In 2012, The Atlantic published an article about how we are lonelier than ever, even though we are hyper-connected via social media. The research that the article cites suggests that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill, and that it’s a growing epidemic. Five year later, it seems not much as changed, as outlets like The Atlantic continue to publish articles linking depression to social media consumption. Every year the number of ways to get a hold of someone grows in the form of apps on your phone, increasing the number of notifications you receive, overwhelming you to the point where you want to chuck your phone through the middle of an intersection and watch with glee as it is smashed into smaller and smaller pieces by Priuses. We are overwhelmed with notifications.
On my phone alone, I have the following apps: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack, Discord, in addition to the ability to call and text. I have six separate emails that I check on a daily basis, and I have to use Slack and Discord to communicate with team members on two separate projects I am a part of. (A few months ago, I also had the Plenty of Fish app installed on my phone, so on top of receiving my daily onslaught of notifications, I was waking up to at least 100 more from that god-forsaken app, all to tell me that “someone wanted to meet me,” but was too fucking lazy to send me a message.) So, how do I keep my sanity? I turn off all notifications for all my apps and designate specific periods of time throughout the day to check them. That way, I break the habit of picking up my phone every time it chimes. There is nothing in my life that requires that immediate of attention, and most likely you don’t have anything either. You don’t need to respond right away to that comment Sally Smith left you on your profile photo, especially since you haven’t seen her since high school — pay attention to your significant other as they are telling you about the book they are reading, or your friend as they ask you for advice. It’s the quality, not quantity, of interactions that recharges our souls.
When I go out to eat, I see entire families engrossed in their own individual devices — heaven forbid they have an actual conversation. The same goes for couples — the horror of building and maintaining a strong relationship through dialogue! Some of my friends are just as bad, if not worse. If we are so starved for real, meaningful connections to other people, then we need to put our phones away. What is more important than connecting with the people literally right there in front of us? If there wasn’t the occasional board game night at my house, I think I would completely fall into an inescapable depression from craving human interaction. (Work doesn’t count.) “We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information,” as The Atlantic article says. It also goes on to note that, to combat loneliness, “we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers […] The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.” I’ve done the therapy thing before; it’s not the same as getting a tight hug from my significant other or close friend as they truly listen to me.
I should note that being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. I like alone time. I need it to recharge my energy to tackle projects, social interactions, etc. I hate living in large cities because of the number of people and cars. I hate living in apartment complexes and sharing a communal laundry room. It’s not people I hate per-say; it’s the general lack of consideration for others that seems to plague our society these days, including ignoring present company to tweet out your thought you think is so funny, when in reality it’s not. I’m not lonely when I am alone; I’m lonely when I am attempting to interact with people I care about, to have a conversation, and the best I can get out of them is a half-assed nod as they continue to scroll their Facebook feed and laugh at videos they won’t even bother to share. If it happens on occasion, it doesn’t bother me, but when it’s a consistent thing, especially from my significant other, holy hell does it spiral me into a depression — combine that with the tendency to suffer in silence (because of past abusive relationships), and I become a wallowing mess… but that’s a different topic, entirely.
The next time you find yourself reaching for your phone instead of interacting with the person in front of you, take a second to ask yourself why you’d rather scroll through social media than start a conversation, or ask yourself what social media is giving you that your friend/significant other/family member/etc. isn’t — if you can’t find a legitimate answer, then maybe it’s time to cut back on your social media and re-learn how to form a deep, lasting connection with someone.
You get out of relationships what you put in to them.