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An overdose on technology | Review

In Haenertsburg where Iron Crown Pub & Bistro owners, Linda and James Halkon, concentrate on their cell phones.

HAENERTSBURG – Visiting Virginia, a 66-year-old lonely widow in Umhlanga Rocks, fired up the probability that another addiction will soon be lumped together with recognised addictions. That addiction is technology, and in particular, social media.

Virginia was a chain smoker, gambled every second day at one of the two nearby casinos and spent the rest of her time on her cell phone communicating with two lovers she’d met through social media. Virginia took her cell phone to bed with her so as not to miss any WhatsApp, SMSes or calls. She’d be face down and eyes focused on the screen when going out. Virginia was so depressed that she took an overdose of prescription medication and threw herself into the Indian Ocean. She was saved at the last minute by a fisherman.

Health experts say sitting is the new smoking. Given the number of diseases to which sitting is linked, sitting is one of the worst things we can do for our health. But possibly as concerning is the thing we often do while we’re sitting – mindlessly scrolling through our social media feeds.

Studies show the comparison factor in social media leads to jealousy. Those perfect children, those fabulous holidays, those perfect marriages are all envy-inducing. The more friends one has on social media doesn’t mean a better social life. It takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up friendships. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the therapeutic effect as time with real friends. Since loneliness is linked to a myriad health and mental health problems (including early death), getting real social support is important. It becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with people face to face, however, as globally people are engrossed with their screens 24/7.

The American Academy of Paediatrics has warned about the potential for negative effects of social media on young children and teens, including cyber-bullying and ‘Facebook depression’. But the same risks may be true for adults, across generations.

There are enormous benefits to social media. It keeps us connected across great distances and helps us find people we’d lost touch with years ago. But getting on social media with time to kill or, needing an emotional lift, is a bad idea. Taking a break from Facebook helps boost psychological well-being.

The drive to communicate other than face to face began more than a century ago. A Scottish scientist living in the USA, Alexander Graham Bell, invented the telephone in 1876. Letter writing started dwindling.

Fast forward to 3 April 1973, to Motorola senior engineer Martin Cooper. Martin stood in midtown Manhattan in America, called rival telecommunications company, Bell Labs in nearby New Jersey, and informed them he was speaking via mobile phone. The era of mobility and instant communication had arrived.

Meanwhile the history of the internet began with the development of electronic computers in the 1950s. Commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) began in the late 1980s. The World Wide Web (www) became publicly available in 1991. Inventor of www, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee, fundamentally changed the world.

By 2000, around 100 million people had access to the internet. Chat rooms began and meeting people from different walks of life with it. There was the Cape fisherman off the west coast, who went by the alibi Snoek. He extended an invitation to come aboard his ship at 04:00. It became common for people to engage socially online but the huge boom of social media was still to come.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook and the earth tilted. Facebook is the number one social media website and currently has over a billion users. Twitter, a service that allows only 140 characters or less per tweet, was created by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Evan Williams and has over 500 million users.

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