Within the last few decades loneliness has become an increasingly common occurrence, and is something which seems to have been driven largely by recent technological advancements. As a result of these advancements, the average person is exposed to an increasingly large number of people each day. But unlike in the past where these contacts would occur face to face, in today’s society, most of this contact occurs via a television screen, a computer monitor or a cell phone. People have prioritized communication technology as something they can’t live without, or else they will be disconnected from life and the world. But is technology actually connecting people to the real world? - Or does it make them more alone?...
Humans are genetically designed to gain satisfaction from meaningful relationships with real people, and as a result, receive many benefits from doing so. For example, babies who are handled frequently when they are young grow bigger, have better muscle development and are generally healthier than babies who receive little or no physical contact. Another example can be found with people who have lots of friends in their life. These people are much more likely to be happier, healthier and live longer than lonely people. Whatever the reasons may be for these mental and physical benefits, the fact remains that there is something about real human interaction that completes us, as without it, our body and life slowly starts to break down.
Looking at any public setting in today’s world, there is a 90% chance to see everyone with their heads down doing something on their cell phones, tablets, laptops, or whatever new technology is on that rise. People are getting to the point where they don’t “know” people anymore, they just “know of” them from social media. (Holston, 2016) Although technology has made global communication possible, it has also affected human interaction, personal and social relationships, communication skills by leading people towards loneliness, frustration and then depression. Surprisingly, those who report feeling most alone is the least expected category, young people under 35 who are the most prolific social networkers of all. (Warrell, 2012)
To begin with, a good example of how technology affects human interaction can be found with the average family. Whereas in the past a family would sit down, eat dinner together and talk, nowadays, it’s far more common to sit down in front of the TV and eat without talking. In some families they don’t even sit together, as the ready instant meal means that they can eat whenever and wherever they want. Unfortunately, this self-imposed isolation is not confined solely to dinner time, as after dinner, each family member will go their separate ways. Usually, returning back to TV, going on the Internet, playing a computer game, listening to their iPod or chatting on their cellular phone. The result of this technological bubble is that people are having less face to face communication, and more indirect communication via intermediaries such as computer screens or telephones.
Despite the fact that technology now allows a person to communicate with lots of people all over the world, in reality, no matter how many “friends” people have on social networks like “Facebook”, they still result in the same thing; a technological bubble which keeps them isolated from real human contact and real human interaction. As Sherri Turkle, author of Alone Together wrote: “Until people learn how to be okay with solitude, they are not going to be able to connect deeply with others” (Turkle, 2011), because these virtual friends cannot adequately satisfy their needs, wants and desires in the long-term. The reason for this lack of satisfaction is because most people use technology as a means of distracting themselves from their feelings. That makes them feel good in the short-term, but eventually, the distractor leads to frustration because it is not satisfying that person’s real needs. For example, suppose that someone is feeling lonely, but rather than listening to this feeling they distract themselves from their loneliness by chatting online and participating in various forums. For the time being, this person may think that their needs are being satisfied, as chatting with their Internet friends takes away the feeling of loneliness which they once had. Given enough time, however, this person will become increasingly more frustrated because no matter how much they chat online; they can never seem to fulfill one of their most basic needs; a real relationship with real human contact and interaction. The longer they ignore their feeling of loneliness the more painful it will become, and the greater their desire will be to use the distractor (online chatting) to further distract themselves from those feelings. If this continues, the person may eventually slip into depression. According to a study conducted among 452 Korean adolescents, Internet addiction was significantly associated with depressive symptoms and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. (Kim et al., 2007)
Another example which shows how virtual relationships fail to satisfy our needs, can be found with online dating. Most people find it fun to flirt for a while, but eventually, virtual flirting is not very satisfying. This is why online dating frequently results in people meeting up in the real world, because face to face communication and contact is the only way to truly satisfy your needs.
Technology has also a huge effect on social relationships. Virtual communication is much more limited that in person communication. For example, talking to someone online excludes the use of body language, voice tone and eye contact from a conversation. As a result, the less face to face communication people have, the worse their social skills are likely to become. The effect of these poor social skills can then make it difficult for a person to form meaningful and lasting relationships outside the virtual world. For example, they might find it difficult to communicate their message verbally, be unable to read the various nonverbal forms of communication which signal whether a person is interested or not in what they are saying.
If people project the trend of blind communication forwards into the future, what sort of society will they be looking at in 20-30 years? If the current generation of children spend most of their day watching TV and playing computer games, how will they be able to communicate effectively with others when they grow up? And if they are unable to communicate effectively, how will they form lasting and meaningful relationships with people? Will these people be able to attract members of the opposite sex? And if so, how long will such relationships last if there is little or no communication in it?
Although this might all sound a bit alarmist, the warning signs are around and more and more people are becoming lonely as a result. The only way people can overcome this loneliness and prevent the future from becoming a lonely place, is to stop ignoring their feelings or distracting themselves from them. Instead, they must learn to start listening to, and appropriately, responding to, the messages that their feelings are telling them.
However, online technology is not some “necessary evil.” Far from it. (Warrell, 2012) It is how people use it that determines whether is good or bad. Occasional blind communication (i.e., communication which does not involve face to face contact (Oduaran, 2010)) is perfectly fine in moderation. But if technology is used as a distractor, then people’s mental and physical health as well as their social life will be adversely affected. So as long as for most of the day they’re interacting with each other in real life, the risk of being unable to develop meaningful and lasting relationships will be relatively low.
Dealing with loneliness. Strategies. (Work in progress)
Conclusion (Work in progress)