October 29, 2012
A recent review in THE WEEK asks this question: “Facebook: Are social media making us lonely?”
Stephen Marche in The Atlantic states: “Thanks to texting, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, Americans now live in a “web of connection” in which we can reach everyone we know in just a fraction of a second. Yet, we have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier.”
So why is that? Sherry Turkle in The New York Times reminds us that “real human relationships are messy, demanding, and frustrating.” She points out “the addictive appeal…of compressing people to digital connections. In which we can keep each other carefully at bay. Not too close, not too far, just right.” We can craft the image of who we want to be. We carefully tailor our status updates and retouch photos of ourselves. Our online lives only “provide the illusion of companionship.” The connections are superficial and impersonal.
This connectivity which fosters greater aliveness with each “squirt of dopamine” that comes from every digital ping with a new email, text, or tweet, leaves us feeling disoriented and lonely when we “leave the screens.” And the more time one spends online, the greater the let down. “Symptoms of Internet addiction range from depression to acute psychosis.” -Tony Dokoupil in Newsweek.
So what’s the antidote for this loneliness, or “Facebook depression” and “Internet use disorder?”
Tracey McVeigh, The Observer(U.K.) relates: “The latest trend is to step away from the Internet.”
Stamford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal says- “…people have a pathological relationship with their devices. They feel not just addicted, but trapped.”
Interestingly, many young people offer their insights and solutions in a chapter called “Nostalgia of the Young” in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. They wonder- “What came before texting?’
Uncomfortable with the impersonal digital connections, they crave having another’s full attention. They long for the genuine personal connection of knowing someone is “just there for me.”
Several teens have opted for a texting holiday and are taking a break from Facebook. One young man and his girlfriend are corresponding with letters!!! “The letter, like, she wrote it, she took her time writing it, and you know it came from her…The fact that you can touch it is really important….It’s real; it’s tangible.” Another teen agrees: “There’s something about sending a letter. You can use your handwriting. You can decorate a letter. Your handwriting can show where you are.” He wistfully adds, “I miss those days even though I wasn’t alive.”
Tech Guru, Soren Gordhamer in his annual conference: Wisdom 2.0, explores the “need for balance in the wired world.” And many other concerned observers are recommending: stepping back from the gadgets and taking a walk in Nature, without your iPhone!
Others ideas to balance one’s digital life include finding some activity you can enjoy that’s non-tech. And to counteract the digital isolation and resultant loneliness- try focusing your gaze towards another person to say “hello” and perhaps have a brief conversation with a friend. Try a voice-to-voice phone call. Finally take the time to give someone your “full attention” for five or ten minutes and put pen to paper with a brief note or a postcard.
Sherry Turkle, ALONE TOGETHER (New York: Basic Books, 2011) p 271
THE WEEK May 4, 2012 “Facebook: Are social media making us lonely?” p 18
THE WEEK August 10, 2012 “Technology: Is it making addicts of us all?” p 4