Came across a thought-provoking story in a back-issue of The Atlantic: “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” (May 2012, by Stephen Marche). I often feel awkward – downright uncomfortable – when reading some of the posts I see in my newsfeed on Facebook. I think I post fairly frequently (once every two to three days), but I like to think I don’t over-share by doing a deep dive into my personal life. I like to post personal anecdotes – particularly as they pertain to DQ; links that I find interesting and want to share; and ok, I’ll admit it, I sometimes can get a little vocal on the political front. On the other side, I find the most interesting posts to read are links to interesting stories/videos; photos; commentary about things I find interesting (food, music, politics, parenthood).
But sometimes when I’m scrolling down my feed, I can’t help but say to the screen: “Are you sure you want ME to read this? Why are you telling ME this?”. This is the trouble with Facebook. It was intended to be a social network, but in using it, we opened up our social network to people we don’t even talk to, or see… ever. When Facebook launched, we were all in the race to build the biggest Friend network. We should have figured out then that Facebook simply gave permission to the narcissist in all of us to come out (myself included!).
What I found interesting about this story in The Atlantic was how Marche addressed the opposite end of the spectrum of Facebook users: the ones who write shiny, happy posts about their lives of perfection. And about how these posts could actually bring us down and make us feel more isolated.
“When I scroll through page after page of my friends’ descriptions of how accidentally eloquent their kids are, and how their husbands are endearingly bumbling, and how they’re all about to eat a home-cooked meal prepared with fresh local organic produce bought at the farmers’ market and then go for a jog and maybe check in at the office because they’re so busy getting ready to hop on a plane for a week of luxury dogsledding in Lapland, I do grow slightly more miserable.”
Are we sharing all this information because – in the absence of genuine human interaction – we hope someone will listen? Marche reams off incredulous statistics about how – despite Facebook – our personal networks of confidants are getting smaller:
“…the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.”
And even more remarkable:
“…in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches.”
A whole industry built on loneliness, at a time when we are purportedly more connected than ever!
And for me, the real crux of the matter is succinctly captured with this:
“What does Facebook communicate, if not the impression of social bounty? Everybody else looks so happy on Facebook, with so many friends, that our own social networks feel emptier than ever in comparison. Doesn’t that make people feel lonely? “
Today, make an effort to connect in person or by telephone with someone. It will make you feel whole and human again.