Last night, my partner and I got to counting our friends. Not our actual friends, of course (after all, who needs them these days), but the number of “friends” we have on Facebook.
At 29, I’ve been with Facebook since the very beginning, and with friends collated from my time at school, University and my various places of employment, I’m party to the minutiae of each and every one of hundreds of people’s lives when I log on to my profile, which I do each and every day. Add to that the four hundred and something people I know less well, but still choose to follow on Twitter, and my expanding circles on Google+, and you have an expansive network of information.
Never before have we been so connected. And yet never before have we been so lonely.
You see, I may have several hundred Facebook friends, but Relationships Australia believes that I’m part of the loneliest generation living today.
Having surveyed 1204 adults, the Relationships Indicators Survey, published today, certainly highlights Generation Y (those of us aged 25-34) as a lonely bunch. 30 per cent of us confessed to feeling “frequently lonely” — far more than any other age group and 11% more than the next most lonely age group – those aged 18-24.
In fact, the survey demonstrated that the proportion of respondents indicating they felt lonely actually increased with the number of methods of technology they used in their day-to-day lives, be that Twitter, Facebook, SMS or plain old email.
“An interesting correlation between use of social networking technology and loneliness became apparent”, the authors of the study wrote, “with those frequently feeling lonely more likely to use social networking”
You get the picture. If you’re aged anywhere between 18 and 34, it doesn’t matter how many friends, networks or circles you have, you’re more likely to experience loneliness.
But how can this be when you can log on to Facebook and instantly chat with many of your friends who, no matter where they are, are also logged on to the social network?
One reason may be a reduction in quality time – and here I’m talking about face-to-face time – we spend with our actual friends. After all, when you log on to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ each day and find out what’s going on in their lives, what would you have to say to each other if you met up?
Another reason may be our growing addiction to the various social networks available to us. If you’re feeling lonely, it’s significantly easier, not to mention quicker, to pick up your iPhone and see what’s going on in the world, immersing yourself instantly into a stream of information. Rather than working out your thumbs, however, a healthier alternative would be to step outside, exercise, or pursue an activity. (You never know, you may even bump into someone and have a conversation!).
The impacts of social networking on the health of your body and brain are certainly nothing new, even though the avenues available to you have grown considerably in just the last few years. Back in 2009, Lady Susan Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, explained to the House of Lords the difference between relationships conducted through a computer screen and those involving spoken conversation, the latter being “far more perilous” given that they “occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses.”
Living in Australia, many miles and countries away from my family in the UK, I cannot thank technology enough for keeping me in constant contact with my loved ones. However, it seems the more time we spend online, the more we’re leaving ourselves open not only to loneliness, but to losing the ability to interact and simply enjoy ourselves in the outside world.