A Case For Social Health
Imagine a world where social technology actively cares about making your social life better: artificial intelligence eradicating loneliness, or your phone telling you if you are running all of your conversations dry. That world is possible now, thanks to advances in social health and recent lessons from social media.
Social Media and Wellness
With recent studies suggesting that the average person spends two hours on social media every day, it’s clear that social media has become the epicenter of our lives. As our day-to-day social interactions migrate online, academic research has attempted to uncover social media’s overall impact on our well-being. For now, the results are still inconclusive. While notable studies challenge the idea that the use of social media prevents the formation of healthy relationships, others have also shown certain concerns about social media use to be valid.
For instance, there is growing evidence to suggest that social media use reinforces and amplifies pre-existing personal experiences, such as social isolation and other group dynamics. A study conducted at the University of Ottawa in 2015 specifically noted that the probability of experiencing conditions such as social anxiety, isolation, or body image issues is shown to increase with more time spent passively scrolling on social media.
Attention-dependent ad revenue models — which have carried the likes of Facebook and Google from strength to strength financially — rely on maximizing the time that users spend on their platforms. While intentions may not be malicious, expecting corporations to genuinely prioritize social health may be naive, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to do so on Facebook.
One thing that digital communications and newer social apps can be credited for, however, is producing an abundance of social data that can fuel new innovation. If utilized effectively and ethically, recent advancements in technology (data processing and A.I. tools), the increasing portability of social data (message histories and social graphs), and public and regulatory demand for privacy and transparency create an opportunity to finally consider social interactions as a vital component of personal health.
Measuring Social Health
The idea that our social lives have an effect on our health has actually existed since before the advent of social media, with the World Health Organization defining health as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being” over seventy years ago. Nonetheless, social health is only taught to us informally by family and peers (“Say hello!”, “Don’t talk to that person”), and we learn it further through trial and error and self-reflection (“Why aren’t they replying to my tenth email?”, “Do I need more friends?”, “Am I lonely?”).
Existing research overwhelmingly links social isolation and poor quality of social relations with negative mental and physical health consequences. The reverse is also true, with positive and supportive friendship groups contributing to improved happiness, well-being, and even wealth.
At Shryne, we have defined social health as the missing link between overall well-being (particularly mental health) and a person’s social life. We further define good social health as having your social and emotional needs satisfied. Each personal situation is different, so at minimum everyone needs access to supportive, positive, and meaningful connections.
While factors such as loneliness, reciprocity, trust, or supportiveness may be intuitive, their subjectivity makes them difficult to measure. The multitude of relationship types and stages makes it practically impossible for any person to observe useful trends or patterns from a critical distance without the help of technology.
Finding a Solution
Shryne is working toward a solution that gives users complete and inviolable control over their personal data, while empowering them to use it for their social health. Our approach involves creating a consumer service that helps with some of the more immediate needs, while also undertaking long-term research to better understand the science of social health and its future implications.
The first crucial aspect is giving each user explicit ownership of their social data, with full control over how it is used. When combined with a subscription model, we can begin offering a solution that is transparent, ethical, and gives our users the assurance that their interests are aligned with ours.
If we want to also help in correcting poor social habits, our service has to inform our users about the nature of social health and give them personalized analytics that they can use themselves. Furthermore, insights that help to maintain healthy, balanced social relationships, have to be simple and easily understood.
The result combines data reclamation and archiving with a personalized social health assistant. Using an iTunes phone backup, a user is able to easily sync their messaging data (initially text messages and WhatsApp) into their organized and private Shryne account. Afterwards, a user is given the chance to try our social A.I. features, which helps them learn, manage and improve their social health.
Bigger Than a Single Service
Shryne is working toward a future in which people have complete and inviolable control over their data and are able to use it to enhance their social health.
Our early results are highly encouraging, but social health remains a massive and largely unknown domain, one that isn’t given as much attention as physical or even mental health. A comprehensive solution would require the combined effort of innovators, academics, and, most importantly, you, the public. Join us in our cause by spreading the word, or try our solution for yourself, here.