The problem […] is that we invite loneliness, even though it makes us miserable. The history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.
What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.
The impact of technology on interpersonal relationships has been a favorite research topic of students who often find themselves in the middle of the phenomenon. Last year, at least half of my students’ communication research papers dealt with Facebook to some extent, half of those making social media the primary focus of the paper. How does Facebook affect friendships? Business communication? Marketing efforts? When something new comes along, we are curious about these things.
But at the base of it is our relationship with other people and the impact that has on ourselves. Facebook, after all, is about “friends,” right? Do we find social sustenance in curating our public profile, in interacting with one another on a virtual wall? Or, do we overuse a technological advancement meant only to complement our relationships as a replacement for the real face-to-face event?
Why do we allow technology – even technology with social intent – to leave us lonely? Social beings left unfulfilled by our own decisions.
Stephen Marche explored these psychological inconsistencies in a cover story for the Atlantic. I picked it up on a newsstand earlier this week and couldn’t put it down. This isn’t surface drivel about a pop topic. Marche throws data at you left and right as he contemplates a lonely world full of distant friends and the effort we endure to create polished virtual selves. He references a number of studies, using words like “longitudinal” along the way. It reads like a literature review stripped of parenthetical citations and laced with philosophical ponderings.
You’ll have to set aside a decent amount of time for the full read, but it’s well worth it. From a feeling of despair, Marche goes further to understand effective use of mediated technologies and a reordering of priorities.
Read the story. You’ll be ready to text, tweet, or wall post your way to something meaningful… like a cup of coffee with an old friend you realize you only know through a timeline.
Clickworthy Bonus: If you enjoyed Marche’s writing, are nowhere near retirement, and like being angry with your elders, read this essay from the April edition of Esquire.