I bumped into an ex-colleague this weekend and despite meeting after many months, the first thing he proudly proclaimed was that he now has 2000 friends on Facebook and 1000 followers on Twitter. I faked a smile and gave him a glance, and also wanted to ask him: “Do these friends communicate when you really need some soul to talk?” But I guess it was rude to ask … I didn’t want to break his heart and release him from his virtual cocoon. Because he prefers to get wrapped up into his thoughts, his virtual thoughts which he believes is ‘real’.
And this is not just ‘his’ story. Most of us have so many friends and followers on social media, Despite there is sense of loneliness in the heart. It’s not a down-and-out loneliness, mind you, but an inkling that things aren’t what they seem. No one is near you, everyone is everywhere in their own ambit, a world prefabbed with all the information, entertainment and very often nonsense, one can hope to have at their fingertips.
It’s an empty feeling of having it all but not having anything. It’s a reminder that our journey into the age of information has come at a cost: We’ve lost touch, in a very large and real way, with our sense of humanity and with one another, even as other lines of communication have opened.
An interesting article published in ‘The Guardian” blog, suggests that “Loneliness centers on the act of being seen. When a person is lonely, they long to be witnessed, accepted, desired, at the same time as becoming intensely wary of exposure.”
According to research carried out over the past decade at the University of Chicago, the feeling of loneliness triggers what psychologists call hyper-vigilance for social threat. In this state, which is entered into unknowingly, the individual becomes hyper-alert to rejection, growing increasingly inclined to perceive social interactions as tinged with scorn. The result is a vicious circle of withdrawal, in which the lonely person becomes increasingly suspicious, intensifying their sense of isolation.
Behind a computer screen, the lonely person has control. This is where online engagement seems to exercise its special charm, says Olivia Laing, senior editor and author of the blog. Hidden behind a computer screen, the lonely person has control. They can search for company without the danger of being revealed or found wanting. They can reach out or they can hide; they can lurk and they can show themselves, safe from the humiliation of face-to-face rejection. The screen acts as a kind of protective membrane, a scrim that allows invisibility and transformation. You can filter your image, concealing unattractive elements, and you can emerge enhanced: an online avatar designed to attract likes.
But now a problem arises, for the contact this produces is not the same thing as intimacy. Curating a perfected self might win followers or Facebook friends, but it will not necessarily cure loneliness, since the cure for loneliness is not being looked at, but being seen and accepted as a whole person – ugly, unhappy and awkward, as well as radiant and selfie-ready.
While there are many more views on this topic, next time, we feel lonely, we can try joining a library, a club, a gym or bond with old friends in person? Smartphones, Tablets are gadgets to keep us communicated, but they can’t offer us the warmth of friendship that we can get from your real friends. There is no harm in having online friends. It is up to us to keep a balance between the real and the virtual world.
Being a technology editor, I confess, there is more to explore in life apart from gadgets. However, the great irony of this post is that as soon as I’m done, I’ll post it across social media sites. Then I’ll kick back, take a sip of water, and unlock my phone.