smoking gun’ linking technology and well-being, and we didn’t find it,” co-author Andrew Przybylski said in a statement announcing the results today.

But wait, what about all those teenagers, especially girls, who need legislative protection against the addictive and depressive forms of social media? You know, the youth mental health crisis that recently precipitated a 33-state lawsuit against Meta? If there is a “there” there, it does not show up clearly in the data, once the methodological shortcomings of previous research are taken into account.

Professor Przybylski again says: “We meticulously test whether there is anything special in terms of age or gender, but there is no evidence to support popular ideas that certain groups are at greater risk.” As the study most clearly noted, demographic-specific trends and associations do not “support the commonly offered narrative that young people, particularly young women, have experienced disproportionately large declines in well-being in association with the adoption of Internet technologies.”

Reasons to be cheerful are few these days, so these findings are certainly welcome. But before we rejoice also Here’s the thing, though: There may not be any empirical support for the “bad tech” narrative, but we don’t definitively know its effects, because we simply don’t have enough data. But someone does.

“Research into the effects of Internet technologies is stalled because the most urgently needed data is collected and maintained behind closed doors by technology companies and online platforms,” ​​the researchers complain in their conclusion. “It is crucial to study, in more detail and with more transparency by all stakeholders, the data on individual adoption and engagement with Internet-based technologies. “This data exists and is continually analyzed by global technology companies for marketing and product improvement, but unfortunately it is not accessible for independent research.”

This is not a new complaint; Researchers have been pleading with Meta in particular for years to be more open about the data it holds on the mental health of young users. But, especially with that lawsuit filed in 33 states alleging that Meta deliberately tried to hook children on its products (including claims that Mark Zuckerberg refused to ban plastic surgery filters despite internal concerns about harmful effects for girls), it is time for big technology companies to open their doors. aware of what he knows what its effects are. Given the scale of adoption, the world deserves to know for sure, one way or another.

More news below.

David Meyer

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