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Always Connected, Yet Feeling Lonely

Our obsession with staying connected is creating social loneliness

Last week I was on a flight back to Colorado when the flight attendant announced, “I’m sorry folks, but this flight is not equipped with WiFi.”  The groans, the cries of “are you serious?!” and the audible agony from many of my fellow passengers could be heard throughout the cabin.

Apparently going a little more than two hours without access to the internet is something that not many on my flight were wanting to cope with and the fact that they had to, made some downright irritated.  As we touched down, virtually the entire plane whipped out their devices to see what was missed during the flight. To the best of my knowledge and based on what I was able to hear, the world still went on during the time we were forced off-line.

The reality is, most of us have made the choice to be continually connected and the irony is that this is one of the very things leading to such interpersonal dis-connection among us, a phenomenon that I call “social loneliness.”

According to Cigna’s 2018 US Loneliness Index the following is true:

  • Only 53% of Americans “have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • 46% of Americans report “sometimes or always feeling alone.”
  • GenerationZ (18-22) is the loneliest generation

While the report does say there is little difference between those on social media and those who are not, a MarketWatch article  highlighted a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine that showed “People who spent the most time on social media had twice the odds of having greater perceived social isolation . . . “

Quite ironic, those who engage in what is deemed as social have elevated levels of feeling lonely.  The reality is, social media cannot replace true, meaningful, human-to-human interaction, yet many are replacing that with their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat feeds.

Our Social Media Lives Are Often a Smoke Screen

I have never seen a post on any of the social media platforms that says, “Just had a nasty argument with my spouse, left for work pissed off and we are not doing well.”  I would however be curious to see how many likes that would get?

On social media, we show only those things that we want others to see (not real relationships).  Rarely if ever do we show the bad and the ugly to go with the good. It is was my wife Susanne refers to as our “Facebook Lives”, only those grand golden moments that we want people to see.

True relationship, what we has humans are wired for, requires that we be authentic, vulnerable and open and while that requires time in most circumstances, it also requires face-to-face interaction, something that social media actually prevents.

Addressing The Issue

1. Establish Times You Will Disconnect – Set Boundaries

Social media is not going to go anywhere, in fact, many signs show that it will only continue to expand and grow, giving us all more opportunity to engage while not truly engaging.  So how do we go about addressing the issue of social loneliness that social media helps create. While I am no psychologist, here are a few of the things that I have put into practice.

It is so easy to stay connected. It seems that everything these days is wired – our phones, TV’s, watches, etc.  Everything around us makes it all to convenient for us to “connect.” It is for this reason that we need to establish times to disconnect.

Most evenings around 7:00, my wife and I put our phones away, remove our wearables and disconnect and that is the time where we engage.  We also begin most mornings the same way. Starting and ending this way has made a huge difference in the health of our relationship – something most would find if they made the effort to connect on a human and not a on-line level.

When I made this suggestion to a colleague recently, the response was  “I could never disconnect that long.” At that point, I believe, addiction should be explored.

2. Take a Fast

I have had several close relationships tell me that they are taking a fast from social media. I have done the same recently with news.  What they have reported (not a clinical study) is that over time they did not miss it, they had less stress, were less distracted and they were re-thinking getting back “on-line” so to speak.

Perhaps this is what many need to do?  Take 30-days and fast from the typical on-line activities including news, social media, gaming, etc.  Go ahead and try it and see what difference it may make.

3. Make The Changes Within Community

Most times we need to make significant changes in our lives, having the help of others around us makes it just a bit easier.  Making the choice to disconnect, for some, will be a major change and getting help from your closest of relationships can be a great way to make these changes permanent.

As someone who was always connected, with my phone at the ready, I have asked this of my wife; it is something we discuss on a consistent basis. Knowing you have someone(s) in your corner makes a big difference.

Long before there was the internet, we lived full lives.  We do not always need to be connected as many of those connections are fabrications and are no replacement for genuine relationship.  Social loneliness is something of our own making and it is up to us to reverse this trend which is at epidemic proportions.

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