The most wringer question of today – Is Facebook Making Us Lonely ? Facebook, at least at times, seems to be all things to all people, and regardless of its billions of dollars in annual revenue and its more than 850 million users, Facebook is more of a culture and society than a website and international company.
From a certain perspective in fact, Facebook is one of the largest nations in the world and as such regularly has claims and assertions made about it, some which are fair and have merit; others not true at all, perhaps even scandalous, salacious, and gratuitous.
So, is it fair for us to say that a new social network with Facebook made us lonely? Could we say America is making us lonely and have it stick without debate?
In the 1950s, only one in ten households was occupied by a single person. Just two years ago the number was higher than one in four at 27 percent. In just three generations we’ve gone from embracing families living under one roof to cherishing our singleness. There’s no direct evidence that living alone makes us lonely, or even lonelier, and all opinions on the subject agree that it’s the quality of our social and familial interactions, not quantity, that guide us into contentment and loneliness.
This begs the obvious question, what is the nature of our Facebook relationships? Like any society or culture, groups and subgroups exist throughout, and membership in one doesn’t preclude membership in another or several others. Interacting face to face is how we have historically satisfied our need for intimate contact with others. This contact includes voices and odors, body language and scintillating moments, and a raw emotion unavailable in any other setting.
In short, humans were meant to interact in person with other humans. After all, we evolved this way. Transportation and technology as we know it, on the grand scale of our timeline, has been around for only a fraction of a second. Quality “alone time” notwithstanding, we’ve lived and died together in person, as groups both large and small, throughout the duration of our existence as a species.
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Not until very recently has a percentage of our population shifted a significant portion of its “in person” time into something more virtual and pragmatic, and definitely less intimate. They consider being online a form of permanent handshake with their friends, families, and even colleagues, and as a result convince themselves they have the same quality relationships because life is only truly lived between the tick and the tock and not in its preset schedules for dinner and a movie. A persistent connection via the internet allows for spontaneity and the unexpected in real time.
It’s impossible to guarantee that abandoning our interpersonal relationships in the analog world in favor of more distant and digital forms will cause us to become more and more distant and disconnected. However, it’s interesting to note that a 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely. Just 10 years ago that number was under 20 percent.
Modern technology paired with its inevitable social media outlets like Facebook has lent to us meeting fewer and fewer new people even though our “friends” lists may contain thousands of names. Additionally, the quality of our group outings into the public square feels more and more mandatory, which was us looking for any excuse to remove ourselves, permanently in some instances, from similar gatherings.
Facebook could very well play a leading role in creating what it seeks to prevent, which is a connected society. When we view Facebook status updates as real events rather than the equivalent of hanging a sign in the shop window stating we’ll be back after lunch, we open ourselves up to equating information about people as the same thing as getting together with people. It’s great to know when the seamstress will be back from lunch, but this hardly satisfies the conversation and professional opinion you sought when you left the house.
Whether or not we recognize what we’re doing to ourselves, we are doing it, and the “it” is intentionally setting ourselves up for more loneliness. We move away from populous urban centers where we can walk to neighborhood markets and bars, mingling with our neighbors, and relocate in the suburbs where we never meet our new neighbors, drive everywhere we go, and necessarily creating more alone time as we make longer and longer commutes for ourselves into the city for work.
Is it any wonder we can no longer remember important birth dates and anniversaries without online reminders? In large part these special days have lost a great deal of meaning to us. What was once celebrated in living rooms and restaurants is now just part of one’s News Feed, because birthday wishes now appear on your Facebook wall as a result of a very impersonal event reminder prompting your “friends” to put forth minimum effort in acknowledgment.
Back to the original question: Is Facebook making us lonely? On the surface we see the social media giant as the means for keeping us connected to our friends and family, when in reality it’s only providing us with a means of exchanging information. In our modern digital era, where technology touches every aspect of our lives, we’re willingly reducing our relationships to sets of 1s and 0s zipping around in cyberspace. If that isn’t sad and lonely, then it’s time to redefine those two words.