I loved this TED talk by Sherry Turkle on being connected, and yet, being alone. She talks about how we have become so used to texting, rather than talking, because having a face-to-face conversation is in real-time. Conversations can be messy and confusing; you might say the wrong thing. You can’t edit yourself to perfection, the way you can in email, texting, tweeting, or Facebook. Through technology, we can present a fake, edited, retouched, perfect version of ourselves. Not in real life.
We are afraid to be alone, so whenever we find ourselves with free moments we turn to our devices. But is this healthy, and is this real connection? Turkle argues that technology is no substitute for real life conversation, because human connection – the experience of truly understanding others – can only be found in the real world. And only through having such rich interactions with others can we reflect and learn more about ourselves.
I agree with her, and with elements of this fascinating Atlantic piece “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?“
Technology makes us unhappy through the evil of comparison. On Facebook, as Turkle observes, we edit our lives until they appear perfect from the outside. Fake as it may be, logging on to Facebook forces us to constantly confront the fact that everyone’s life seems perfect, except our own. Photos of exotic travels and families and happy pets and parties makes us feel like our own lives are sadly inadequate.
The people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from Facebook, too…on Facebook, as everywhere else, correlation is not causation. The popular kids are popular, and the lonely skulkers skulk alone. What does Facebook communicate, if not the impression of social bounty? Everybody else looks so happy on Facebook, with so many friends, that our own social networks feel emptier than ever in comparison.
Ultimately however, it is up to us. The article and Turkle’s talk both conclude that we have a choice. Facebook is not truly making us lonely; perhaps lonely people gravitate to Facebook. The way you use social media might simply reflect the type of person you are. Social media can be a fantastic tool if we use it as a way to connect with those we care about offline, to have face-to-face conversations with others. But if we reduce our interactions with those we love to spend time online, alone? If we move our lives online and give up the offline? That’s not healthy, but the good news is it’s within our control to change.
Turkle suggests: encourage conversation at the dinner table; set certain areas of your home and life as technology-free and conversation-full; set time aside for solitude. I’ll add: pick up the phone and call someone instead of sending a text; spend time with your family instead of on Facebook; and write in a journal rather than in a blog. I’m guilty of a bit too much social media time, and less real people time, and it’s a constant struggle of mine to change this around. But I know it’s a worthwhile struggle!