- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: The Facebook Factor

A new study suggests that my aversion to social media could shorten my lifespan.

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Our future daughter-in-law on Friday posted a message on Facebook, paying tribute to the military veterans in her life. It was a sweet piece of sentiment, the sort of thing that attracts dozens of “likes” among those who travel in this social-media vortex.

I happened to notice it because the robots at Facebook send me what seems to be random alerts as part of their ongoing efforts to get me to pay attention to what my virtual friends and soon-to-be relatives might be thinking at any given moment. Every so often, for example, I’ll find a vaguely desperate plea arriving in my inbox, beseeching me to log in and check out the 92 notifications, 13 friend requests, and 29 event invitations. “A lot has been happening,” I’m told.

There’s no doubt about that: Birthday celebrations, vacation photos, overwrought political screeds, and kitten videos all await my reluctant attention. But I’m a practical guy. If it’s not information I can use, I’m probably not going to bite. I’ve got better things to do.

This could be a big mistake.

A recent study out of the University of California, San Diego, suggests that people who combine moderate Facebook activity with real-life social connections tend to live longer lives. The research team analyzed data from 12 million Facebook users between the ages of 27 and 71 and concluded that those who spent fruitful time on the site were 12 percent less likely to die during a given year than those, like me, who avoided the platform altogether.

We all know that strong social connections are among the keys to longevity, but the UCSD study is the first to show that online sociability may have the same effect — when practiced in moderation.

“Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline,” said lead study author William Hobbs, currently a postdoctoral student at Northeastern University. “It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association.”

I’d like to blame my social-media aversion to some sort of iconoclastic battle against technology, but then I’d have to hide my iPhone. It may have more to do with a stubborn preference for solitude as I get older, an inclination to look inward rather than outward as a way of gradually coming to grips with the changes aging forces upon me.

My Lovely Wife spends a little time on Facebook every day, posting a photo here and there, conferring “likes” when so inspired, and avoiding political conflicts. I often get the highlights over the dinner table. She values her solitude as much as I do, laments friendships that have lapsed over the years, and struggles with forging new relationships. To some degree, I think, this all comes with the geezer territory. For better or worse, some of us tend to narrow our horizons as we roll beyond middle age. Focus on the fundamentals; avoid distractions.

That’s not necessarily a good thing; it’s just a reality some of us have to face.

I’m pretty sure MLW “liked” that post from our future daughter-in-law. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I’m beginning to think it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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