Is our social media addiction a problem for the NHS or is there a 'Goldilocks zone'?

The internet never sleeps. It's the phrase I hear more at work than any other. There's always an opportunity, a breaking issue to manage, a thread lighting up that needs pitching into. There's always an alert to check or a device to mute.

Is there a 'Goldilocks zone' for social media use or will it lead to more demand on the NHS, asks Drew Benvie
Is there a 'Goldilocks zone' for social media use or will it lead to more demand on the NHS, asks Drew Benvie

But there comes a time when you simply have to switch off. That's simple biology.

So I thought it timely when two new pieces of research caught my eye, one that quantifies this modern problem, and another to show us the way ahead.

First thing's first. To me this is all straightforward.

Take what you see on social media with a pinch of salt and make time to step away from your screens. For starters you'll do your posture and your eyesight the world of good.

But that's just old man Benvie talking... the bigger problem is mental wellbeing. I remember the PR days before social media and mobile phones, and I can picture clearly the first time screen overload crept up on me. It was back when pretty much every smartphone in work was a BlackBerry.

A colleague of mine figured out how to turn off the red flashing light – the one that BlackBerry decided should go off indefinitely if you had email. Can you imagine if phones today blinked red until you hit inbox zero? We’d have planes landing on Great Titchfield Street.

So, lo and behold this new research compiled by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

It has quantified the negative effects of social media consumption on wellbeing, concluding that the government should protect us from the unregulated social media content we are consuming, because it seems we are increasingly turning to cosmetic procedures like Botox and fillers as a result.

This is apparently down to the invasion of beauty inspo filling our apps, news feeds and Insta Stories.

This could spell trouble for the NHS. At worst, this trend could herald a new drain on health sector resources, and at the very least, a reason for new awareness campaigns and education.

But screen time is hard to quantify objectively and harder still to curtail. So, enter the other recent study. The cure no less!

Researchers at the University of Oxford have shown that if we get our screen time "just right" then it's actually good for our wellbeing.

Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, too little time on our phones is bad for us, because we miss out on the social interaction from social media and messaging apps.

Too much is bad too, as we’ve already seen. But how much is just right? Oxford’s luminaries say one to  three hours per day.

So whether you’re on the quest for work life balance, or maybe you’re just keen to appreciate the world around you with #nofilter, three hours is the new "five a day".

Apps like Moment will let you see how you’re doing… just be prepared for a shock when you find out how much social media you need to cut down on.

Drew Benvie is founder and managing director of Battenhall

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