Feeling Lonely with 1000 Facebook Friends

Ingmar Nieuweboer
June 19th 2016

It’s one of the biggest social issues of today. It’s a key predictor of depression, chronic illness and premature death, and 26% of Americans say they relate themselves to it. We are talking about loneliness. A recent study found that only face-to-face interaction, not device mediated interaction, could help to prevent it.

Loneliness is not a popular topic. It’s an invisible problem. Loneliness is not a mental disease or a physical anomaly; it’s a complex, undesired state of life, which is self-enforcing. According to Professor John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago, loneliness is twice as bad as obesity for older people’s health and almost as great a cause of death as poverty. Although you might not be aware of the problem, the population surveys do not lie. In the 1970s, 14% of middle-aged and older Americans considered themselves lonely, by 2011 this percentage grew to 40%. However, the problem is not primarily related to the older part of the population. In 2010 the Mental Health Foundation in the UK found loneliness to be more frequent among young people than the elderly.

The goal of the study done by the Health & Science University in Oregon was to determine what effect different modes of social contact (in person, telephone, written or e-mail) had on depressive symptoms in older adults. The result was clear: the more regularly someone enjoys in-person contact, the lower the probability that this person has significant depressive symptoms two years later is. The frequency of social interaction by phone, e-mail or letter makes no difference. Therefore, the study proves how virtual contact cannot replace in-person contact. There is a fundamental difference between the two. This might explain why loneliness is more frequent among young people, as their social interaction is moving from the real world to the virtual world. Being able to reach everybody anywhere is great as an extra tool to efficiently exchange useful information, but it shouldn't replace face-to-face interaction.

1000 Facebook friends cannot meet your instinctive social desires. Only real world relationships can. For many people it’s stating the obvious, but for others it’s stating the obvious too late.

Sources: Wallstreet JournalThe Guardian Image: Home is where the hard disk is

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