Thursday, June 3, 2010

Modern loneliness

Little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth.
For a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures,

and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.- Francis bacon

Studies indicate that loneliness is increasing in spite of incredible communication advancements over the past decade. Isolation is far more than a social misfortune, it is a significant problem of health and happiness that is distinct from but contributes to the likelihood of depression.

In surveys to determine the factors that contribute most to human happiness, respondents consistently rate connection to friends and family-love, intimacy and social affiliation first, above wealth and fame.

Nowadays we're seeing an incredible retreat into virtual worlds. People spend time staring at their monitors more than ever before. This may imply less human interaction, less touch, less accountability, and less human connection. That can be a sure sign of loneliness. In fact, the use of social media sites, when gone unchecked, can actually exacerbate feelings of loneliness, because they remind the user of how little interaction they truly have with others.

Social Networks make a lot easier for people who are shy or socially awkward to communicate with others. This might help to prevents loneliness. But reality is complex. The Web provides large amounts of connection points; people who are truly isolated might end up over-using them. Besides connections might increase in number but not in quality – says John Cacioppo.

With email, communication is instant. And "kissing on that first date" is now more common. Within a couple of emails you are told intimate details you would be embarrased to tell anybody else. Those seem to be desperate attempts to satisfy the need for real human contact.

A recent research by Stepanikova concludes that more time browsing and communicating online appears to be linked with more loneliness, the two even increase together over time. However, it is important to appreciate that we don't know the direction of causation. Increased loneliness may well encourage people to spend more time online, rather than web time causing loneliness. Or some other factor could be causing both to rise in tandem.