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Is Facebook the Reason We’re Lonely?

standard March 4, 2014 Leave a response

Since I wrote last week’s post about people opting to leave Facebook I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about Facebook and friendships in general. I had a cold and spent a couple days on the couch so I had lots of time to spend pondering relationships and how Facebook has affected them.

Granted, I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but after all of my musings I’m left with one major question. One I have a sneaky suspicion I know the answer to.

Is Facebook the reason we’re lonely?

As of today I have some 900 people I’m “friends” with on Facebook. Another 200 or so “follow” me, which is to say they asked to be my friend at some point and for some reason or another (valid, I’m sure) I didn’t accept their friend request.

Now, I know a lot of people in real life. Sometimes running to the grocery store can take an extra half hour because I seem to always run into an acquaintance or two. I’m a gregarious person. It’s in my nature to connect with people.

That said, my Facebook numbers have more to do with the fact that I originally bowed to the pressure to join so I could build my online platform through which I would eventually be promoting my novels rather than from a desire to be able to connect online with a zillion of my closest and not so closest friends.

I spend an hour or more every day on Facebook. I read articles that people share. It’s where I get my news. I have conversations with friends, some serious debates, some frivolous chats about inconsequential issues. I have conversations in networking groups. It’s how I keep my finger on the pulse of the social media networking world, the writing world, and yes, my friends’ worlds.

When I shut down Facebook and move on to the next stage of my working day, I feel like I’ve checked in on my friends. I know that some are having a rough day, some are having a good day, and some are having their ritual cup of morning coffee. I can get on with my day with the feeling like I know how my peeps are doing.

But do I really?

I mean seriously. If you’re having a frustrating day because your car won’t start and your kid spilled his $5 hot cocoa on your brand new yoga pants, I’ll know about it and will have commiserated, but what if you’re really struggling? What if you woke up and the weight of the world seems heavier than usual? What if your morning cup of tea just isn’t enough to make the world seem alright again?

What then?

Because that stuff isn’t the stuff people are sharing.

So there I am, I’ve “seen” that maybe 0.05% of my 900 “friends” are online and chatting and it makes it seem like everything is fine with everyone. And it won’t be until two weeks have gone by that I’ll think “Hey, so and so hasn’t posted anything for a while.” A quick check of their Facebook Wall (to see if Facebook isn’t playing a trick on me) reveals that the friend really hasn’t posted anything in two weeks and that’s when I realized that just maybe not everything is right in the world.

I work from home. Day in and day out (except for the seemingly ever-present school vacations and teacher in-service days) I’m alone with the dog. And, I gotta tell you, I’m lonely. It’s hard being alone with my thoughts all the time. Until this very introspective week, I thought that it was silly for me to feel lonely because all my friends — the “real” and the virtual, the close and the not so close, the local and the not so local — they’re right here at my finger tips. I’m never really alone. I have 900 friends ready to chat with me at a moment’s notice.

But I’ve been lying to myself. I think many of us have. I think that Facebook gives us a false sense of connection and friendship. I might know how that one friend was dressed when she went out to have lunch with her high school posse, but I haven’t talked to her in weeks so I don’t know how she felt about going to that lunch, or how she feels about anything else going on in her life. I know that that other friend’s son had a fever last week, but I don’t know how the transition to his new school has gone, or how she’s doing with the changes in their lives. I never feel like I need to call anyone, or email anyone, because, hey, I checked in on Facebook and they looked fine!

Well, here’s my revelation for the year. I miss those deeper conversations. I miss knowing more. And no, I don’t need to get emails from those 900 people, because frankly, I’m not that close, nor have ever been that close, to most of those people. But my friends? My true friends? I miss them. I think that these superficial conversations and check-ins which give me that false feeling of having connected with people are the reason I feel lonely and dissatisfied as I sit here at my desk. Because I’m sure that every single friend I think I’ve touched base with feels the same way about me. And really, nobody knows how I’m really doing over here.

I think that next time I think “Hey! I haven’t seen any updates from that person in a while!” I’ll send an email instead of popping over to their Facebook wall. I’ll ask for a real update. Maybe for a coffee date. So that we can really catch up. Really connect.

Maybe after a few such interactions I won’t feel so lonely and disconnected any more.

One can only hope.

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