The plague of our time, loneliness comes in many varieties. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years and even more so recently because of my current context. The reasons for loneliness are many. But there are two particular aspects that I would like to explore. Maybe because of my own acute loneliness, I think I’ll split it between two posts. Haha! Milk it for all it’s worth! This post will examine the role of social media in loneliness and the next one will look at the aspects of the literary definition of ennui.
Off we go.
I must admit, social media frightens me. I recently marked my first full year on Facebook. The only reason I joined in the first place was because it was required for one of my classes. I fought it with every fiber of my being. I even went so far as to create a presentation about why I shouldn’t join. I never had the opportunity to perform it though, because my flimsy, pathetic argument was defeated by a simple sentence uttered by my professor.
“Join the rest of the world.”
It got me thinking. I’ve never been one to do something because everyone else was doing it; the evidence wasn’t compelling enough. But this was different. There is a stark difference between choice and necessity. My pride wouldn’t allow me to be left behind. So here I am. Facebook and WordPress in full glory. I haven’t warmed up to any other social networks yet because I can barely keep up with those two.
But even still, with all this extraordinary connectivity and information access, studies tell us that we are lonelier than ever. What does that mean? Why are we lonely? I think it comes down to quantity and immediacy.
There’s a good chance that your friend list occupies a space much larger than the number of people you interact with daily. You spend time browsing (read stalking) the majority while you interact actively with a select few. Sounds like real life, except that most people probably don’t compile a friend list and receive reminders about what they’re doing. You know what everyone is doing immediately so you don’t have to ask when you see them. Because, apparently, what happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook. It leaves little room for physical interaction.
It desensitizes us, numbs us to physical interaction. There is so much happening on Facebook that physical life pales in comparison. Imagine if you physically ran into every person you scrolled by in your news feed. Time would disappear. It would take significant conversation to finally get to the content that most users post. Nobody says hello or goodbye; it’s as though the conversation never ends. Never.
Whatever our reasons for social media, the medium is quite wonderful, even considering the significant shortcomings. Social media represents a convenient place where people can talk and interact. I think social media can make us feel lonely. But I don’t think it will ever replace physical interaction. It just can’t.
For a good read I recommend Isaac Asimov’s “The Naked Sun”. It explores a planet that has forgone physical contact to the degree that it has become a cultural characteristic. I think it is one of Asimov’s more compelling explorations of human interaction.
Stay tuned for the next post. “Oh, you apathetic ennui”