When the very first so­cial me­dia sites emerged on the scene in the early 2000s (hello, MyS­pace, my old friend) not much thought was given to the po­ten­tial neg­a­tive ef­fects. Af­ter all, the premise was pos­i­tive: it gave peo­ple the abil­ity to con­nect with friends and fam­ily, while meet­ing new peo­ple in the process.

Since then, the num­ber of sites and apps ded­i­cated to so­cial­is­ing on­line has sky­rock­eted, as have the num­ber of stud­ies that show it’s not all beer and skit­tles.

A New Zealand At­ti­tudes and Val­ues Study (NZAVS) found one in ten Ki­wis aged 30 to 59 had ex­pe­ri­enced cy­ber bul­ly­ing, while that num­ber was even higher in youth, with 46 per­cent of 18 to 19-year-olds ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it. Com­pared to pre­vi­ous eras, where home would at least be a tem­po­rary refuge, there is of­ten no es­cape from ha­rass­ment in a dig­i­tal world.

Statis­tics also show reg­u­lar so­cial me­dia use can cre­ate feel­ings of anx­i­ety, low self-es­teem and even lone­li­ness – the very thing it was meant to coun­ter­act. Be­cause so­cial me­dia pro­files are a cu­rated, typ­i­cally pos­i­tive ver­sion of some­one’s life, the de­sire to com­pare it with your own is pow­er­ful. But the re­search shows the more peo­ple make those com­par­isons, the un­hap­pier they be­come.

Mind­works psy­chol­o­gist Sara Chatwin says she’s been a reg­is­tered prac­ti­tioner since 1995, and has seen the ef­fect tech­nol­ogy has had on the hu­man psy­che over time.

She says there now seems to be a lot more peo­ple with dis­or­ders such as anx­i­ety, and that could be linked to the way tech­nol­ogy is be­ing con­sumed so heav­ily in daily life.

“Whilst there are av­enues where it’s been so great, I’ve seen so much dam­age that so­cial me­dia and tech­nol­ogy has done,” she says. “For one, there are not many laws or reg­u­la­tions that mon­i­tor what is go­ing on or checks and bal­ances put in place. It’s very ran­dom. I work with a lot of celebri­ties, and there’s a phe­nom­e­nal amount of anony­mous hate that gets fired to the nicest of peo­ple. So­cial me­dia has next to no de­vices to mon­i­tor, reg­u­late or en­force lim­i­ta­tions or re­stric­tions on it.”

She says the so­lu­tion to com­bat­ing the neg­a­tive ef­fects of so­cial me­dia is to take life back to grass­roots.

“You’re never go­ing to get away from this stuff, be­cause it’s here and it’s grow­ing – but you can get out­side, go for a walk, go to a gym, or meet peo­ple face-to-face,” she says.

And as the lines be­tween so­cial me­dia and re­al­ity blur, Chetwin says it’s also im­por­tant to take note of what is im­por­tant.

“If you have a life that’s on­line, you don’t have a real life,” she says. “You have half a life. On­line stuff isn’t based in re­al­ity, it’s based on the abil­ity to not have to do things that are nec­es­sary when you’re a hu­man be­ing liv­ing in a real-world en­vi­ron­ment.”

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