Is Social Media Making Us Lonelier?
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How connected are you? Has social media brought you closer to your friends or left you lonelier than ever before? Stephen Marche tackled this question in an article in The Atlantic. He investigated whether our hopes of deeper relationships through social media tools are happening or if in fact, the opposite is true. He writes:

Technology has delivered to us over the past three years a world which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.

Whether social media is to blame or not, society does appear to be getting lonelier. According to research cited in the article, in 1985, 10% of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15% said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25% had nobody to talk to, and 20% had only one confidant.

As Marche argues:

At the forefront of all this unexpectedly lonely interactivity is Facebook, with 845 million users and $3.7 billion in revenue last year…More than half its users—and one of every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user—log on every day. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. The relentlessness is what is so new, so potentially transformative. Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break.

What keeps us from getting closer?

It could be because we use social media as a safeguard against the messiness of authentic human relationships. Sherry Turkle, a professor of computer culture at MIT writes, “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” The problem with digital intimacy is that it is not sufficient. Turkle goes on to say, “The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy.”

Turkle highlights our desire to be connected, but at arm’s length. We want to know and be known by others, but on our own terms. It seems we have a deep hunger for relationship but we want to minimize the messiness and pain that come with that.

So what does this say about us?

We want relationships but we also want control. We hunger for friends that are close enough to share our secrets with. But our fear is that in these types of meaningful relationships we will lose control. We can’t have it both ways.

If we desire to use social media merely to stay connected with friends at an arm’s length, we can do that quite easily. But our deeper craving for more meaningful relationships will go unmet. As in a dating relationship, you cannot truly know the other person until you are vulnerable with them.

Our longing for relationships in life reflects that we were made for them. Even close, meaningful relationships with friends are still not enough to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul to know and be known personally by our Creator.

When instructing his followers on how to pray, Jesus told them to pray to God as “our Father”, expressing the personal relationship God offers to you and I. Rather than being distant and far removed, God reveals himself as our Creator who loves us and has made us to experience personal relationship with him. And just as it is with others, to experience this deepest relationship we were made for in Him, it requires surrendering our control to know and be known by him.

(Related Post: Breaking Down the Walls)

It seems that when we loosen our control over the risk and messiness involved in social relationships, we gain something. We gain what a true relationship is: knowing and being known by the other. Life becomes fulfilling and meaningful because we are experiencing the real relationships with others and God that we were made for, that we hunger for. The continuing challenge we have with social media is how to use it as a tool to grow real relationships rather than substitute for them.