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Facebook and the Loneliness Question: Is the Social Network Bringing Us Closer Or Pushing Us Further Apart?

Posted on the 20 April 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Facebook and the loneliness question: Is the social network bringing us closer or pushing us further apart?

Facebook. Photo credit: Dave Rutt http://flic.kr/p/4kNMVu

In the cover story from the May issue of The Atlantic, writer Stephen Marche makes the case that Facebook – and its brethren in social media – are making us all lonelier and more narcissistic than ever before, destroying our health and even our very souls in the process.

And some writers are calling BS on that grim claim.

So, is ubiquity of social media a plague on all our houses? Or is it… not?

Facebook is making us lonelier. The Atlantic piece pointed to research that purports to show that even as our web of connections gets wider, it becomes shallower. “We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible,” wrote Marche. It gets worse: “[W]e suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.” And it’s Facebook, Marche wrote, that can amplify that loneliness.

The damning figures, according to The Atlantic:

  •  A 2010 AARP study found that 35 percent of adults over the age of 45 were chronically lonely, as compared to only 20 percent a decade earlier.
  • A recent study suggests that 20 percent of Americans, around 60 million people, are unhappy because they’re lonely.
  • In 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one to talk to; in 2004, 25 percent said they had no confidants and 20 percent had only one.

Facebook isn’t making us lonelier – because we’re not getting lonelier. Americans frequently fall victim to the Golden Age thinking trap, projecting a state of idyllic friendliness onto the past and Marche’s claims feed into that wistful nostalgia, Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo, a book about the rise of living alone cited in the Atlantic article, contended at Slate. “Articles about American alienation may well feel true to those who long for simpler, happier times, but they’re built on fables and fantasies. In fact, there’s zero evidence that we’re more detached or lonely than ever.” There is little reliable evidence that Americans are lonelier, Klinenberg claimed, refuting much of the data Marche trots out as flawed or old.

We are getting lonelier, but it’s not Facebook’s fault. Luke Allnutt, Radio Free Europe’s Tangled Web blogger, agreed with Marche’s contention that Americans are getting lonelier, but claimed that the evidence Marche presents actually concludes that Facebook is not making us lonely. In fact, some evidence shows that Internet users – Facebookers – are bucking the loneliness trend. “So Facebook might compound existing loneliness, it might draw the lonely onto its pages, but it doesn’t make us lonely,” said Allnutt, concluding, “For me, it’s the huddling-together for warmth and, in both wonderful and hard times, it’s about finding joy and solace in something as simple as a ‘like’.”

Facebook can kill: Two held in double murder triggered by Facebook ‘defriending’.

Why are we blaming Facebook? Invoking Facebook has a “certain resonance”, “dysfunctional America” blogger John McQuaid wrote at Forbes. “It assumes a kind of infantilization effect, that Facebook (or any social tool) can determine the conditions of your life for good or ill. This may be consolation in it: if you are lonely, blame Facebook!” It’s an easy hook, he wrote, “But if the question is really about our anxieties about loneliness and connection, the answer points away from Mark Zuckerberg.”

Facebook actually makes us worse than lonely. Alexandra Petri, at The Washington Post’s ComPost blog, declared that Facebook is making us worse than lonely: “It used to be easy to pretend that other people’s lives were going worse than yours,” but with Facebook, there’s not escaping other people’s incessant happiness. “Facebook is a perpetual and ongoing high school reunion.”

More on Facebook

  • Is Facebook fatigue felling the social media giant?
  • Facebook ‘defriending’ double murder
  • Trolling: The dark side of the Internet revealed after cyber bully convicted
  • Is the internet breeding hate?

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