The advances we have made in technology over the last decade mean we are now more globally connected than ever before. Not only have we been able to make and keep long-distance relationships, but we’re more aware and accepting of different cultures. We are also becoming more accepting about things that have previously been considered outside the societal norm. Despite this, loneliness is still rising and still beating us. According to Psychology Today, ‘lonely people are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships’, but why?
The question of why loneliness is still continuing to rise, remains. The answer is unfortunately a little more complicated. However, some research has given us enough insight to form a general idea.
Although it’s safe to say we have more avenues for connection through improved technology. Research suggests it’s possible that this may in fact be one of the biggest causes for a declining lack of physical interaction. We are choosing to spend more time texting, scrolling and liking pictures. In turn we are denying ourselves one of our primal desires — a sense of community. A community that makes us feel safe and involved. Something that is much harder to come by online.
Who is loneliness actually affecting the most then?
We know that the biggest users of technology and the internet are aged between 16-34 years. It’s interesting then, that despite all these newfound connections for young people, loneliness is on the rise. According to a new BBC Radio 4 survey, 16-24-year-olds are the loneliest age group. A shocking 40 per cent of these 16-24-year-olds are reported to have experienced loneliness. The research and statistics suggest younger people are lonelier, perhaps, because they are too engaged with what’s on the computer screen, meaning that they often miss out on forming vital physical connections with people.
On the other end of the spectrum, 44 per cent of adults aged 75 years and over are users of technology and the internet. But, a mere 27 per cent of 75-year-olds and above are reported to have experienced loneliness. The statistics are considerably lower and it is evident that loneliness is a bigger issue amongst the 16-24-year age group. However, it’s important to note that loneliness is affecting older people too. They don’t have the connections younger people have from the internet and may, as a result, experience more severe bouts of loneliness. Quite likely, each group is lacking what the other has.
Perhaps then, if both ends are suffering from the same malady but in different ways, it’s just a case of finding the right balance. But balance is something many of us woefully lack in our cluttered modern-day society, with its increasingly busy rhythm. According to the founder of It’s Time to Log Off we are in a digital epidemic.
Did you know that:
- UK adults spend an average of 8 hours 41 minutes a day behind virtual screens (more time than they are asleep).
- 69 per cent of UK children say their parents spend too much time on their mobile device at home.
- Two in five adults (40 per cent) first look at their phone within five minutes of waking up, with this figure rising to 65 per cent for those aged under 35.
- The first inpatient facility for treating internet addiction in the US opened in 2013. China has opened 300 teenage boot camps imposing a strict digital detox to deal with increasing problems of teen internet addiction and computer addiction.
- Almost half of 18-34-year-olds said their social media feeds made them feel unattractive.
- A study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that heavy social media users were twice as likely to report experiencing social isolation.
- 52 per cent of school-age students said social media makes them feel less confident about their appearance and how interesting their life is.
- 31 per cent of internet users miss out on spending time with friends and family.
- 21 per cent of UK children feel their parents don’t listen to them properly because they’re constantly picking up emails, calls or texts on their mobiles.
- More than half (58 per cent) of UK adults now say they use text messages at least once a day to communicate with family and friends, while only 49 per cent meet people face-to-face on such a regular basis. However, the majority of UK adults say they would actually prefer to meet (67 per cent) or speak on the phone (10 per cent) than communicate by text.
It’s easy to blame technology for all of our problems. Instead, we need to start looking at things from a different perspective. Is there anything we can do differently? Are there ways we can monitor our use of technology? Maybe we all just need a little bit of will power and motivation to change. Maybe it’s a matter of learning how to use technology more positively.
I conducted an interview with a range of people varying in age, gender and lifestyle. The purpose of the interview was to understand loneliness in relation to social media and advancing technology. Is technology bad or good? Is it both?
Two of the interviewees live in Vietnam as expats and are working as teachers. They are in the 30-40 age bracket. The conversation concluded in an agreement that various forms of social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook are, in general, good for them. As Christine, 31, explained: they are able to sustain relationships and friendships with people they don’t see very often. Social media allows them to still feel involved with their friends and family, which is comforting after not seeing them for long periods of time. However, both Christine and Brian agreed that certain forms of social media can be time-wasting and advertisements that come with the platforms can be too influential.
Another interviewee, Sam 22 from England, shared similar opinions. He uses WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram partly to keep in touch with friends from different countries and partly to get inspiration for various activities — i.e., new recipes to cook, photographers’ work and cartoonists’ work. However, he acknowledged that these were things he could just as easily find in books and that advertisements could be damaging to vulnerable users, and especially to younger viewers.
The interviewees both said they use social media platforms to keep in touch with people, which the older generation doesn’t do as much. This comes back to the idea of community. Much of the older generation grew up and are used to being a part of physical face-to-face communities. As time has gone on, this has become less and less popular and people have started to form similar communities, only online. It explains in part, why there is more isolation for the older generation and perhaps why loneliness is rising within that age bracket.
It also partly explains the isolation younger people suffer. You probably know that feeling, when you’ve been off over the weekend and maybe haven’t left the house for a couple of days. Yes, you’ve texted people or spoke online, but eventually you start to crave the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation and interaction. You start to feel lonely, despite still keeping in contact with people online.
There are probably many more reasons why people feel lonely, but the main one is clearly a lack of balance. We don’t have balance anymore between shutting ourselves off and living behind a screen, and going out into the world to get that physical interaction with people. And the two major age groups are the recipients of this imbalance; this discord between the need for intimate socialising and the need to retreat every now and again behind the safety of a screen.
Loneliness is on the rise but technology isn’t the comprehensive reason for the spike. We are. Human beings are both driven to and away from each other. The key is finding the right balance between the two forces.