The Atlantic just published a thought-provoking article regarding the impact of Facebook and whether or not it is making us lonely. Check out the article here. The article begins with the story of the death of Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie actress who starred in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. She would have been 83 last August, but no one knows how old she was when she died. According to the coroner’s report, she lay dead for about a year before a neighbor noticed cobwebs and yellowing letters in her mailbox. The former actress’ mummified body was found with her computer still turned on, and the article reports that Vickers was not part of any local community group and no longer had a close circle of family or friends. Instead, she only stayed in touch with fans and friends she made via the Internet.
The article goes on to propose that Facebook and social media provide a false sense of community and connection, and though some people may feel they are more connected than ever due to Facebook and similar sites, statistics show that is actually not true. The article states, “A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to a major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.”
The article also points out all of the negative impacts of loneliness, including memory loss, obesity, and hormonal imbalance. Some of the key evidence used to promote the article’s main thesis comes from a study done by Moria Burker, who was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon. She said the most destructive use of Facebook is what she labels “non-personalized use,” meaning scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the work of your own activities via your wall. The article summarizes Burke’s research by stating, ” It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear. According to Burke, passive consumption of Facebook also correlates to a marginal increase in depression”
Personally, I think Facebook and other social media have their positives, especially for writers. It sure makes promotion easier, but the issue of constant self-presentation is not healthy and it can indeed lead to a feeling of disconnect, or perhaps ego. As the article points out, humans should not have to worry about waking up and immediately deciding which aspect of themselves to present to the world, which they now do via updating their Facebook status or Twitter.
I am fortunate enough to live with a wonderful girlfriend and to be part of a circle of friends and writers who I see nearly every weekend. Social media can never replace the benefits of true face-to-face interaction and real time community. Face-to-face interaction is also one of the reasons I love teaching. I allows me to interact with people daily and connect with them.Unfortunately, though, I think some folks, hope to find community and interaction solely through social media and the Internet, and as The Atlantic points out, that can have dire consequences on one’s physical and mental health. Yvette Wickers is a sad example of that.