(Dis)Connected: How Social is Social Media? – Creating a Real Connection Online

Loneliness Online and Offline:

Today, it seems that we are more connected than ever, yet people all over the United States report increased feelings of loneliness. In a recent interview with The Harvard Business Review, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy writes that “we live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s” and has reached epidemic proportions. This “collective problem,” Murthy argues, requires collective solutions.

The cure for loneliness, intuitively enough, lies in spending time with other people and building fulfilling face-to-face relationships. The solution may be simple, but it can be extremely difficult to execute. Social anxiety and self-perception issues may hold a person back from creating meaningful connections. Professionals often feel there are simply not enough hours in the day. Work and life demands take up every bit of energy leaving little time for people to have face-to-face connect with others.

Are Facebook and Instagram the Answer?

Social media offers a tempting solution for people who find themselves unable to engage in sufficient and fulfilling face-to-face interaction. Many who feel socially isolated in their everyday life will turn to social media, yet social media is often the antithesis of a retreat and doesn’t really address the actual problem. In actuality, social media can exacerbate loneliness and isolation as a temporary crutch. As is often the case with crutches, individuals can build addictions and dependencies to social media that work against the initial goal of connecting with others and isolate them further. The pursuit of likes and other forms of artificial validation can be counterproductive and distract from opportunities to forge real connections.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America published a piece by Sarah Fader, who argued for the recognition of a “social media anxiety disorder” borne of excessive social media use. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, disinterest in other activities, extra and unplanned time wasted on social media, feelings of withdrawal and anxiety when away from social media or one’s cell phone. This often leads to failed attempts to use social media less, resulting in more loneliness arises.

In other studies, Fader shows that excessive Internet usage may cause severe symptoms, including depression, acute anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, and – surprise(!) – loneliness. There may then be a chicken-and-egg relationship between excessive social media use and these symptoms. But as with many addictions, turning to social media for relief may leave you worse off and even lonelier than when you started. This is often true for young people who find themselves drawn specifically to sites such as 4chan, where the promise of a like-minded community draws young people into belief systems that can often leave them paranoid and with a feeling of even greater alienation from society. Not infrequently, this alienation ends up rewarding resentment and hatred of the world from which they feel excluded. This social effect is a danger zone for all of us.

Positive Remote Contact Combatting Loneliness

This is not to say that healthy and positive remote contact cannot lead to meaningful feelings of camaraderie, community, and other forms of un-loneliness and true connection. Individuals often flock to certain websites to find community and feel more connected to others. You certainly can and the question is not if, but where. The Internet can empower you to get the support and connection you need if you look in the right places.

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