Is Social Media Relieving Your Loneliness— or Causing It?
Whether social media relieves or causes our loneliness, it’s here to stay.
It’s kind of strange to start an article with a statement that I’d normally use to end it, but there are worse ways to begin an argument than by first stating an irrevocable fact. As long as there’s an internet source, there’ll be access to social media. It won’t impose itself on you, but it’ll always be there when you’re ready to reach out. So. Does social media relieve our loneliness—or does it do something else?
Maybe posing the question that way is cheating, going the populist route by taking a cheap shortcut to manipulate the emotions, oversimplifying a complicated issue by giving only two options. So many titles are designed to be click bait. On its face it’s deceptively obvious. After all, we could easily come up with a dozen examples of how, for example, online disease forums can relieve our loneliness. All we have to do is read through any number of MS pages and see people giving each other an electronic high-five, posting heart emojis in triplicate and quadruplicate to further illustrate their passion in the absence of the tone and context provided by the human voice. Social media uses simpler forms to communicate, not unlike American Sign Language (ESL). It’s a great leveler, converting speech into acronyms and tiny pictures of poop, the universal cuneiform of 21st century communications. We are cast adrift in primordial waters, tapping out the scatological essence of human emotion. Social media is the oceanic love boat, meting out the kind of love that’s harder to get face-to-face on dry land in the so-called real world.
Take MultipleSclerosis.net, our maritime mothership of love and acceptance. The Princess Cruise line doesn’t hold a candle to Health Union LLC’s fleet of disease forums, each one fully staffed with friendly yeomen/moderators, well-informed and ready to respond to requests for information and validation, or suggestions for improvement, and even to unsavory crabapples. The captain and crew are caring old salts, while self-styled-poets-turned-contributors-gone-to-sea bring personal experience, ego, and large vocabularies to the afflicted. I know I do.
Writing for an online community
Being both a contributor and one of the afflicted, writing for me is not the uplifting experience some of my readers might feel when they read my bloated prose. Writing is not cathartic for me, if only it were. It’s more the other c-word: compulsive. I write because I must. Too many thoughts crowd my tiny mind and I’ve got to turn them into intelligible sentences to see what I’m thinking. That way I learn how my mind works on a subject. If you ask me to speak my thoughts, I stutter and get tongue-tied, turn red and lapse into embarrassed silence. Drove my college professors nuts until they understood that I’m a writer, not a speaker. To keep with the nautical theme, you might say I’m a shipwreck on the shore with a manifest full of espresso machines. I only produce my strongest work under tremendous pressure.
But that is just one portion of what social media is for me. Like everything else in life, there is no black or white to this bubba. It grows exponentially, shedding its skin daily like a xenomorph in ALIEN and PROMETHEUS, able to lurk in tiny spaces and study your habits, or pull itself up to its gargantuan height and make a bubble pop up on your screen that you’ve got an important notification (hah, I keep pinging you because you keep falling for it) on your wall. Invasive? For sure. Tolerable? Definitely. Getting so obnoxiously in your face that you’re ready to unplug for a week?
The ability to unplug
The only time I’ve unplugged for days at a time was when we lost power during a storm. I was fine, but also cut off from people, news, my work, my email. What got me through was knowing the power would be restored soon. I merely tolerated the interruption. But was I lonely? Not in the least. I read books. I talked to my neighbors in the hallway, the common area, outside on our patios. Like in the old days, 100 years ago when I was in high school. I was relieved to discover I hadn’t forgotten how to smile and remark about the weather. It was a reminder that I was part of a community, a group of people that looked out for each other during times like this, when elderly people lose power and might need to be checked on. In fact, most of my neighbors aren’t even online. They retired before they learned how to use computers, so they socialize the old-fashioned way while I’m online and seldom talk to them.
Social media, I’ve decided, neither relieves nor causes my loneliness. As long as I can bounce back and forth between the cyber ocean and dry land, I’ll think of myself as being well-adjusted. How about you?