The irony is quite evident: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are, which is highlighted in the article published in The Atlantic Magazine in May 2012. According to it, the advancement in technology has caused a massive outbreak of loneliness that our ancestors would never have imagined. Research has proved that all the online connectivity has not helped us in socializing, but rather it has made us more isolated and lonelier. This loneliness has, in turn, resulted in mental and physical illnesses.
A story of a woman who died at home all alone and was later discovered by her neighbor months after is just a sole example of what is happening in our world today. Yvette, a famous playboy star, had many online friends and fans, but this was not a reflection of her real-life social circle. Her web connections had grown broader but shallower. Thus, it is evident from Yvette’s story that we are more detached now from one another than we were before.
Facebook, the largest social network, has over 840 million users, and its impact on our social life is immense. When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, his main intention was to connect the whole world into one global village. However, the network seems to be doing the contrary, spreading the loneliness it was designed to defeat.
The research recently conducted in Australia, where more than half of the population are Facebook-users, sought to establish the relationship between loneliness and social networking. The research showed that people who used Facebook and other social networks slightly felt social loneliness compared to the overwhelming feeling of family loneliness. The researchers attributed this family loneliness to the assumptions that Facebook encourages more contact with people outside the family circle, or that people in strained family situations could seek companionship elsewhere, in this case on social media.
Although technology and its evolution have been long associated with isolation, Americans view this as a sign of independence. Research showed that the percentage of households containing only one person has risen from 10% in 1995 to 27% in 2010. Even if this does not guarantee unhappiness, it is a known fact that isolation is highly correlated with loneliness. Other things like the rise in screen time and the decline of union membership demonstrate how technology has separated us from one another.
Moira Burke, however, believes that Facebook can be used to enhance communication and reduce loneliness. She opines that what you give is what you receive. Facebook users who participate in “composed communication” are less lonely compared to those engaging in one-click communication. Rather than just liking people’s pictures, it is more meaningful to send personalized messages. Conversely, non-personalized use of Facebook, which is also referred to as “broadcasting” or “passive consumption”, is not healthy and breeds depression.
John Cacioppo, the world’s leading specialist on loneliness, contends that Facebook is just a tool, and its effectiveness depends on its users. Similar to Burke, he argues that Facebook can be efficient if used correctly. In his research, he found a strong correlation between stress and loneliness in people. To Cacioppo, social media only provides false intimacy and cannot substitute actual people. Consequently, using Facebook does not create a new social network but rather transfers the established ones from one platform to another. It is thus true to conclude that Facebook neither creates nor destroys connections.
The article by The Atlantic Magazine gives readers many questions to mull over. Is our society today as lonely and isolated as the article say we are? Have we brought this loneliness upon ourselves? Can we trust the methodology and the theories used in the article to provide us with the given facts? How accurate are these facts? These are just some of the many questions that I wrestled with after critically reading and analyzing the article.
Yvette’s is one of the many sad stories of the people who live their lives behind a computer screen with a large number of followers but are all alone in real life. The book The Ugly Face of Facebook by Lydia Bright contains stories and confessions of people who have experienced depression and loneliness induced by social media. Bright is a blogger, and in her The Social Media Depression blog she writes about loneliness, depression, isolation, and how social media contributes to these feelings. Her book is a collection of some of the stories that her readers share on the blog.
Many of my peers, colleagues, classmates, and friends actively use Facebook. Some of them secretly battle with depression and loneliness, as they seek companionship and approval from the Internet. For instance, my classmate is a 23-year-old single mother. Being a mother at such an early age is very challenging, and she barely has time for hobbies and friends. She has two jobs and also goes to school and has no time to live the life her peers are living. Now she feels like she is missing out when she watches her friends post pictures of their fun road trips and nights of clubbing. Although she is always surrounded by people, she feels very lonely. Therefore, my friend’s story just proves how lonely we are.
Although some methodologies and theories utilized in this article may not be accurate, they do provide reasonable information. For the future research, it would be advisable to seek the opinion of professionals who are well-versed in psychology and sociology because loneliness is related to physical and mental illnesses. Researchers have intensively studied the Internet and its sociological impact, but they still need to do further research on the relatively newer phenomenon of Facebook.
Hence, it can be concluded that it is time we realize that although we have hundreds of friends on Facebook and receive 500 hundred messages when we log in to our Facebook account, we are still lonely. Facebook gives us this false sense of connection and friendship, but we all crave a deeper conversation than what we have on Facebook. Although it is yet disputable whether Facebook outrightly causes loneliness, it is clear is that there is a relationship between the use of social media and feeling isolation.