Social Networking: Making the World a Lonelier Place Every Day

By Daniel Hoisch on July 30, 2013

Web of isolated social connections. Photo uploaded by

Whenever I go on to Facebook or some other social networking site, I feel as though I should have hundreds of friends to occupy my time with. It’s only after I’ve logged on that I feel an overwhelming sense of boredom and uncertainty about where to go next, almost as though I’m staring at a list of inanimate digital icons without any expression of feeling or emotion. We live in the age of mass communication and online social empires, and yet despite our 24/7 electronic availability, professional studies are showing a constant rise in depression, loneliness, and anxiety. We have access to our friends and families whenever we want now simply by the push of a button, so logically we should have done away with these negative emotions a long time ago, right?  Research from academic institutions and news outlets around the world suggests otherwise, and the technology that we thought could could bring us closer together may in fact be tearing us apart.

The digital paper bag mask. Photo uploaded by YacineBaroudi.

Obviously social network sites are no substitute for the real life face-to-face experience, so why are we still so intent on giving them all of our attention? Graphic Design student Shimi Cohen at the Shenkar College for Design and Engineering in Israel gives a few insights on the matter in his own online video The Innovation of Loneliness. In his video, Cohen emphasizes a sort of technological substitution for the people in our lives, as though we would rather deal with each other on screen than in real life. “However, our fantasies about substitution are starting to take a toll,” Cohen says. “We’re collecting friends like stamps, not distincting quantity versus quality, and converting the deep meaning and intimacy of friendship with exchanging photos and chat conversations. By doing so, we are sacrificing conversation for connection…” According to Cohen, this connection allows us to hide behind a digital mask, thereby reshaping our typical selves into our ideal selves. “Texting. Email. Posting. All of these things let us present the self as we want it to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete.”

But it’s not social networking’s fault that we’re uncomfortable living in our own skins, and I don’t have to answer who’s fault it is (Ours). Loneliness is a psychological condition that has existed since the dawn of man. In The Atlantic Magazine, Canadian writer Stephen Marche discusses the nature of loneliness and its inherent increase in human culture in his online article Is Facebook Making us Lonely?. In his article, Marche depicts Facebook as a type of counter-measure to a preexisting loneliness that had taken hold of the public with the rise of the internet. “But it is clear that social interaction matters”, Marche implies. “We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy.” Marche agrees with Sociology Professor Eric Klinenberg at NYU when he says that “Reams of published research show that it’s the quality, not the quantity of social interaction, that best predicts loneliness.” When it comes to Facebook, we attempt to escape from the social burdens of live interaction for a more simplified social interface, “[B]ut the price of this smooth sociability is a constant compulsion to assert one’s own happiness…” says Marche. We try to satisfy ourselves with new and meaningless online connections, but in the end, we lose sight of who our real confidants are.

I’m happy, right? Photo uploaded by Erminger

This so-called “smooth sociability” is every man’s dream. Many people have an insatiable need to maintain control over the situation at hand, and social networking minimizes the uncontrolled variables in any real conversation. MIT Professor Sherry Turkle talks in depth about our new social habits and the impact on our personalities that social networking can have in her New York Times Article The Flight From Conversation. “Human relationships are rich;” Turkle says. “We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology…But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.” Social networking is becoming the new method of conversation, and according to Turkle, it’s resulting in a serious inability to reflect on ourselves and each other. What it lacks in real face-to-face understanding it can never make up for. Yet despite this limitation, we are still tempted to put our faith in the social networks because they provide for the simplest social outlet without the hard work and dedication. However, without that hard work and dedication that goes into a personal conversation, we will never be able to establish a real meaningful connection with a confidant on whom we can trust, and our superficial online connections will never fill the gap. Now if you will excuse me, I need to check my Facebook.

Other Useful Links:

  1. Social Networking and Loneliness: Research Finds Link Between Online Life and Depression
  2. Is Social Media Creating a Lonely Planet
  3. This Emotional Life|Social Media – Building Meaningful Connections
  4. Is Facebook Making You Lonely? Why Social Media Can Create Shallow Friendships


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