It’s official: over 2 billion people are on Facebook.* We live in a hyper-connected world, where it's never been easier to be in touch with others. When we’re so focused on online connections, it’s harder to be engaged in the world right in front of us. This has created an epidemic of loneliness.
Last weekend, my husband and I went out for dinner. We looked around and saw lots of people on their phones, seemingly oblivious to people they were with. The diners left to eat by themselves while their friends were preoccupied with scrolling through their phones looked like they'd rather be anywhere else.
A couple came in and took out their phones right away. Most of their date was spent separately, with both texting other people while they sat together. It was interesting to wonder what the evening was about for them.
There was a family of four eating dinner together, hardly looking at each other. The kids had games on their iPads to keep them occupied, mom and dad had phones. Afterwards, mom and the kids stood quietly by the table, waiting for dad to finish a phone call.
It’s easy to see how lonely it can be when feeling invisible to the people you’re with.
Sherry Turkle's Connected But Alone TedTalk is about the pervasive feeling of being lonely in a connected world. Spending so much time keeping up with the latest social media posts takes us away from the world right in front of us.
Besides Facebook there’s texting, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Meetup, Reddit, Tumbler, YouTube, Match, Twitter, LinkedIn…Sometimes it feels like the world is connected by even less than six degrees of separation. But if we’re not saying anything of substance, does that really matter?
Getting caught up with the number of Facebook likes and Instagram shares is not nearly as meaningful as being able to carry on a deep conversation with a friend, by phone or in person. More and more, we communicate by texts instead of conversations. Texting doesn't have the same depth of emotion and resonance. Ask someone whether they'd rather speak on the phone or text, and most will say they prefer texting by a long shot.
Phones have created a frenzied pace that has taken control of our world. The immediacy of being reachable 24/7 makes it harder to put the phone down and risk missing a call, text or update. It can be really stressful to think about being offline for awhile. Why not take a social media vacation? Download the free 7-Day Disconnect to Get Connected Challenge today, and take a break!
Teens are particularly connected to their world through their phones. It's a vital way for them to stay connected to their social and school life. And, yet, they can also be missing the beauty of hanging out with good friends and feeling close in a way that goes far deeper than a barrage of updates. Creating a healthy balance is important. If you've got kids, ask them to join you in the 7-day challenge!
When my daughter was in high school, we had a no-phones-at-dinner agreement. One night, she cleverly thought we didn’t know she was texting with the phone hidden in her hoodie pocket. I excused myself from the table and sent her this text: “is that phone in your pocket?” We all laughed as she snuck a peek at the text and realized she was completely busted.
Sometimes, though, we do need to answer an important call that comes in at an inconvenient time. For example, I’m on call 24/7 for a domestic violence prevention organization. I need to be responsive to all calls from the police. If I’m with someone, I explain that if I get a call, I’ll need to excuse myself quickly to make sure that there is coverage. When people know and understand extenuating circumstances, they are generally understanding.
Phones and other electronic devices have crossed the line from helping us to stay connected more easily to creating a sense of disconnection and isolation. Dropping everything to check how many likes and shares a post has gotten is not the same as the deeper connection that comes from a heart to heart talk with someone who you know well.
There's a pressure to keep posting and sharing, because taking a social media break means that algorithms will make posts less visible. But is this a friendship? No. Friends will be there for you even when you're away. Take a social media break. Take the 7-Day Disconnect to Get Connected Challenge and spend more time nurturing relationships with the people you are with. You'll feel happier and more vibrant.
* Number of Facebook users as of 6/27/17
Denise Fountain is a Life Transitions Specialist and Certified Professional Coach. She works with women going through transitions to rediscover themselves and create lives that are happy, healthy and whole again. Together with her clients, she explores the connection between stress, health and happiness, and guides her clients to move forward to make lasting and sustainable changes. She is passionate about helping women live their best lives. Sign up for updates while you’re on this site! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how Denise can partner with you to create the life you dream of.