Americans are lonelier than ever before, according to a growing body of research. All those “friends” we have on the giant social network may be part of the problem
Is Facebook really making people more lonely? Or are lonely people attracted to Facebook?
These are some of the questions posed by a recent article in TheWeek.com.
This is the paradox of the Facebook age: We have an unmatched ability to connect with other people through social networks, yet we still “suffer from unprecedented alienation,” says Stephan Marche in The Atlantic. Evidence from the growing body of loneliness research seems to suggest that the two trends are almost certainly connected. While American tradition holds that there’s nothing wrong with a little individualistic solitude, the isolation of superficial connections with hundreds of Facebook “friends” might just be too much for us to handle.
(California high school student, Ellie Ritter, talks to her friends through Facebook: A growing body of research suggests that a connection is not the same thing as a bond/confidant. Photo: Lacy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis)
But is it fair to blame Facebook for all this?
Here are some reactions to Stephan Marche’s views…
- Lonely people are drawn to Facebook: “Facebook isn’t making us lonely,” says Walter Frick in BostInno. Most research shows, in fact, that already social people are social online, and loners are loners in both real and virtual life. Marche makes a convincing case that “lonely people are more attracted to the internet,” and Facebook can “attract and reflect loneliness.” But if you’re lonely, get offline and go talk to someone face-to-face. Don’t blame the internet. 
- Facebook is alienating: “Marche’s piece is a riveting read,” and if you don’t think he’s onto something, try Googling “Is Facebook making us lonely?” says Connie Schultz in the Shelby, N.C., Star. You get 7 million hits — clearly plenty of us “have been fretting about our Facebook addiction for some time now.” The problem is that Facebook encourages us to be “phonies,” always relentlessly and annoyingly happy. And without real intimacy, there’s no real friendship. 
- Loneliness was a problem long before Facebook: The problem with Marche’s central question (“Is Facebook Making us Lonely?”) is that our loneliness epidemic started long before the birth of Facebook, or even the internet, says Jeff Bercovici in Forbes. But Marche’s actual argument is subtler: That Facebook causes some people to get depressed by reading about other people’s purportedly perfect lives. Is that true? I’m not fully convinced, but it’s a great discussion to have, and a great way to sell magazines. 
A great discussion indeed!