The concern is serious: Facebook is making us lonelier, even if it lets us think that we are more connected than ever. Is the effortless connection equal to the runaway from the drudgery of communication and from the world in general? Let’s swallow a Facebookcodeine and find out how much our soul hurts if we’re not connected to the network.
It’s Friday to Saturday already and we have just returned from a party in a bar cluttered with smoke. It’s 5 am, you get home alone, as usual. The best friend, who dragged you after him last night as always, has a roommate whose sister you were interested in. You spoke briefly at the bar. After a small chitchat about the flowering locust trees and your plans for this summer, everything started to feel a little bit fuzzy. You managed to get only her name though and you head home with the first morning bus. Thank God For Facebook! You’ve been missing for five hours, you received a few notifications, three events you are invited to next week and one like for a mediocre play. You go to „Search” and look up for the girl with the locust trees by forename and surname. After another 15 minutes of refreshing your browser for updating Facebook, you go to sleep a little bit dizzy – because of love (as well), obviously. In the meantime the screen doesn’t go red with any notification of Accept, not for toffee!
Together, but alone
This scenario is not unknown to those who use the social network Facebook day by day. It is called Facebook refreshment in the common language, as a proof of being circulated on a wide scale by the hardcore users. About the Internet addiction, in general, there were written studies after studies since the mid 90s, when this affection was popularized, initially as a joke, but then included in the fundamental book of the American psychiatrists, in 2009, as any other respectable disease: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And, finally, adequately treated for years already, in renowned clinics all over the world.
Solitude is the state of aggregation, common to most individuals in modern societies, whereas cities are the spaces where it is highly practiced. The modern social theories often describe living in a city in terms of isolation, degradation of the social connections, fact that are contrary to the idea of community. The urban circumstances are, on the other hand, central places where the forms of community invent and reinvent themselves continuously, depending on the common social spaces and on the elective identities, as the sociologist Fran Tonkiss observes.
”To call technology a spirit of history, impersonal and vague, which dictates our actions, is a frail excuse.” – Stephen Marche
Facebook is the contemporary display of the perfect urbanity, the urbanized global village, where every 13th person on the planet can log in with a password. Is Facebook making us lonelier? This is the question that concerns all of us. Das Cloud tries to find out how much of the nowadays solitude is generated by man alone and how much of it grows from the critical lack of Like.
“We live in a technological universe, in which we communicate continuously. Despite of all these facts, we have sacrificed conversation for the trivial connectivity” is the observation belonging to the psychologist and professor M.I.T. Sherry Turkle in an article, published in The New York Times. The author of the book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”, Turkle envisages how, step by step, we tend to replace the personal and electronically non-mediated conversation with an impersonal and alienated one, a connectivity that absolves us of any unmediated contact with our interlocutor.
The supreme loneliness
The will of simplifying life in general and the tactic through which technology becomes our second nature explains the easiness of accepting the deal conversation-connectivity: “Human relations are vast: they are promiscuous and involving. I have got into the habit of putting them in order by using the help of technology. And the movement from conversation to connection is part of that. It is, however, a process through which we replace ourselves. Even worse, as time passes by, it seems that we stop carrying about that, we forget that there is a difference”. Turkle believes that only with the help of inter-personal communication we can easily confront solitude, a virtue gained only if we ultimately learn to communicate better, even with ourselves. “If we are not able to be alone, we are much more predisposed to be solitary. If we do not teach our children how to be alone, they will only know how to be solitary”.
A more specific approach to solitude, through this Facebook perspective, belongs to the writer Stephen Marche in an article from The Atlantic that was highly broadcasted through the Internet this spring, giving food for thought to many persons. Marche affirms, quoting various sociological studies, that today we “live in an isolation that was unimaginable for our ancestors, but despite of all this we were never as accessible as we are nowadays”.
Solitude is part of the American spirit and culture, affirms Marche, “a secondary product of the eternal national appetite for independence” and to support his hypothesis, he mentions the solitary pilgrims who came from Europe, the cowboys without mother, father of the Wild West or the supreme USA symbol, the astronauts who become solitary on their own will, living in the blue sky. And what Facebook does nowadays, is perceived by the author, as the extreme loneliness: “(Facebook) places the seek of happiness in the centre of our digital live. Its capacity of redefining the concepts of identity and fulfilment is more alarming than the rush after our personal data or the practices related to privacy”.
However, ultimately, Marche evens up arguments – “Solitude is certainly not something that can be created by Facebook, Twitter or any other social network. After all, we generate it on our own. To call technology a spirit of history, impersonal and vague, which dictates our actions, is a frail excuse. We are those who decide how to use our machines, not vice versa”.
Growing alone by the Internet
“Is the Internet making us lonelier?”, we asked Raluca Bob, PR specialist at GfK Romania, company that leads market studies, including some about the online environment. “I think it depends on the rationality with which each of us gets closer to the Internet and social networks. Alienation is more dangerous, especially during childhood”, says Raluca Bob. The risk of becoming dependent on these media and to devote a lot of our time to them exists, especially among young adults or even younger. “When you spend frequently 8-10 hours a day on social media, it is hard to build offline relationships naturally and the phenomenon of solitude, despite of having hundreds of Facebook friends, becomes imminent”.
The Internet generates the illusion of company, without the implications of a real relationship” – Irina Nicolai
No matter how social the Internet made us, the strengthness of the social relations cannot be tested online, she adds. Real friendships cannot be maintained only through social media. “Nothing cannot offer a better bonding than a smile or something well said during a face to face meeting, a shake of hands, a thorough cry on somebody’s shoulder. These are gestures that will never get out of fashion. On the contrary, we even try to transfer them from the offline to the online, as we do with the emoticons, for example”.
The online remains, after all, just a tool through which we amplify or minimize our isolation, depending on the social talent of each individual, concludes Raluca Bob. “I know some leisure communities – formed as Yahoo or Facebook Groups – that function very well in the offline: the members get out, they practice sports or other different activities together. They use the online in a very intelligent manner, as an instrument that helps them increase the number of their offline friends or get closer to the existent ones”.
Alina managed to see on her own how alone she feels, not with Facebook, but in its absence. Her answer after a month (it happened in March) is that she felt infinitely less isolated once logged out of the network. “Not being on Facebook, everything I used to communicate online until then, I discussed face-to-face with people. Sometimes a lot easier and more detailed”, she says. This happened also because Facebook wasn’t in her case an objective, but rather “a way of knowing people, when I just moved to Bucharest”. “And a way of finding out what happens and where, when I was a complete foreigner. I didn’t know anything and anyone. But I never stopped to Facebook. After 2-3 virtual interactions, we went out for a beer and a face-to-face chatter”.
The socialization on Facebook emerged to an offline where she started to look for friends with whom she didn’t talk that much when she used to be online. “During the first day I called my mum for 5 times in about 3 hours. After mum got tired of me, I started to call my childhood and high school friends, my college boyfriend and even those guys with whom I had a beer last night. I wanted to see what happens. I felt like I did’t know anything about them in weeks. Calling them a lot and pretty often, suddenly I felt like an unwanted guest who dashes in someone’s house through the phone ringer. It was just my impression. Most of them were happy to see that there are still people who call only for courtesy, boredom or just for getting out for a beer”.
“Nothing cannot offer a better bonding than a smile or something well said during a face to face meeting” – Raluca Bob
Natural born digital
The increased effects of the Internet and of the online socialization start to become more obvious among younger generations, in Irina Nicolai’s opinion, Awareness Coordinator in the project Sigur.info. “We are witnesses to a major change, the apparition of a generation born and raised with this type of technology”. The insecure adolescents are the most vulnerable victims of social networks, declares Nicolai for Das Cloud. “The Internet offers the possibility of modifying, adjusting or refining our personal image and many young individuals having feelings of uncertainty are fascinated by this medium where they can promote themselves as they want to. Even if it is attractive, this choice can trap the child in a fictive world, encouraging antisocial behaviours, whereas in the worst case, it can get to addiction”.
The Internet generates the illusion of company, without the implications of a real relationship, adds Nicolai. “Patience is diminished, being used to prompt answers and with an embellishment of relationships, from which we can eliminate the embarrassing moments. The lack of authentic relationships and replacing them with superficial ones or online relationships may affect the development of children on a long term, by socially disabling them, and may negatively influence their affective state of being, inducing feelings of loneliness”.
So, does Facebook make us lonelier on this world? It depends on how weak our judgement is, after all. As the narcissist rebels, solitary people may be envied or deplored. It seems that introverted individuals, a hype version of solitary persons, give the new meaning of succeeding in life, if we consider the trendology that nourishes this belief.
Susan Cain, former corporate lawyer for clients as Merrill Lynch or General Electric, has recently launched a book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, in which, you guessed well, he praises the introverts and their valuable quietness.
But maybe it wouldn’t hurt to hear, nevertheless, some other opinions! After all, we are not alone!
Editor’s note: a big thank you goes to Valeria Tudor who managed to translate our not quite easy to translate romanian article.