Beat those social media blues: Log off and get a life

Anyone over 25 and under 50 is part of a generation young enough to feel at ease with new technology, but old enough to escape a Facebook-haunted adolescence
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The Independent Online

At this point, there's nothing to be gained from railing against the whole internet. It's like drinking water; occasionally contaminated, but essential to life and, in a perfect world, freely available to all. It's for this reason that reports into the damaging effects of the internet are usually greeted with a sigh, a shrug and little in the way of purposeful action.

Last week, Public Health England (PHE) added to the dust-gathering pile with its report on the link between time spent online and "lower levels of well-being" among children. In a dossier submitted to the Commons Health Select Committee, PHE detailed the association with "reduced feelings of social acceptance, and increased feelings of loneliness, contact problems and aggression". Its report also noted that 85 per cent of children over 13 are now on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

It might be helpful here to do what these reports don't do often enough, and make a distinction between internet use generally (harmless as part of a balanced cultural diet) and social media use specifically. If the internet is like water, then social media is alcohol – enjoyable in small quantities, potentially damaging to your health and best not imbibed by anyone too young to know their limits. In this analogy, Facebook is lager (fun when shared with friends); Twitter is cheap white wine (makes you want to fight people) and Reddit is a can of K cider in the leisure centre car park (only for the desperate).

If today's parents don't appreciate the extent to which excessive social media use might damage their children's mental health, it's not because they're technophobes – quite the opposite, judging by the volume of baby pictures on my Instagram timeline. It's because anyone over 25 and under 50 is part of a generation which will one day be recognised as the lucky ones. We were young enough to feel at ease with new technology, but old enough to escape a Facebook-haunted adolescence.

Growing up has always meant a few years of self-conscious hell, but today's teenagers have it worse. They're also required to document said hell in a series of Rihanna-referencing selfies, to construct a perfect self which can be displayed alongside others for comparison. As any agony aunt in Just Seventeen (RIP) could have told them, comparing yourself to others only results in sad-faced emoticons and all those other bad feelings observed by PHE. But wait, social media has a built-in fix for this too: approval in the form of likes, followers, upvotes and retweets. Beware the sinister power of a stranger's affirmation: in March a 20-year-old man was arrested for threatening to shoot someone for 100 retweets.

Social media doesn't just reinforce the status anxiety which is already part of human nature; it exploits it by creating a cycle of depression/affirmation that quickly becomes addictive. Troubled teens could just log off, of course. But then such a radical, non-conformist act would require some of that character strength which, sadly, they haven't had the chance develop.

Bounce back in bad taste

Advertising execs aren't known for their subtlety or good taste, which would explain the prevalence of songs by Black Eyed Peas in TV advertising soundtracks, but this effort by Ogilvy & Mather is surely an unprecedented low. Its advert for Indian mattress company Kurl-On featured an illustration of the teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai being shot in the head by the Taliban before falling down on to a Kurl-On mattress, then bouncing back to full health.

Following complaints, Ogilvy has pulled the ad and issued an apology, but it's odd that what most people seem to have found most offensive about the ad was the illustration's goriness. Perhaps the other matter – how Yousafzai's noble cause has been appropriated to flog bedding – can't be singled out for criticism, because similarly crass combinations are so depressingly common.

The same Kurl-On series features another advert with Mahatma Gandhi also "bouncing back". The Beatles song "Revolution" was used in a Nike commercial, and the image of Martin Luther King Jnr has been used to sell everything from Mercedes cars to Hayward's Black Stout to – believe it or not – mattresses.

The graduate's road to riches

Do you need a degree to earn that million? Or do you need a million to earn that degree? A new report showing that one in five university graduates goes on to become a millionaire has been greeted by universities minister David Willetts as cause for self-congratulation. "It shows why it's fair to ask graduates to pay back the cost of their higher education, and why increasing the number of people who go to university will spread wealth and opportunity," he says.

It's a shame that Mr Willetts attended university before tuition fees, otherwise he'd be due a cash refund for that missed lesson on the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. In fact, that the one in five was likely already on his or her way to a million before even graduating from nursery.

Another recent report by London University's Institute of Education showed that the children of wealthier families are still three times more likely to go to top universities than working-class pupils and – here's the kicker – even if they have the same grades.

It's also much easier to succeed at university if you don't have to worry about money and much easier to succeed afterwards if your long-term financial security is already assured by your inheritance. The best way to get rich? Make sure you're already rich to begin with.

Sofa so good

Until recently, Down the Back of the Sofa was a lawless extraterritorial zone, like international waters. If you found something there – a remote control, say, or a half-eaten Tracker bar – it was yours to keep.

Last week, a new precedent was set in this murky area of property law by a bunch of student housemates in New York. When they found cash totalling $40,800 (£28,500) hidden in their second-hand sofa, they immediately tracked down the previous owner and returned it.

Good for the 91-year-old widow who thought she'd lost her life savings and good for the students, who are now internet heroes on a par with the dog-wrestling cat, but let's have some clarity on our rights. Can I keep this €2 coin I just found, or what?