In a recent article in The Atlantic, writer Stephen Marche serves up a provocative perspective on the impact of Facebook and other social network software on society:
We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.
In the opening lines of the lengthy piece, Marche describes the defining moment of Social Network, the film that chronicled Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s life and career.
The film’s most indelible scene, the one that may well have earned it an Oscar, was the final, silent shot of an anomic Zuckerberg sending out a friend request to his ex-girlfriend, then waiting and clicking and waiting and clicking—a moment of superconnected loneliness preserved in amber. We have all been in that scene: transfixed by the glare of a screen, hungering for response.
The reason there’s such power in the scene is because there’s a lot of truth in it. How many people are addicted to Facebook not so much because they enjoy connecting with friends but because they’re eager for affirmation, hungry to feel appreciated by their personal network?
Too many, I believe.
There’s no question that Facebook often either feeds or fans the flames of narcissism. But so do a lot of things. And it’s always been unwise to dismiss out of hand new technology, if only because it’s being misused. Still, it is a bit peculiar to see some people living so vibrantly in a virtual world – yet remaining so lonely in real life.
Something is not right.
Marche’s conclusion sums it up nicely:
What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity. Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are. Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect.
Moms and dads, I would urge you to keep close tabs on your child’s Internet usage in general, but especially their management of social networking sites and software. If a child or young adult is communicating more virtually with friends than in person, I think you have a problem on your hands. God made us for relationship, for those bonds that do not break, to hear the sound of another person’s voice, to hear their inflection, to laugh out loud (not just LOL) to see the sparkle and light in another person’s eye, and yes, just spend quiet time sitting together, side by side.
How would you answer the question, “Is Facebook making us lonely?”