Twittered? Check. Facebooked? Check. Emailed? Check. Blogged? Check. RedBubbled? Check it out 😉 And so it goes on. Keeping up with all the various social media available online is a habit that is now hard to break. And I am, shall we say, not in the first flush of youth. For those under 35, the addiction to ‘socialising’ on the internet is being blamed for loneliness.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK polled 2,256 people in total. 60% of those aged between 18 and 34 said they felt lonely often or sometimes, compared with 35% of those aged 55+.
In a scientific poll of my own amongst a sample of two (my own kids), it does seem that some of their contemporaries regard ‘friending’ as a competitive sport. Some of their acquaintances have gathered hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook. The so-called Lonely Society study questions whether such Facebook relationships have taken the place of real face-to-face ones. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8701763.stm
I’m wondering whether the issue needs to be set in a wider context.
Culturally, the West has tended to glorify what management guru Warren Bennis (2000) calls ‘the myth of the triumphant individual’. The hero figure who stands out from the crowd and leaps tall buildings with a single bound before breakfast. The East, in contrast, has traditionally favoured the idea of collectivism with a focus on the good of the community.
“In America, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ In Japan, ‘the nail that stands out gets pounded down.” (Markus & Kitayama, 1991)
In an overcrowded and globalised world, I’m wondering whether the two cultures have now collided in the middle. People seem to have both a need for space to be an individual, and a need for community. The iPod, iPad, iPhone all celebrate the individual’s desire to carve out and shape his/her own bubble of environment. Facebook and Twitter fulfill the very basic human need to belong to a ‘tribe’, a community of like-minded people.
The problem arises when the online world is the only world young adults inhabit. But that is a surely a choice, not an imposition. Fear of socialising face-to-face, of being inadequate, of not being able to match up to the perfect online self is perhaps more of an issue than blaming the technology. Working to raise self-esteem and confidence in families and in schools might go a long way to addressing the problem.
What do you think?