There is a debate called the “Internet Paradox” about whether social media is actually connecting us or making us more feel more isolated.
I think it is actually a bit of both as we are connected to more people with time and space virtually no impediment any longer; however, those connections are often more shallow and less fulfilling.
There is an important article in The Atlantic (May 2012) called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” that lends tremendous perspective on information technology, social media and our relationships.
The premise is that “for all this [new] connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier.”
The article is very absolute that despite all the technology and communication at our fingertips, we are experiencing unbelievable loneliness that is making people miserable, and the author calls out our almost incessant feelings of unprecedented alienation, an epidemic of loneliness, and social disintegration.
Of course, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that almost everyone can share, but there are also numerous studies supporting this, including:
1) Study on Confidants (2004)–showed that our average number of confidants shrunk by almost 50% from approximately 3 people in 1985 to 2 people in 2004; moreover, in 1985 only 10% of Americans said they had no one to talk to, but this number jumped 1.5 times to 25% by 2004.
2) AARP Study (2010)–that showed that the percentage of adults over 45 that were chronically lonely had almost doubled from 20% in 2000 to 35% in 2010.
Some important takeaways from the research:
– Married people are less lonely than singles, if their spouses are confidants.
– “Active believers” in G-d were less lonely, but not for those “with mere belief in G-d.”
– People are going to mental professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors) as “replacement confidants.”
– Loneliness is “extremely bad for your health.”
– Our appetite for independence, self-reliance, self-determination, and individualism can lead to the very loneliness that can makes people miserable.
– Using social media, we are compelled to assert our constant happiness and curate our exhibitionism of the self–“we are imprison[ed] in the business of self-presenting.”
– Technology tools can lead to more integration or more isolation, depending on what we do with them–do we practice “passive consumption and broadcasting” or do we cultivate deeper personal interactions from our social networks?
Personally, I like social media and find it an important tool to connect, build and maintain relationships, share, and also relax and have fun online.
But I realize that technology is not a substitute for other forms of human interaction that can go much deeper such as when looking into someone’s eyes or holding their hand, sharing life events, laughing and crying together, and confiding in each other.
In January 2011, CNBC ran a special called “The Facebook Obsession,” the name of which represents the almost 1 billion people globally that use it. To me though, the real Facebook obsession is how preoccupied people get with it, practically forgetting that virtual reality, online, is not the same as physical, emotional, and spiritual reality that we experience offline.
At times, offline, real-world relationships can be particularly tough–challenging and painful to work out our differences–but also where we find some of the deepest meaning of anything we can do in this life.
Facebook and other social media’s biggest challenge is to break the trend of isolation that people are feeling and make the experience one that is truly satisfying and can be taken to many different levels online and off–so that we do not end up a society of social media zombies dying of loneliness.
Social media companies can do this not just for altruistic reasons, but because if they offer a more integrated solution for relationships, they will also be more profitable in the end.
(Source Photo: here with attribution to h.koppdelaney)