The problem of loneliness and solitude has never been imposed with such sharpness as it is today.
Throughout the development of different societies, the individuals have been part of a large family, then even a bigger organization that didn’t allow them to be lonely. However, Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers emphasized the value of solitude for the sake of epistemology – knowledge based on methods, validity, and scope. The medieval Christian ascetics also idealized solitude. A 2014 study1, conducted by psychologists from the University of Virginia and Harvard, resulted with devastating reports: most of the participants would rather do anything than to sit alone and contemplate; even if that ‘anything’ was getting painful electric shocks. In the new age, characterized by the rapid expanse of liberalization, urbanization and globalization, loneliness is no longer a positive treat; nevertheless, the boundless openness towards the world is making people more alone than ever.
With technology, people are prone to a general tendency towards automation of their lives. The rapid pace of life imposes alienation from nature, family, and society. Individuals who don’t comply with the established, widely accepted way of behavior are labeled as neurotic and lonely. On the other side, the lack of basic security for material and psychological survival is forcing people to integrate into the conformist sense of false, virtual integration. Social media are creating an illusion of human adaptation. When the casual usage of this technology turns into addiction, people cannot connect with their close ones and themselves. As a result, they become more alone than ever. In the past, people willingly isolated themselves from the community with the aim to contemplate and grow. Today, we isolate ourselves because of empty vanity, self-love, convenience and imaginary benefits of online socialization. It is difficult for people to remain willingly independent from the inert state labeled as ‘cool’.
According to Jung, “loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”2 The great psychologist predicted the state of human mind addicted to technology. When people bring communication down to virtual contacts, they do not rely on eye contact, voice tone, and body language. The alienation from face-to-face communication results with worsened social skills and unnatural behavior when ‘virtually socialized’ people find themselves in real-life situations. This inability to form lasting, meaningful connections outside of the online world makes them more alone than ever. Social media revolutionized the way we connect and form relationships with other people. Our social activity is measured by tweets and Facebook status updates, as well as the number of friends, likes, and shares we get. People hide their vulnerability behind the image they want others to see. Thus, they build an illusion of friendships that do not function in real life. Social media connections are not equal to deep, meaningful friendships that make people feel as a part of a community.
Psychologists Killingsworth and Gilbert3 summed up the experience of 2.250 adults, who were asked to report how they were feeling and what they were doing at the moment. Most people responded with the statement that their minds were wandering when they were providing the reports. 43% of them had positive thoughts, while 27% of the people were thinking negatively. Technology supports the wandering mind more than any other means. The idea of being alone and occupied with important thoughts is not pleasant for the wandering mind. Thus, people find different ways of being active and involved in something that makes them feel better. That’s why they spend their free time on social media websites, which allow their minds to wander around without a definite purpose. One of the most important functions of modern technology is satisfying the need of people to be busy with something. Instead of making them happier and more connected, this behavior drives them towards an inert state.
People are slowly, but surely accepting the idea that the human mind has been designed to be in contact with the world that surrounds it. The biggest argument in favor of social media activity is its ability to take lonely and shy people out of their cocoons. The era of over-sharing encourages shy people to blend in, so they end up spending more time on Facebook when compared to confident individuals. Shy people think they are fulfilling their needs for interaction through social media, but the truth is that they use these activities as an excuse to keep avoiding real contact. Facebook was created by an introvert. Mark Zuckerberg is noticeably anxious during TV interviews, but he created a network that encourages people to share intimate details of their lives. The initial impression is that this technology has made them more social, but the truth is that they spend their “socializing time” in front of a computer screen… alone. This phenomenon is not ‘social’ at all when we base our judgment upon the essential, positive meaning of the term: making contributions to the society’s wellbeing.
Solitude is different than loneliness. In this constructive state of being, we have ourselves and that’s the only company we need. We can use this time for self-reflection and research, which will lead to personal growth and good decisions. Technology takes people away from this state. When they become dependent upon tools, apps, platforms and websites, technology consumes every moment of their free time. When there is no time for contemplative solitude, people become more alone than ever. One of the main characteristics of social interaction is the sense of community – individuals who function towards a common goal. Public social media platforms contribute towards a person’s isolation from the real world. The time spent in front of the computer leads to addiction. The obsessive participation in the world of social media is not social at all, since it encourages individuals to live in a parallel universe, where they don’t suffer any consequences for their outbursts of improper behavior and rage.
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1 Wilson, T., Reinhard, D., Westgate, E., Gilbert, D., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn C., Brown, C. & Shaked, A. (2014). Just think: The challnges of the disengaged mind. Dapartment of Psychology, Universtiy of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6192/75
2Jung, C.G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
3Killingsworth, M. & Gilbert, D. (2010). A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932.abstract.