Is Facebook making us lonely? Why we mustn’t hide behind technology
I love Facebook. Most the time anyway. It’s a magnificent tool for staying in touch with friends far away and connecting with people I never otherwise would (perhaps you’re one of them!) But like all tools, we can’t rely on it to do things it can’t – like replace the human element that is so essential in building strong, genuine and lasting relationships.
Press ‘like’ if you agree.
What’s interesting to me though is that the latest research reveals that as we have built expansive social networks online, the depth and breadth of our networks offline has diminished. Given the instantaneous gratification we get from our screens, our brains can quickly become addicted to the hit of micro-endorphins when someone retweets our comment, reposts our Instagram pic or likes our pithy Facebook update. Our digital tools play to our vanity and vulnerability. We can easily become seduced by them, relying on them for affirmation, validation and a sense of belonging. But as useful and fun as they can be, they can never fully replace ‘old-fashioned’ in-person conversation in building quality relationships and genuine social networks. What may be most surprising from recent studies is that those who report feeling most alone, are those you’d expect it from least: young, under 35, ‘digital natives’ – the most prolific social networkers of all.
A study by the American Sociological Association found that the number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled over the last two decades. Another study found. Forty eight percent of respondents only had one confidant compared to a similar study 25 years ago when people said they had about three people they could confide in. The time we spend socializing online can not only discourage face-to-face communication, but undermine our confidence at engaging in real conversations with real people in our personal presence. Social networking provides a means of escape; an easy out on having to confront those parts of our lives we wish were different, better, more glamorous and less mundane. It’s an all too convenient means of avoiding sometimes-harsh realities and playing pretend (to ourselves and others) with our lives. Online websites promise avatars that will allow us to admire our bodies, love our lives, and have a dream romance in all fifty shades of grey. But at what cost to our real life – marriage, body, finances, work, friendships – we have to face when we finally log off? Just as the most mesmerizing avatars cannot compensate for what’s missing in real life nor can an online social network can ever replace a real one. (I reckon there’s a tweet in there somewhere!)
As you read this now, millions of people are “connecting” and socializing with people they may never meet in person all while they fail to make eye contact, much less build relationships with the people a few steps away, or sitting right beside them. The former are ‘safe’ and enable us to show only as much as we want. The others demand us to vulnerable. So as technology infiltrates our lives we must be really deliberate about not losing touch with the people right around us or forget that human element within any relationship can never be replaced by technology. We must be deliberate in turning off our machines and making ourselves available for those people immediately around us – courageously embracing the awkwardness and imperfection of genuine relationships with real people. Indeed, truly meaningful connection, demands a degree of vulnerability and a measure of courage – laying down the designer photo-shopped masks we can too easily hide behind and revealing who we really are and what is really going on in our less than perfect lives.
For the record, Facebook, Twitter, and the like do NOT making us lonely. We make ourselves lonely. Likewise, we get to decide how we’ll use our devices, not the other way around. As technology reshapes our lives, we must rethink what we must do to create and maintain the rewarding relationships we want. We cannot become dependent on our online network to do things it simply cannot do. Only when we consciously decide to turn off our devices and tune into the people around us can we create the gloriously imperfect, but deeply satisfying relationships we all crave, and al need, to feel whole.
If something here has struck a chord with you, then I invite you to be more deliberate in turning off your devices and tuning in to the people around you – sharing who you are, where you are and what is truly going on in your world. After all, we connect far more through sharing our struggles, than we ever do just sharing our success.
Genuine friendships are one of life’s greatest delights. I wish you a life rich in them. Not thousands of friends. Just enough for you you to enjoy the authentic sense of connection and fulfilment you want, need and deserve.