Tech Roundup: A Periodic Update on our Ever-Changing Relationship with Technology

Today: Are Facebook friends real friends, Twitter social jet lag, an Instagram mom sparks a debate, and Tim Cook on the real worries about AI.

Image by d3sign/ Getty Images
Image by d3sign/ Getty Images

• We know that our social connections on social media are problematic. The reason we’re drawn to social media is that we’re hard-wired to connect. That’s why social media is so successful – and addictive — and the alarm bells have been sounding particularly loud this year. Social media friendships don’t quite do what real friendships do for us. That’s been confirmed by science, and now it’s been confirmed by the courts. In a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, Facebook friendships were deemed not real friendship. The case centered on the question of whether a trial judge should be disqualified for conflict of interest over a Facebook friendship. The answer was no. Because, according to chief justice Charles Canady, writing for the majority, a true friend is someone “attached to another person by feelings of affection or esteem.” A Facebook friend, on the other hand, is only “connected to another person by virtue of their Facebook ‘friendship,’” which “does not objectively signal the existence of the affection and esteem involved in a traditional ‘friendship.’”

• The connection between social media use and mental health issues just keeps getting stronger. The latest is a study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania that claims to be the first to actually show the causality between social media use and depression and loneliness. And that link is FOMO, or the fear of missing out. “When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours,” said study author Melissa G. Hunt. She also pointed out that we don’t have to quit altogether – a tall order for many – to mitigate damaging effects. “Here’s the bottom line,” she said, “using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.”

• You don’t have to fly to get jet lag – or at least “social jet lag.” It’s defined as “the mismatch between the body’s internal clock and the realities of our daily schedules.” And in today always-on, 24/7 world, it’s a more and more common problem. The consequence aren’t just tiredness, but can include serious health conditions like obesity and heart disease. In a fascinating new study in Current Biology by researchers from, among others, the University of Chicago, Twitter was used to monitor social jet lag. What they found was a rise in Twitter social jet lag in February and a drop in June. Next, researchers want to devise ways people can monitor their social jet lag in real time and course correct when needed.

• We know that the allure of likes on social media can distort our perspective about life, self-esteem and success. And the phenomenon was put on stark display last week as the internet erupted over a mother who wrote about how her six year-old son had a “statistical deficit” of likes when she posted about him, and how this made her worried he’ll one day look at the numbers and “have to learn his value is not in online approval.” While she’s right that our worth is not in our likes, to many who took part in the ensuing debate, the post was an example of what she was warning against.

• For another – and more zoomed out – take on what technology is doing to us, there was this interview of Tim Cook by Axios. As the Apple CEO pointed out, tech products are not inherently good or evil, they’re tools – and their impact depends on how we use them. And as we enter the age of AI, the conversation is mostly about jobs, but there are wider concerns. “They’re worried about machines taking jobs and AI sort of replacing humans,” he said. “My worry is not that machines will think like people — it’s that people will think like machines. And so that to me is a much bigger worry.”

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