Belonging in the Digital World: A Conceptual Framework and a Systematic Review of the inter-generational impact of Social Media on ‘Belonging’ in Adolescents and Older Adults

Social connectedness in human beings has been found to impact clinical indicators of physical and mental health. In the present age, digital technology adoption including the use of social media or social networking sites is being normalized for creating or maintaining social relationships. However, the pace and pattern of such adoption and its influence on social health may vary intergenerationally. We outline present evidence and research gaps in the current understanding of the impact of social media on social health. We then rationalize and conceptualize a multi-dimensional analytical framework for the assessment of ‘Belonging’ in the digital world, specifically in the context of social media use (SMU). Using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis) guidelines, and collated data from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-experimental studies, we examine and compare recent evidence on the impact of social media on ‘Belonging’ in adolescents and older adults. Finally, we recommend potential opportunities for future research and policy to contribute to a more nuanced perspective on the role played by SMU in inter-generational belonging.

Kim Samuel is a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, where she studies the relationship between social isolation and multidimensional poverty as well as the broader link between human belonging and wellbeing. She is the founder of the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness and an academic lecturer at institutions including Oxford, Harvard, and McGill universities. Kim is the author of On Belonging: Finding Connection in an Age of Isolation (Abrams Press: September 2022) and serves as the first-ever Fulbright Canada ambassador for diversity and social connectedness.

Dr Prenika Anand is the Leslie Kirkley Visiting Scholar in the Department of Population Ageing at the University of Oxford. Dr Anand is a health management specialist working on facilitating evidence on health behaviour modification and its impact on the cost of care. She has spent 10 years in leading innovation, design thinking and product management for digitally enabled payer/employer driven health management/workplace well-being in India across diverse population subgroups. She has recently completed an MSc in Applied Digital Health at Oxford and is keen to investigate opportunities, challenges, and regulatory frameworks under global health systems for digital health inclusivity, evidence-based digital health products, and responsible Health AI.