Social networks create relationships at the touch of a button. So why are we still feeling lonely?
I’ve been Netflix-ing episodes of this quirky show called ‘The Guild” (originally a YouTube series, it ran from 2007 – 2013). It’s a pretty funny story about a young violinist who’s addicted to an online video game she plays with a group of people she’s never met.
To me, the most interesting part of the show is the video diary kept by the main character. In these brief moments, she talks about feeling lonely, and how playing the game both helps and exacerbates the issue. Feeling lonely despite hanging out with the same six people online for eight hours a day is an intriguing paradox. Most of us have at least a few hundred “friends” on Facebook or followers on Twitter. We interact with these people multiple times a day, sharing details and photos from our private lives. Yet many of us still find ourselves feeling lonely. Why?
The impact of social media on our quality of life is the focus of a four minute film that recently (and somewhat ironically) went viral. Called “The Innovation of Loneliness,” the piece provides a simple yet profound answer to a question you may have asked yourself: What is the connection between social networks and feeling lonely?
Although our interactions on social networks seem to mirrors the way relationships work in the real world, there are some important yet subtle differences.
The visual attractiveness and ease of use associated with Facebook and other social media platforms scratches two of our favorite itches: a lack of time and a fear of intimacy. We love these sites because they make it so effortless to “connect” and “stay in touch” yet never require us to experience the gritty, dirty, messy, inconvenient parts of relationships. So, despite the ability to interact with thousands of people at the touch of a button, we still find ourselves feeling lonely.
Social media also plays into our inherent selfishness, allowing us to obsess over whatever topic or person we want, making us believe we always have an audience, and as such, tricking us into thinking we’re never alone. Another detriment of social media is the ability to hide behind the edit button. “Since the dawn of our species, relationships have been based on face-to-face interaction, which is by definition unfiltered and spontaneous. Online interaction, however, can be tailored, tweaked, and photoshopped until it looks just how we want it to. This has lead to a situation in which social networks serve as platforms to present finely manicured façades, not the authentic, messy reality of our identities,” writes Jordan Bates for Refine The Mind.
When combined with other psychological factors mentioned in the short film, these aspects of social media become dangerous because they warp our expectations for real relationships. When people in the real world don’t respond like our online friends, or when we’re forced to face realities about ourselves that are easily hidden on Facebook, it bothers us. Even though we’re still feeling lonely, we become addicted to the illusion of social media, and can eventually prefer it to the more difficult challenges of being a real human.
This isn’t to say that interactions on social networks are all worthless, or that your Facebook friends are solely to blame for your feelings of loneliness. But it should be a wake up call. It’s time to “[r]educe, moderate, and disconnect,” advises Bates. Take the time to consider the impact of social media on your real world relationships, realize you’re more than a profile pic and a pile of likes, and limit yourself to those “friends” and pages that stimulate the person you are offline.
Related on Ecosalon