Now the Internet is Good for You?

We often assume that time spent in nature is good for us. “Touch grass” has become a common refrain for internet users who seem too deeply invested in some point of online intrigue.

One amusingly titled 2022 paper, “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Nature Walk as an Intervention,” confirmed that time spent in nature “has often been shown to improve psychological well-being.”

Nowadays, if you’re not in nature you’re probably connected to the internet in some form or another. Yet a paper featured in Nature news recently found that internet use also boosted wellbeing. 

Is Internet Use Actually Healthy?

The authors noted the pessimism of much of the discourse about the internet, from the early fears of the effect of violent video games through to pornography and bottomless phone-video scrolling. With this in mind, they noted, “our overarching research goal was to estimate the extent to which internet access, mobile internet access, and active internet use predicts psychological well-being on a global level.”

The researchers analysed data from the Gallup World Poll, “a series of cross-sectional samples of 2,414,294 individuals from 168 countries from 2006 to 2021.” The data showed an average increase of 0.08 points to a person’s self-reported sense of well-being on a scale of 1 in 10. Clearly this was a small effect, but it was persistent across countries and demographic groups.

Intriguingly, across countries this correlation between internet use and well-being did not hold for one group: females aged 15 to 24 years, whose access to the internet correlated with their reduced perception of “community wellbeing”.

“We studied eight indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, the extent to which individuals reported experiencing daily negative and positive experiences; two indices of social well-being; physical well-being, community well-being, and experiences of purpose,” the researchers wrote.

“On average across countries and demographics, individuals who had internet access, mobile internet access, or actively used the internet reported greater levels of life satisfaction, positive experiences, experiences of purpose, and physical, community, and social well-being, and lower levels of negative experiences.”

Of course, since 2006 internet use has expanded dramatically. Just 20.5% of Gallup Poll respondents reported having internet access in 2006. By 2021, that number had passed 93%.

Article image courtesy of @andrewtneel via Unsplash.

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