Isolation in a hyper-connected world
We must ask: Is social media causing greater social isolation. It’s funny because we are more connected in ways than ever before. Smartphones and social media allow us to connect with people with such ease. Ironically, we don’t seem to be any happier as a society. In fact, there is evidence that rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide have increased in America. This is especially true for teens and young adults. As discussed in my previous blog, relationships are the key to our happiness. Thus, despite our ability to connect with one another through screens, it doesn’t appear that this is resulting in increases to societal happiness.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, found that the more young adults use social media, the more they tend to rate themselves as feeling socially isolated. However, this is a correlational study. So, the researchers can’t prove that social media use is actually causing young adults to feel more socially isolated. It could very well be the case that people who feel more socially isolated are more drawn to using social media to “fill the void,” so to speak. It’s likely that the relationship is bi-directional. Thus, people who feel isolated are more drawn to social media and, as they use it more, they feel more isolated.
The world is complicated; it’s not right to vilify social media. There are plenty of benefits to to social media, which we experience daily. Still, we evolved to relate to one another in-person. Thus, to truly meet our psychological need for connection, we need to have in-person relationships. It’s okay if some of our connections are online, but if social media displaces our in-person relationships we will pay a price. We could experience increased anxiety, depression, stress, and feelings of social isolation. Ideally, our social media use should facilitate greater in-person relationships.
There’s an old saying that too much of a good thing isn’t good. This goes for our use of social media, too. It’s fine in small doses, but if we spend too much time on social media we will displace the in-person connections that are the true source of our happiness. We must never lose sight of this reality.