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Facebook Isn’t Making You Lonely, You Are

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Is it just me, or is being anti-Facebook fashionable these days? Along with friends who never hopped on the social networking bandwagon, I now know a wave who’ve deactivated their accounts. They give reasons like privacy, the temptation to procrastinate, and the constant barrage of wedding photos, baby videos, self-congratulatory status updates, and the completely unrealistic and fabricated projections of shiny, happy people living perfect lives that make theirs feel somehow less-than. When they put it that way, it’s hard to argue.
 
A recent article in The Atlantic explores the theory that social media is actually making us lonelier and more narcissistic—that we are more connected yet disconnected than ever before. Is Facebook making us self-centered? Probably. Those shiny, happy people are the new Joneses, and not only are they living next door but 2,000 miles away as well. That’s a lot of keeping up to do. No wonder we’re so preoccupied with ourselves.
 
But is Facebook making us lonelier? The Atlantic article cites studies on growing levels of loneliness linked with Internet use. It talks about modern alienation and disaffected youth, but in the end, the answer to the headline, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?,” is no. Facebook doesn’t make you lonelier any more than Google makes you smarter. An inquisitive mind makes you smart. A solitary disposition makes you lonely. Facebook and Google just allow those two types of people to do their thing.
 
In the final scene of the movie The Social Network, a fictionalized account of the founding of Facebook, site founder Mark Zuckerberg sits alone at a conference table, repeatedly refreshing the Web page to see if his ex-girlfriend has accepted his friend request. For the writer of the Atlantic article, this scene is the perfect example of our Internet-induced isolation, both physical and psychological. What the writer doesn’t recount is an earlier scene in which the fictional Zuckerberg approaches the same ex-girlfriend in a restaurant and she blows him off. In the end, the fictional Zuckerberg isn’t lonely because the Internet made him so. He’s lonely because he’s a self-serving loner with antisocial tendencies who pisses off just about everyone who has ever been nice to him.
 
Facebook is not making us all crazy cat ladies whose bodies will be discovered by neighbors only after our mail starts piling up. What makes you a crazy cat lady is that first part—being crazy, locking yourself away, shutting yourself off. The Internet allows people with a disposition toward isolation to burrow deeper into their virtual holes, but it’s the instrument, not the cause. People use tools to suit their pre-existing needs.
 
The article talks about an ongoing study of how people use Facebook. It’s the ones who passively consume it—who read status updates, look at photos, stalk walls—that experience greater loneliness. For them, Facebook is simply another broadcast mechanism. On the other hand, those who are active in their Facebook use—who “like” things, send messages, comment on posts, or facilitate face-to-face interaction with it—feel more connected. Perhaps it’s the difference between the “social” aspect and the “media” aspect of social media.
 
It is a shame that advances in communication technology seem to take us further and further away from face-to-face relationships. There is no substitute. But if Facebook users really are statistically lonelier, maybe it has more to do with that previously mentioned narcissism. Take it from (the fictional) Mark Zuckerberg, no one wants to hang out with an asshole, even online.

Photo Source: Momlogic.com


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