It can often feel like technology and digital communication is advancing and changing at a rapid rate, too quickly for us to appreciate the impact it may be having on our health and happiness. But today’s news shares a short piece of research by the University of Michigan that found Facebook makes you lonely. Perhaps most significantly, the researchers found people spent more time on Facebook when they were feeling lonely but “not simply because they were alone at that precise moment”. (The research back up this amazing short video/infographic from Shimi Cohen).
The ideas and technology behind social connectivity will continue to grow; and in the US and the UK a number of reports have shown positive links between digital communication and connectedness. But academic research that is robust and conclusive is still needed. For example, the international journal AARP, highlighted last year how the use of mobile technology can enhance independent living; and Independent Age found that internet and computer access could bring significant benefits for older people but digital exclusion remained a big issue.
How can we understand these different pieces of research?
Professor Charles Crook, from the University Nottingham, recently wrote a think-piece for the Campaign to End Loneliness about the debate and gaps in research into how to create connection and shared knowledge with digital tools. He argued that for many digital services – including Facebook, Skype, email and Twitter – a study can be found that shows them be successfully used. On the other hand, it is hard to find evidence that any of them have been adopted on a scale that suggests they can be regarded as a transformative force in respect to loneliness in older age.
His article goes on to recommend a new kind of research that needed for us to better understand of digital tools in terms of both design and induction. That is, we need to understand what designs of tool will best fit the communication preferences of this population and, then, what forms of support will help them acquire confidence and interest in those tools. A full version of Charles’s excellent article can be found in the 7th Edition of the Campaign to End Loneliness Research Bulletin. To receive this Research Bulletin, sign-up here.
How can we fill these gaps in our knowledge?
We’re also missing conclusive evidence about what works more broadly to tackle loneliness – whether this is a technological solution or not. This is why the Campaign to End Loneliness is partnering with the University of Northumbria and the University of Swansea to find out what works in tackling loneliness and, crucially, how this learning can be transferred elsewhere, to other activities and services. We are seeking funding for this at the moment and welcome ideas and suggestions for developing this crucial piece of work.
If you’re interested in what works to tackle loneliness, please contact email@example.com to let us know your questions, ideas or support.
- If you’re interested in innovative ways to use technology to tackle loneliness, see SharedWalk or Mindings
- For BBC coverage of the University of Michigan study see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23709009
- For the Independent Age report see: http://www.independentage.org/media/9425/gulbenkiannewreport.pdf