See more of the story

Digital platforms are having a bad year. That might be good news for America's mental health.

The negative headlines keep coming, mostly driven by disappointing quarterly earnings calls. This month, Facebook parent company Meta reported the first quarterly drop in revenue since the company went public in 2012. Profit is down 36% over last year. Netflix lost almost a million subscribers between April and July, marking two quarters in a row of audience decline.

Amazon, which thrived while we were all stuck at home ordering toilet paper online, reported a net loss for the second straight quarter. And Apple, the company that connects 113 million Americans to digital tools, saw profits drop 11%.

Those declines are the result of a complex web of factors. Among them, Meta has suffered from Apple's privacy update that allowed users to stop vendors from tracking activity across other apps. Netflix is in an unsustainable content war with other streaming services, spending billions producing what they hope will be the next binge-able show, even as viewers are hitting their limit on how many streaming platforms they can pay for at once. Amazon blamed inflation for its woes.

But one other factor might be at play: More people getting off the couch and living IRL, as the kids say. (That's "in real life" for those of you not on TikTok.)

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January, Americans have lost most of their guardedness about getting out and about. When compared to a year ago, the percentage of Americans who say they are comfortable doing "real world" things has grown dramatically: Eating at a restaurant (70%, up from 44%), visiting friends inside their home (85%, up from 65%), attending an indoor sporting event or concert (43%, up from 19%).

And Americans are roving even farther away from the couch than the neighborhood restaurant. On June 26, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.5 million people at airport checkpoints, the highest volume since Feb. 11, 2020. The rush has overwhelmed airlines, leading to canceled flights and delays.

Experts say all that time IRL is good for us. Research has connected social media use with decreased, disrupted and delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss and poor academic performance.

By contrast, the best activities we can engage in for our mental health are exercise, human connection, exploration and being outside — all things undermined by always-on-the-internet culture.

It's too simplistic to say Facebook and Netflix earnings are suffering because people are choosing in-person activities more often, but we can dream. The more we Americans can interrupt our pandemic-habitualized doomscrolling, and breathe fresh (though hot) air, the healthier our nation will be.