Thursday, June 14, 2012

Does Facebook Make Us Lonely?

I feel kind of silly: I wrote about half of this article the week I received my copy of the Atlantic. It was going to be timely and relevant to our readers. Then, I hit a travel spell and didn't have the time to finish it. So today, I opened it up again and I was tempted to just scrap it. But then, I thought about it and figured that none of you likely read the Atlantic! So I am not late, all of this will be new to you and we can have our own conversation here on Looking for Overland and, unlike the Atlantic, it will consider God's purpose in human interaction.

This last month, while reading The Atlantic, I came across a very interesting article. It was titled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” The article was well researched and dealt with many fascinating issues.

The author, Stephen Marche, sets out to answer the question, “Does the Internet make people lonely, or are lonely people more attracted to the Internet?” But, along the way, he also shares several nuggets of knowledge on the broader topic of human relationships. The fact is that loneliness can creep into anyone's life. You can be surrounded by people and still be lonely. Some people might try turning to the internet to address these problems, but it can all be like a mirage, giving the promise of water from a distance, but with nothing to quench your desire when you arrive.

Loneliness happens when inter-relational needs are not met. God designed us to need other people; He didn't make people to be autonomous. The Church is made up of many parts who all should work together to accomplish God's work. Likewise a family is made up of different people who form the circle of love that is the basic building block for society. But too often, we don't live up to how we were designed; something breaks down and we become lonely. 

Real loneliness is deeper than you might imagine. Doctors have found that “loneliness affects not only the brain, but [also] the process of DNA transcription. When you are lonely, your whole body is lonely.” You can be literally lonely to the core of who you are. And when you are lonely to the core, your metal, emotional, and physical safety are at risk. Life is not meant to be lived alone.

No one wants to be lonely; we all want to be loved. The problem comes when those relationships which we value breakdown. Whenever people are involved there are always problems. Sometimes, relational problems can be so harmful that they spill over into other relationships. Sometimes one severe problem can damage all of one’s relationships. For example, the pain of a missing father can transform into a fundamental distrust for all men.

Yet even when we have been hurt, we still deeply desire meaningful relationships. The difference is that now we’re unwilling to become vulnerable. So sometimes we try to cheat. The Atlantic says it like this: “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” There is also a sense of insecurity that we have, “We don’t want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in real time.” The internet allows us to always be in touch, but never feel guilty. Of course, you can see the problem: counterfeit relationships will not solve the problem. 

Facebook, however, is not all bad. Studies have found both positive and negative traits in people who use Facebook: “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism, and leadership than Facebook nonusers.” Now this isn't a catch all. My mother uses Facebook and she is not a "total narcissist," but she is a leader. So my guess is that, if you have these traits already, then Facebook will feed them and make them more pronounced. In short, Facebook may allow a people-pleasing drama-queen to be more of a people-pleasing drama-queen, but it won’t make a wall-flower one.

It’s silly to say that Facebook makes people lonely any more than stamp collecting does. Facebook is a way to spend time, but it doesn't have to consume you. Like anything else, if consumed without regard for balance, Facebook will eat your soul. But whether or not that happens is still in your hands.

Some people latch onto the negatives of the new internet world and attack Facebook and the rest of the internet because it has destroyed "the good old days." But, “[n]ostalgia for the good old days of disconnection would not just be pointless, it would be hypocritical and ungrateful.” I am very grateful for the internet. I use the internet to see beautiful pictures of my nieces and nephew. I love Facebook because it allows my students all over the country to contact me and ask questions. Email allows me to share prayer requests with friends. Besides all this, the internet is what keeps me paid. (I run social media for my employer.)

The fact is that Facebook was made for man, not man for Facebook. We can use it as something to hide behind and have "safe" relationships, or we can use it to communicate with friends and loved ones.

Over the past few months, I have been working on making my use of Facebook more intentional and more focused on keeping relationships going. For me, that means that I "like" and comment on more posts. It means that I make an effort to be personal in my interactions and not just drop thoughts out into vastness of the internet.

What do you do to keep Facebook personal?

Post by Jeremiah Lorrig

P.S. Did you know that one way I feel less lonely is when people “like” and comment on my posts? It is great! You should give it a try. :-D 
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