The paper, titled “Life Satisfaction in the Internet Age” and forthcoming in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, is the first to study the long-term, at-scale impact of the Internet on personal satisfaction. The researchers — both of whom are based out of Israeli universities — analyzed almost a decade of data from Israel’s Annual Social Surveys, encompassing responses from more than 70,000 people.
Through a series of statistical models, they were then able to isolate the specific relationship between Internet adoption (which is up in the past decade) and self-described life satisfaction (which is up slightly among most people, and stable among seniors).
The TL;DR: Internet users are more satisfied with their lives than non-users, and Internet adoption over the past decade has directly (and positively!) impacted life-satisfaction. Those effects are especially pronounced among the elderly, the poor and the ill or handicapped.
“If senior citizens, people with low income and those suffering from health problems are able to effectively use the many options offered by the Internet,” the researchers write, “they may experience greater life satisfaction in the long run and move forward in a more prosperous society.”
For the record, 15 percent of Americans don’t have Internet, most of them elderly or low-income; an additional 17 million Americans can only get online through their smartphones.
The study isn’t perfect, of course: For one thing, because it relies on national survey data, there’s a certain lack of nuance involved. (The Annual Social Survey does not make a point of asking people how often they use the Internet, for instance — just if they use it at all.) The researchers also say they’re holding out for more reliable longitudinal data.
Still, this should help answer a Big Question about the role of the Internet in our lives — a role that’s so frequently, and shortsightedly, downplayed and demonized.
While the literature hasn’t yet conclusively established that using the Internet increases individual satisfaction, there’s way more to suggest that it does than doesn’t. Sure, scrolling Instagram can make you feel like you had a lame summer, and curating your Facebook brand™ can be stressful, and whiling away hours on porn or 4chan or League of Legends can be socially isolating.
But those harms are eclipsed, several times over, by the psychic benefits of the Internet: stuff like having access to information on literally every subject under the sun, not to mention a huge community of strangers, family and friends.
The more ingrained the Web becomes in our lives, of course, the more we take all that for granted. But it might be time for a bit of perspective: If you think your FOMO’s bad on Instagram, what would it feel like if you didn’t even have the Internet?
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