Is Social Media Making Us More Lonely?

As expats it’s important to keep in touch with our loved ones. Online technology and social media in particular allow us to do that more effectively. But some studies suggest that a dependence on social media may lead us to distance ourselves from our reality and create more – not less – loneliness in the long run.

Have you ever felt you can’t wait to get back on your device to check Facebook?

Or do you tend to sit on your phone while hanging out with friends?

Have you ever sat at a dinner table and been more interested in what’s happening on Twitter than in engaging in conversation?

Social media can be an incredible enabler. With it we can make contact with long-lost friends, follow social and political causes we believe in, and share aspects of our experiences with friends and family in one convenient post (or photo album). Unlike expats in the past, we are blessed to have a tool that enables instant communication across long distances. But are we mistaking connectedness for connection?

Sherry Turkle, professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and author of Alone Together, believes so. She suggests social media offers the illusory appeal of:

  • I can place my attention wherever I want it to be
  • I will always be heard
  • I will never have to be alone

Relationships in the real world are complex. It takes time, energy and vulnerability to build and grow them. This is especially true for expats, who often have to start all over again.

We assume that being “connected” to so many people means we won’t experience loneliness, right? But if our primary way of living becomes through our smartphones, we risk never reaching out. We may end up living in a bubble and forgetting to experience life. We may end up feeling lonelier than ever.

If you find that you’re spending more time socialising online than on the ground, and if you’re worried about the effect on your wellbeing, these pointers will help you to disconnect… and reconnect:

  1. Put down your device…

whether in bed, at home or at the dinner table. Commit to spending less time exploring social media and more time exploring life!

  1. Re-establish meaningful relationships

Reflect on what you want to get out of your relationships. How does social media help you achieve that? And where does it fall short? Find a balance that encourages you to prioritise meaningful relationships that last over short-term connections.

  1. Embrace times of solitude

We will all be alone, or feel lonely, at certain points in our lives. By developing ways to feel comfortable with solitude, we can enjoy its gifts rather than bury ourselves in our devices and distract ourselves from our feelings. (For tips on dealing with loneliness, see “Feeling alone even when you’re around people?”)

 

Do you think social media creates loneliness? What role does social media play in your expat experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts and tips! 

 

If you like this article, subscribe to our newsletter and share these tips with someone who feels strongly about social media.

 

Sources

Coget, J., Yamauchi, Y., & Suman, M. (2002). The Internet, Social Networks and Loneliness. ITandSociety, 1(1), 180-201.

Turkle, S. (2012). “I share, therefore I am”. Retrieved January 22, 2016

Morahan-Martin, J., & Schumacher, P. (2003). Loneliness and Social Uses of the Internet. Computers in Human Behavior, 19(6), 659-671.

Extra resources

“Connected, but alone?” (Sherry Turkle TED Talk)

“The Innovation of Loneliness” (short animation by Shimi Cohen on the role social networks play in creating loneliness)

 

ps. Thanks to Thomas Tischhauser for his contribution to this article.

© Vivian Chiona

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