Loneliness - A Modern Problem
In today’s interconnected society, you may think you are never alone. Unable to be more than a few feet from a mobile phone offering you the capacity to instantly contact friends via text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp or a good old fashioned phone call, we’re always connected. And yet, as technology takes over even more of our lives and makes communication even easier, are we becoming lonelier?
There are two ways in which loneliness may be seen as a modern problem. Firstly, the younger generation are, to some extent, losing their communication skills. When toddlers are distracted with iPads and playdates focus on technological toys, those all important social skills we learn as young children are stymied. As children grow, it seems many individuals retreat behind the screens during those awkward teenage years. Social media platforms offer a safe refuge and are a lifeline for many who feel uncomfortable in social situations. The problem is, more and more people are turning to the virtual world for their social interactions rather than learning and improving their real life social skills as well as overcoming their fears.
I acknowledge that social media has its place and I know many people who feel more comfortable communicating with others this way, particularly during their teen years where identities are developing and personalities emerging. I have also made friends with people online, principally through Twitter, and value these friendships just as much as I value those which I have made in more traditional settings. However, I also believe that a number of ‘friendships’ which emerge through online platforms are not as rich or as emotionally secure as those we forge with people in our day to day lives. While it may be somewhat of a comfort to send out a tweet and know 2,000 people will see it, like it, retweet it and even message back, it’s not the same as talking with a friend. In some ways, in fact, it can be rather isolating. No matter how many followers you have on social media, these virtual acclamations of your popularity can, in the cold light of day, make you feel rather lonely.
The second form of loneliness which is often reported about in the media is that which affects the other end of the social spectrum. The elderly. As modern medicine advances, people are living longer and enjoying their golden years. But there comes a time when friends and loved ones pass away, leaving behind just a few. Although they may have families who care for them, few daughters, sons and grandchildren manage to make any substantial time for elderly relatives. It’s not neglectful, exactly, but when life is busy and you have your own social calendar to keep up with, those promises of regular visits often become less regular.
While it’s easy to pick up the phone and call an elderly relative, this is not a habit the majority of us are in, sadly. And yet, perhaps it’s too easy for others to retreat behind their phones and communicate with people all over the world who, not matter how close the friendship, can never replace the feeling of having someone nearby. I’m not trying to take anything away from Internet friends or even relationships but I do think that they cannot be considered replacements for ‘traditional’ friendships. After a long day at work or school or when something goes wrong, a Tweet cannot compare to a hug.
Loneliness and isolation are horrible feelings and one which technology has yet to find a solution to. In fact, some may argue it is causing the problem. But we can all do something to help with this modern phenomenon. If you’ve got an elderly relative, call them. Now. What’s stopping you? It’ll be a few minutes out of your day but it will make a big difference to them. We all know that one socially awkward friend who is reluctant to spend time outside of work or school with others. They’re nervous of social situations but they’re probably lonely too. Invite them to join you and your friends regularly, even if they always say no. Or maybe organise something for just the two of you to make them feel more at ease.
Finally, spending time alone is not the same as being lonely. I love to spend my evenings alone and I also work from home. Sometimes two days will pass by when I don’t speak to other people, except my boss via Skype. And after those two days, I do tend to crave human interaction. Which is what my neighbours are for. I’m comfortable being alone and I love to spend solitary time in my house during the evenings. But not all the time. Social interactions are key to our humanity and it is important to keep them up. If you suspect someone in your life may be lonely, perhaps it’s your duty to take the first step and alleviate some of that loneliness. It could also count as your daily More Good Deed …
Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.