Isn’t it scary to think almost half of the people in the U.S. experience loneliness frequently? Even though the life we live right now is the most (technologically) connected time in the history of humankind. The occasional feeling of loneliness that people felt until not too long ago has become a chronic feeling for millions. Could the fact that we have moved from personal relationships to online relationships be the reason? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says the number of depression sufferers exceeds 320 million people. This hardship is not limited to adults.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a part of a person’s biology in the same way as hunger is a bodily function. Hunger makes you attend to your physical needs, and loneliness makes you tend to your social needs. Nobody can protect you against loneliness. It is fair to say that if you feel lonely, you are lonely.
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Alone is the absence of other people, and loneliness is an individual’s emotional experience of feeling sad about being alone. You can even experience loneliness in a crowd. The lack of company and interaction could also cause anxiety. Our need to connect is hardwired. However, advanced technology has replaced direct social connections with people in person, for robotic connections.
You have one new friend request
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, FaceTime, Instagram and other social media platforms provide us with more friends than we can handle. And every day we get new friend requests from all over the world. However, how do we even know that new online friends are who they say they are? Is the image they share real, and is it a real living, breathing person?
Even if an online friend is real, he or she cannot be a true friend. True friends are people other than family members or spouses who will always have your back. They will be supportive when you must make decisions and honestly tell you if they think your decisions may be harmful. Some people are proud of the thousands of friends they have worldwide. Nevertheless, the lack of personal friends who can sit next to them at lunch and see their heartache without being told causes loneliness in many people.
Smartphone addiction is notable everywhere you look. Pedestrians no longer wave when passing someone familiar because they are so preoccupied with their phones that they no longer notice others. How often have you seen some or all the people around a restaurant table busy on their phones? Instead of enjoying the company of real people at the table, they sit staring at their phones. They send their online friends updates and photos of the menu and the food on their plates. Smartphone addiction causes loneliness that leads to depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep patterns and diminished creativity. Like any addiction, when they lose a smartphone, or if it breaks, drug-like withdrawal symptoms are not uncommon.
Loneliness and our ancestors
Loneliness was life-threatening for our ancestors. They were born into groups or tribes that stayed alive by forming bonds and standing together. Collaboration in sub-groups involved hunting and planting to provide nutrition for all. Others took care of building shelters to keep them safe, and some took care of offspring. For them, togetherness and support of all meant survival. On the other hand, failing to form social bonds brought loneliness and rejection by the tribe, and certain death.
The Industrial Revolution changed it all
During the Industrial Revolution, the factories tempted many people to leave their tribes. They swapped the fields of their villages for working in factories in faraway cities that continued to grow. Today it is not unusual to travel across state lines and even oceans for education, jobs and love. In doing this, social connections and friends stay behind — and what do we do to replace them? We jump to our PCs and smartphones to find replacements.
One thing experts do agree on is that technology is changing the way we’re interacting socially. One area in which technology is a blessing involves allowing parents, grandparents and children to maintain virtual contact if they live far apart.