Even though the world seems to be getting smaller as everything becomes digitalized, loneliness seems to be getting worse.
Everyone owns a smartphone and can text, call, or FaceTime whenever they wish. They can send instant messages on many platforms—Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and so on. We can now watch our friends and followers give talks on live videos, and we can comment in real time.
With a click of a button, we can view our friends, followers, celebrities, politicians, and we see and hear what everyone is up to. Some stories are positive and uplifting; some are sad, personal stories. Some are people just telling us about their daily routines, whether we care to know or not.
Despite all this interconnectedness, which should make us feel like we are part of all these people’s lives, we, as a people, are feeling lonelier than ever, according to recent studies.
“Loneliness is as big a killer as obesity and as dangerous as heavy smoking,” the Daily Expressreports:
https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/857441/loneliness-UK-statistics-NHS-health-problemsResearchers pooled the results of previous studies, estimating that loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by around 30 percent. This study was conducted by Brigham Young University in the US in 2017. Here’s an article related to that study: https://www.studyfinds.org/loneliness-social-isolation-alone-obesity/
Loneliness has also been linked to poor mental health. In a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, more than a third of people surveyed had felt depressed as a result of being lonely.
All these mechanisms eventually lead to loneliness, which also can cause inflammation throughout the body and reduce immune function, which leads to many chronic problems.
These changes began with the growth of the internet and advancing technology.
Loneliness in America has tripled since 1985, around the time home computers became common. Advanced technology, it has been said, contributes to increasing loneliness and increasing premature death.
Face-to-face interactions are still the best way to interact with people. These are more meaningful and promote interactions in a more authentic way.
People can still hide behind their devices in cyberspace. Most people now communicate by texting and will even text first to check if it’s okay to call. If you observe people around you while out at a restaurant, you’ll notice most diners are staring at their phones and not interacting with each other.
Everyone is guilty of this habit. We as adults tell our kids to spend less time on their phones and on social media, but we do the same thing.
We must be more conscious of actively making time to meet with friends face to face, encourage our kids to do the same, and be actually present with our friends and family and put away our devices while doing so.
We must start to reach out more, to plan coffee dates or outdoor physical activities with friends, family, and acquaintances. Knock on a neighbor’s door and actually meet people and make real friendships.
Tech and cyberspace friends and followers are robbing us of authentic relationships.
Social media is a huge problem. We now all feel the more followers we have, the more cool we are. This gives us a false sense of security and importance. We don’t even ever get to meet or see 99 percent of these followers or cyberspace friends. They are many times imaginary friends in cyberspace whose posts we listen to and videos we watch. Quantity now seems to be more important than quality. Authentic friendships have reduced drastically with the growth of social media.
People are feeling lonelier than ever because they don’t feel they have trusted or authentic friends to reach out to when they need them.
Social media and the internet have also led us to comparing our lives a lot more to others. All the photoshopped pictures, and “perfect” bodies we see online, make us feel we are not good enough and make us isolate ourselves even more. So many post all the super-happy and mountaintop events in their lives, and not the lows.
There are two fashion pages I used to follow on Instagram, and it baffles me how they can even get away with this—all the pictures they post of women have not only very skinny women, but they all have extremely long, thin legs. The pictures are so obviously photoshopped and edited that there’s no way no one should not notice that fact.
I have since unfollowed those pages and will no longer follow sites where there are anorexic-looking models, or pictures photoshopped to make women look extremely thin. However, the problem is, our young girls are seeing posts like these and feel they are not good enough, not skinny enough, etc. I see and hear this every day as a mom and as a pediatrician. These feelings lead to unworthiness, isolation, and depression, which eventually lead to a host of other diseases, like eating disorders, heart conditions, etc.
The internet has also reduced the amount of time we spend outdoors. It’s much more fun now to stay in our homes and be entertained and fully engrossed by our devices. The interest in getting outside for a simple walk has reduced. All the benefits of nature have been swapped for time in cyberspace.
Study after study has shown a direct correlation between spending time outdoors and being happier. The Harvard health letter, July 2010 issue, clearly states this. Being outdoors reduces our stress levels, elevates our moods, and makes us more active and thus healthier. It is nice being outdoors with other people, so it also increases our likelihood of social interactions. We also get the benefit of vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D reduces inflammation; increases our immune function; and reduces heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as depression—among many other benefits.
Our political environment is now highly influenced by the internet and social media. We are becoming more and more polarized with the ease of communications from either side. Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts flooding our timelines with explicit hate and discord is another reason technology has made us lonelier. If you don’t feel others are in agreement with your political views, you’re more likely to withdraw, feel angry, isolated, neglected, and eventually sad and depressed.
So what’s the solution?
Well, obviously smartphones, the internet, and social media are not going anywhere anytime soon, so we have to readjust our lives with the new norm if we want to reduce this loneliness epidemic.
I recommend we get outside more; consciously put our phones away more often, especially in the presence of company; and schedule a short time during the day to be on social media, and stick to it. Make an effort to plan meetings and dates with friends. Get to know and meet your neighbors. Understand that people will likely post positive events in their lives on social media, and it doesn’t mean your life sucks because you’re not happy all the time!
Let’s all start to combat this loneliness epidemic by taking it seriously and being more proactive. We will be so much happier, and the future of our kids will be brighter too.
May we all be permanently happy by having more meaningful, authentic, and real friendships and relationships and not just tech and cyberspace friendships.