Connected, Yet So Lonely!

Remember the famous poem by Mathew Arnold, ‘To Marguerite’. In case you don’t, here are the first few lines…

YES! in the sea of life enisl’d,

With echoing straits between us thrown,

Dotting the shoreless watery wild,

We mortal millions live alone.

Sounds familiar, right, this timeless poetry? If Arnold belonged to this day and not in the 19th Century, we could have attributed the poem to his views of the modern world, where we are all celebrating ‘connectedness’ but at the same time encouraging ‘retreat.’

Thank you Social media. You have so many ‘connected people’, albeit full of lonely hearts!

Connected lonely hearts

Connected lonely hearts

I cannot single out any networking platform here, because a networked world, those without Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Skype ans many more, is becoming inconceivable to most of us, and I am not an exception to this rule too! And, despite criticism, debate and declamation … the medium is here to stay.

True to what our grandparents said, “Decades ago life was simpler and much better…” a phrase we were often tired of hearing, a new study by the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross too shows how online social media, rather than making us feel connected, contributes to loneliness and reduces overall life-satisfaction.

Technology has undoubtedly progressed and though it has changed the tools we have to reach out to others, it has not changed our deep psychological need to truly connect with others. For example, we now live in a world where it is considered normal to broadcast what one is doing and thinking every few hours. However, this doesn’t fulfill our deepest and most basic need to establish an emotional connection with another person. At its most fundamental level, this connection is not about reading or sending updates of activities. Sometimes words do not even need to be exchanged. Spending a lazy Sunday afternoon in comfortable silence with a close friend can mean more to us than a mass of comments on our Facebook or a series of tweets.

Another study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that when interacting directly with friends on social media, especially in the case of Facebook – whether posting messages or pictures on wall, tagging photos or ‘liking’ things, feelings of well-being and sociability increased. But when they passively consumed content on Facebook, the opposite was true, where researchers found that increased internet use led to a decline in communications with friends and family, and increased depression and loneliness.

I too believe, social media has the potential to create a dangerous illusion of being connected. We pay attention to numbers on Facebook and Twitter, and often fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve satisfied that need to form relationships with others. In my experience, people who I know who feel the most lonely, usually have a wide and active set of “friends” on various social networks. They’re the ones who have hundreds of people liking and commenting on their photos, yet they feel that it’s not enough.

Fundamentally, I believe the technology and our use of it isn’t really bringing us closer together (Remember: the rule doesn’t apply to business or brand building). In fact, it may be driving us farther apart, as we know more and more people, but know less and less about each of them.

However, I would want to conclude by saying, I am thankful to my online friends, who are real friends offline too!

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