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According a 2021 study by Forbes, the average American spends at least three hours a day on social media. Over the course of the last two years, many have endured a spectrum of experiences because of the isolation of the pandemic, leaving many to inadvertently see reality through a screen or schedule time to “disconnect.” Academic journal, Computers in Human Behavior Reports, recently published original research on the topic by Associate Professor of Communications and Media Studies Dr. Mark Flynn and Emery Veilleux ’21 in an article titled, “A Post from the Woods: Social Media, Well-being and Our Connection to the Natural World.” 

The research was conducted through an online survey to a sample of adults in the United States about social media engagement, posting and seeing posts from others related to nature, their connectedness to nature and their well-being, or vitality (feelings of boosted mood, energy and excitement) and body appreciation.  

Within the study it is explained, “It is often argued that [connection to nature] CTN is an important, yet diminishing, human need, especially when juxtaposed with our increased time spent with screens and social media. Yet, little is known about the potential for social media, CTN, and well-being to form positive relationships.” 

Dr. Flynn has always been interested in nature and started to consider a couple of years ago the impact of our connection to nature not only universally, but for his work teaching communications and media studies. “In media theory there's this concept of technological determinism, which is this idea that media can create negative impacts on society that we don’t have any agency in,” he said. 

To challenge this notion that media is a virus and nature is the antidote, the research findings exhibit the ways that CTN can be mobilized through media. One of the strongest links found was between CTN and vitality. Flynn suggests that if one is posting pictures of nature, it is more likely for one to have a higher sense of vitality.  

Veilleux, who now works in marketing and PR for Threshold, a Peabody Award-winning podcast that tells captivating stories about people and the planet, commented on the scope of the publication, saying, “We were thinking outside the common realm that social media equals evil and that the only way to connect to nature is to disconnect from social media. That is simply not true, social media can be a medium to facilitate a connection to nature through active or passive intake of nature posts.” 

Veilleux added, “Dr. Flynn and I always talked about creating nuance. When we hear people talk about the ways in which the world can be polarizing, I hope that people realize that it is possible for everything to successfully coexist. Through connection to nature, and therefore our well-being, it allows us to think about how we can harness our own personal relationships to live in a more interconnected, integrated, connective, and restorative world.” 

Dr. Flynn is proud of the work that has been done so far in this area of study and looks forward to continuing the project with more qualitative research. He added, “There is a devoted interest in sustainability here at Emmanuel, from both the faculty and students, which allows for a unique opportunity to pair this with my research. Being able to mentor students like Emery and others through this research has been so rewarding.” 

Veilleux, now having more perspective on her undergraduate experience majoring in environmental sustainability and writing, editing and publishing, offers to current students that they should, “Get outside of the classroom, and create meaningful relationships by following your interests and passions.”