Monday, May 14, 2012

Social Media & Loneliness
Today's Diane Rehm Show (2nd hour) is a discussion of the role of social media in the so-called US "epidemic" of loneliness. I am listening to it and typing as I go, noting some of the main points. The premise asks why we are expecting more of technology and less from personal contact in this time of social media (Facebook, Twitter, text messaging).

I'm hearing arguments, said to be supported by studies, on both sides: social media help users be more social vs. it makes users less social. Mainly they're talking about Facebook (FB); they said 40% of Americans have a FB page.

The view that seems correct to me is that you get out of it what you get into it. Most people interact intensely with a few people and then more weakly with the rest of your FB "friends". Yes, that rings true for me. Here's a new acronym for you: FEOMO = Fear Of Missing Out. This refers to how we're always "on" and always performing, when using social media. It is more pervasive if you use a art phone and are then constantly plugged into social media.

What is the importance of real conversation? Do "little sips of online conversation add up to a big gulp" of social interaction? One guest insists the answer is no.

One caller does not blame FB for his or her loneliness, but that being plugged into the day to day success of successful peers seems to exacerbate the person's feelings even if one knows what is posted is likely more sunny than reality. A guest notes that "Vanity was not invented with FB," that what's new is its relentlessness. You spend time continuously keeping up your public persona and competing with those of others. It's keeping up with the Joneses on steroids. I agree that there is pressure to present yourself in your profile as the person you want to be, or be seen as. But for me the profile at least is mostly set it and forget it. The upkeep is in posting about your thoughts, events, life.

There is an opinion that only face to face contact fulfills the biological need for social contact. Though one guest maintains that data shows that people that are more social online are more social offline and vice versa. I don't know. I suppose that's probably true, but I know that I definitely have transferred most of my communications from more personal contact to being online. A guest called this the Goldilocks Effect, where you keep people at a distance, not to far, not too close, just right. Someone said he had no more colleagues in his office anymore because he likes to do everything on his Blackberry, even communicating with the person
In the office next door to his.

Have we lost real solitude? The academic guest is big on what she calls the "I share therefore I am culture." There is a compulsion to connect. Is it an addiction? You see people frantically on their smart phones "at stoplights and in checkout lines." She says that so many teens now are constituting the self as "I want to have a feeling, i need to send a text," not the other way around and that this is facilitated by social media.

Again the guest on the other side insists that users do see some FB friends in real life and that it can promote or facilitate these face to face interactions. I guess, some...not so much for me on a day to day basis i do use it to get together with certain long-distance old friends once a year or so

Regarding the relatively high amount of "action and drama online," they say this is displacing TV. Is that good? Again, the consensus was that TV is what you put into it. If you watch tv as a group it can be very interactive. Media is not separate from its context.

A caller reminds us to define our terms. How is "connected" defined now vs. in the 80s and 90s? A guest asserts that a "connection is distinct from a bond." One guest says that connections are being made at the cost of bonds. The other reiterates that e-connections are not replacing face to face connections per her data. I agree that some people can be less lonely by hearing more frequently from dispersed loved ones. But a guest says that there is something people are not getting and that's the give and take and skills of conversation. There are anecdotes on both sides. There is the kid who wanted to learn "at some point, but certainly not now, how to have a real conversation," and also the possible link between social media use and narcissism. Apparently they correlate quite strongly. But it is noted that "narcissism is rising everywhere--look at TV."

One caller is a retired social worker. Her opinion is that we don't have physical contact we used to have even with a real voice on the phone. Remember social media leave out a segment of our population (those without access to computer, older folks with arthritis, the blind, etc.). Her experience is that people are missing that. Again it comes
Back to whether one is using it to set up face to face connections? If not, then sure, you might be more lonely.

A caller said when he was in school in the 1960s they were reading about the increase in loneliness because of increasing suburbs and making your house your castle and only having to go out for shopping runs.

What is our "capacity for solitude?" Are Americans are losing it? Constant texting, profiling, texting, checking, is an increasing FOMO and eroding our capacity for solitude. Without this, you are never just alone anymore. If you are alone, you are lonely.

For any who are interested, there is a UCLA loneliness quiz on

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