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It’s undeniable that social networking has become an integral part of most of our everyday lives. It’s changed the way we interact with our friends, keep in touch with our families, flirt with our partners, get to know our colleagues and admire our idols. All this is well and good, of course, but what’s all this information and connectivity doing to our minds? We hear about the bad all the time – but here’s some of the good.

Social networks help you to deal with criticism

People are motivated to protect their own images of themselves, and they react poorly to anything they perceive as a threat to that image. These threats are actually very common – criticism at work, relationship problems, new diagnoses and being on the receiving end of someone else’s prejudice are all threats to our self-integrity, and therefore we react to them in ways that are ultimately not helpful for anybody, least of all ourselves.

Psychologists have long suggested self-affirmation manipulations to help improve our reactions to these threats. Traditionally, these have included such techniques as writing a list of your better qualities, creating a scrapbook of everything that makes you happy to look through in times of trouble, and compiling a list of things people have done that prove to you they care for you.

Recent research, however, suggests that building profiles for ourselves on social networking sites brings with it some of these same benefits. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense; most want you to compile lists of your interests and qualities, amass a network of the people who love you the most, and save you little messages from anyone important in your life. They’re doing things for free that some people have paid mental health professionals to learn about.

Social networking helps you to make friends more quickly

Imagine that it’s 1993 and you’ve just met someone cool at an exercise class, and you’d like them to be your friend. You get talking to them after the session a few times, chatter, perhaps exchange landline numbers for one or two talks on a phone. You maybe have lunch with them one day. The process of turning them from ‘acquaintance’ into ‘friend’ is fun, but it’s slow – it could be months before the two of you swap much personal information, and you’ll probably never know much about their daily life.

Twenty years later, the process is quite different. You’d chat to them after a couple of classes just the same – and then maybe you’ll add them on Facebook. All of a sudden, as well as seeing them at the gym once a week, you have an inside track on their life – you know about their bad days at work, their favourite breakfast food, the hilarious thing their cat did this morning. Is this essential information? Almost certainly not. Does it help you to get to know them better, and thereby make the transition from girl-from-the-gym to close-friend quicker, easier and more personal? Absolutely.

Social networks can make you more intelligent.

Now, I’m not going to try and convince you that watering your imaginary cows can raise your IQ. It is true, though, that some of the ways we use the social networks we’re a part of can help us to broaden our horizons, learn new information, and become better at making astute connections between seemingly disparate facts.

Social media opens up the world to us in ways that were never before possible. We can now have friends from any country on the planet, learn about the daily lives of people whose societies are drastically different to our own, and keep up with events in parts of the world that the mainstream media tend not to report much from. “All of human life is here”, as the old adage goes – and the more we know and the more we see, the more informed and intelligent we can become.

Of course, the internet is still full of a million articles bemoaning the evils of social networking – and all things have their downsides. If used in an informed and sensible way, however, social networks can change our worlds for the better and forge new, innovative methods of learning, socialising and using our time beneficially.