“People are lonely. The network is seductive.” These are the words of professor and psycholinguistic Sherry Turkle in her book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” in which she suggests that even though our technology allows us to instantly connect with others, we ironically are feeling more isolated and alone.
The question is: “Do more people feel more isolated and lonely today even with a million ways to keep in touch?”
I believe they do. There are numerous studies that indicate that loneliness is on the rise at an alarming rate these days.
But why is this?
The social network allows us to sit in front of our screen for hours at a time, texting our family and friends. In fact, most young adults turn to their online profile numerous times during the day, to catch up on what’s going on in the lives of others. While some of the interaction may be interesting and informative, the majority of it tends to be superficial and redundant.
In short, social media gives the illusion of meaningful connection while keeping us from experiencing face-to-face encounters. Over time, this practice undermines the art of connecting deeply with others on a personal level.
Take the popular trend of attempting to make new friends online. There are many Apps which promise to connect you with people with similar interests and help you connect with that “special” partner. You can instantly “message” people with similar interests from the comfort and safety of your own home. It’s a convenient way to meet people while eliminating the risk and embarrassment of approaching a person in a face-to-face first encounter.
Unfortunately, Apps like these can make the experience of dating extremely impersonal. Often it’s as superficial as liking somebody’s posted photo, in hopes they will like yours as well. “Wow, is he or she really hot.” Furthermore, social Apps allows you to massage your personal profile by over exaggerating your positive traits while hiding some of your more questionable attributes and characteristics.
Therefore, when and if you choose to meet the other person, there is often a feeling of disappointment and betrayal. After a number of such encounters many give up on the whole process. What’s the use anyway? They despair of ever finding the right person and their sense of isolation and loneliness grows more intense.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m speaking in general terms. In no way am I suggesting that there aren’t those who have meet some wonderful people online. They just represent a small percentage of the population.
On the other hand, approaching someone in person allows you to observe body language, receive unfiltered dialogue, and judge whether there is chemistry between you. It also allows you to feel that nervous excitement which comes from building up the courage to approach someone in person. At such moments, you feel truly alive and socially engaged. It’s a great feeling when you hit it off with someone immediately. A fresh “spark” generates positive endorphins, improving overall happiness levels. A sense of intimacy is created when people with chemistry get together face to face. Further, research shows that people get a sense of whether someone is attractive or trustworthy in under a 10th of a second.
In summary, psychologists tell us that we are social creatures who thrive in social environments where we have the opportunity to meet others, share in their lives and exchange ideas. As humans, we instinctively crave a sense of belonging through community. When separated from meaningful social contact and positive, affirming interaction with other human beings are removed, we begin to display symptoms of physical and mental illness. This is why bullying is so damaging to a person’s sense of self worth and often leads to suicide. Research reveals that the negative impact of social rejection can be greater than 15 cigarettes a day.
Social media does have many benefits. It allows you to keep in touch with family and friends, even when they are living in distant locations. The Social media provides us with the opportunity to instantly connect with them, as soon as we begin to to miss them. It also gives you the opportunity to share in their joys and successes, struggles and concerns. Frankly, it’s nice to be able to get regular updates from those we love and to scroll through recent photos and videos.
On the other hand, when you disconnect, you often feel a sense of loss. There was so much more you wanted to say. If only you could throw your arm around them and hold them in your arms. We all long for that personal human touch. Hearing from someone online doesn’t cut it; its not the same as sitting down with them over a coffee and lingering in their presence. Such experiences of shared intimacy fill our emotional bucket. In fact, sometimes we don’t need to say anything at all. Being in the presence of those we know and love is enough. It drives away the darkness of loneliness.The bottom line is this: there simply is no replacement for direct human-to-human interactions.
But, in the end, it is not an “either/or” issue. We need to incorporate both avenues of communication into our lives. On the one hand, we are fortunate to be able to use our voice on social media to connect with loved ones and friends. On the other hand, there is no substitute for the feelings of being connected and belonging that come through direct human interaction. So, when a friend is having a birthday, don’t just post a birthday card online, but throw a birthday party and invite all your mutual friends. In this technological age it will take conscious effort to practice balance in our lives and carve out spaces to bring people together face to face.
There is a big world out there waiting for you to explore. So put aside your tablet and open your eyes to the beauty that is all around you. Put yourself out there. Take a risk. Introduce yourself to someone new today!