Yeah, It Turns Out That Technology Doesn't Make Us Lonely
from the the-lonely-moral-panic dept
Perhaps that's because the actual evidence suggests it's a load of crap. Boing Boing points us to a good piece by Claude Fischer in the Boston Review noting that the idea that we're living in an age of increasing loneliness is complete hogwash and not supported by the data at all. First, the article notes just how many articles and books have been claiming the opposite. It seems that claiming that we're all getting more lonely is a lucrative niche sector for the publishing industry. It's one of those things that lots of people want to believe, so books that support that worldview are apparently quite popular. Fischer has compiled a bunch of data looking at their social connections from 1970 to 2010, and finds that "Overall, Americans reported no more loneliness in the 2000s than they did in the 1970s."
It is true that the nature of social relationships has changed, but the difference is just different, not "bad."
The results, which I compiled in Still Connected (2011), show that some aspects of social involvement have changed since the 1970s. In particular, Americans these days sit down to fewer family dinners and host guests in their homes less often; eating and sociability continues, but outside the home. Americans communicate more frequently with their relatives and friends. Critically Americans are not discernibly more isolated—few were isolated at any point in those decades—and Americans remain just as confident of the support family and friends provide.What the research really shows is that technology is a tool, and people use it for a variety of purposes. Some use it to avoid contact with people, while others use it to increase their contact with people. You can't blame the technology for how people use it. The technology just amplifies the individual aspects of different people:
People using the Internet, most studies show, increase the volume of their meaningful social contacts. E-communications do not generally replace in-person contact. True, serious introverts go online to avoid seeing people, but extroverts go online to see people more often. People use new media largely to enhance their existing relationships—say, by sending pictures to grandma—although a forthcoming study shows that many more Americans are meeting life partners online. Internet dating is especially fruitful for Americans who may face problems finding mates, such as gays and older women. Finally, people tell researchers that electronic media have enriched their personal relationships.As the article notes, this doesn't mean loneliness isn't a problem for those who experience it, but it's not a growing problem, and there's no evidence to suggest that social networking or Facebook in particular increases loneliness.
People typically turn new technologies into devices for doing what they have always wanted to do. And people like to stay in touch. A century ago, Americans, especially women, turned two new technologies marketed for other purposes, the telephone and automobile, into “technologies of sociability.” Developers of the Internet meant it to be a tool for the military and for scholars, and only a few imagined it might even serve business. Now users have made the Internet a largely social technology.