Social Connectivity, Loneliness, and Social Media

How is it that social media can actually make us to feel DIS-connected?

Well, first of all we have to come back to what connects us in the first place. The fact is, contact with people (simply being around people) – we call it connectivity – isn’t enough. We have so much contact with people these days, but very little connection.

But specifically, with social media use, and the more we use it the worse it gets, there are real blockers to real connection. Because social media tends to be the highlights reel of our lives, we tend not to have connection, but comparison.

Connection breeds intimacy and trust, but comparison breeds envy and essentially a form of loneliness and disconnectedness develops.

In short, connection on social media tends to create an unreal form of connection. Generally, it’s a counterfeit form of connection. It tends to imitate intimacy without attaining it.

When you go back a few years – before social media, people who were more introverted – might struggle with being in social settings, and therefore would struggle to feel connected. Surely though social media is a great platform for introverted people to actually connect – isn’t it?

To a certain extent, and for some to a great extent, that can be true. But there is still something missing. Unless people are willing to share of themselves, and let themselves be vulnerable, trusting another person, there won’t be connection. By that, I don’t mean the sordid details. But the true reality of what they’re thinking and feeling.

In some ways introverts have always had an advantage in this way over extroverts. Introverts appreciate one-to-one relationships more and tend to develop deeper relationships with fewer people as a result.

That was the case before social media and it’s still the case. Potentially it’s introverts who lose out most because of social media, if they replace their need of deeper one-to-one connection with connectivity.

Let’s paint a scenario that we have probably all seen. You go out to dinner – and at the table next to you is a family of 4 – and they’re ALL on their phones. They’re not engaging with each other. Why is it that even when we have the opportunity to connect face to face, sometimes we choose to stay disconnected? What is so attractive about connecting through social media as opposed to connecting face to face?

We need to be honest here, don’t we? We’ve all been there, or at least been tempted! I suppose it’s the case that with social media we control the connection; we don’t have to wait for or rely on others.

We really do need to resist that temptation. Connection comes from presence. We cannot be distracted and be or remain present. And if we aren’t present there’s no connection, meaning no blessing within the relationship for those partaking in it, hence the social loneliness (feeling of being lonely in a crowded room) we face as a result.

Yet we also need to be realistic in this busy instant communication age. If my wife or one of my daughters sends me a text and it’s urgent I’ll answer and I’ll never apologise for that – because that is where the tool becomes connection.

What is research showing are some of the dangers of too much interaction online? What effect will this have on us all, say 10, 20 years down the track?

In some ways it’s hard to know, but I suspect we’ll gradually lose the ability to truly communicate, to be real, to be vulnerable, to trust other people. And I suspect there’ll be more issues with mental ill-health.

Social media connection (connectivity) tends to replace real face-to-face connection. Social media connection increases feelings of envy – because we’re making so many comparisons. But we’re not comparing with reality.

Those with mental health problems like depression and anxiety suffer more acutely because excessive social media use causes us to withdraw and it increases isolation.

Social media misuse does present us with some alarming potential realities.

So do you have some simple tips to help counteract our online connectivity?

We have to be intentional. Deliberate and intentional. We have to become aware when our social media is no longer our friend but our nemesis. It needs to serve us, not the other way around. One good example of this is to check the Apps on our phones. Are we addicted to certain Apps? If so, and I’ve done this with some of them, we could delete them. Learn to manage without them. We did before.

If there’s one thing we can do it’s not look at it first thing in the morning, while we’re still in bed, and not engage with it last thing, when we’re hopping into bed. Let’s be present with our loved ones and focus on getting ready for the day ahead, or on being in a good frame of mind for rest.

And what about some tips to help us balance our online and face to face connectivity?

There are two key words here that apply to restoring balance in any area of our lives: AWARENESS and ACTION.

We need to become aware HOW our social media impacts us negatively, as well as identifying WHAT we’re lacking as a result. Once we’re aware, then we can plan what we will change. Action often comes in the form of setting some standards that are relatively easy to implement, like I’ll check my social media only 2 to 3 times a day, not twenty (or more).

But I’ll also ensure there is some real face-to-face interaction with people, and real sharing and listening, every single day. Make it into something of a daily reminder. Add some reflection time to your day, which should be easy given you’re checking social media less… I guarantee you’ll be happier as a result.

It’s also helpful to become aware of how edifying our social media it… it’s like television… there are some great programs that are instructive and educational… there’s so much on social media that is poor of quality and substance. We have to learn to be discerning.

Acknowledgement to Tim Long for the questions.

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