I had dinner this week with Simon Proudlock one of my oldest pals that has spent the last decade or so working as a counsellor and psychologist in the UK and US.
I was keen to get his view of Baroness Susan Greenfield’s hypothesis outlined in the Mail last week, that social networks have the potential to rot the brains of generation Y, and worst result in autism.
While there is evidence that brain chemistry can be altered by experiences during formative years, there is no evidence that it could occur as a result to exposure – however extreme – to social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The link between abuse and brain chemistry in young people is an area that is being explored by organisations such as Kids Company in London.
But that doesn’t mean social networks are off the hook. Proudlock reckons that he’s spotted a trend whereby individuals are increasingly developing relationships via technology platforms such as the mobile phone and PC and as a result are not developing the life skills to develop relationships in the real world.
The upshot is that when individuals are forced to meet people in social situations, interviews or personal relationships, they exhibit high levels of anxiety.
“I’m seeing an increase in anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety. Young people are communicating more and more via text and are coming increasingly socially isolated. The growth of sites such as Facebook fuels an ever increasing franchised society allowing young adults to feel part of a social network without having to step outside of their comfort zone and meet real people,” said Proudlock.
But technology isn’t all bad. Proudlock is currently working on a programme to investigate the positive benefits of the Wii Fit on individuals with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. His thesis is that the Wii allows people to improve their personal wellbeing without needing to leave the comfort or security of their own home, invaluable as the first step to more positive mental health.
If you’re interested in exploring any of these areas further give him a shout (via, er, Facebook).