The Loneliness of Social Media
Are we becoming more ‘social’ as our lives are progressively saturated by social media? If so, why has the number of lonely people nearly tripled in the United States over the last 20 years, according to recent research?
That our relationships with others have changed as a result of social media is a foregone conclusion.
Blurred and Broadened Borders of Social Spheres. Social media’s initial default of openness made normal the notion that the borders of our neatly distinct social spheres of who is granted access to the content of our lives are blurred, intersected and broadened. It’s increasingly tough to draw distinctions between ‘personal’ and ‘professional,’ not to mention ‘public’ and ‘private’ social spheres. And it’s increasingly expected — as is satirized in the South Park episode above this post — that we open our lives’ contents to previously siloed participants in our lives.
Increased Social Productivity. Our ‘social productivity’ is on an upward trend. That is, we ‘interact’ with more people on a broader array of subjects in a shorter amount of time than ever before. This is more a function of technological innovation in communications and a heightened threshold for multi-tasking — broadly speaking — than a unique effect of internet-based social media’s ubiquitous popularity. But these new media have provided a platform for sharing rich forms of content, effectively expanding the palette we use to express ourselves.
A Deeper, Different Look
Social media have certainly expanded the absolute number of human social interactions. A qualitative look at how we use these media to interact with others, however, sheds light on a somewhat ironic result: social media can actually enhance physical isolation, loneliness and detachment from others.
Socially Prolific, but Physically Isolated. While our social interactions on an binary scale have absolutely increased, being increasingly ‘jacked in’ has also resulted in a larger proportion of our ‘social’ lives being spent in physical isolation. Though we can share our lives through social media with people in-person, actually using the media is necessarily a personal, solitary experience. Our immediate interaction is with devices — our computers, smart phones and tablets — not people. Whether more prolific but less physical social relationships are preferable to the less frequent physical intimacy of yesteryear is a big conversation best saved for another day…
For the rest of this post, click through the link to my blog, Living in The Future.