Time and time again I am struck by the overwhelming feelings of loneliness I encounter online.
In spite of the fact we are more connected than we’ve ever been before, so many of us have never felt more alone than when we’re spending time on platforms that we have collectively, and totally ironically, labelled as “social media”.
Sorry, I know that’s a clichéd observation that’s been made a million times before, but it’s something I really want to talk about.
Because these feelings of loneliness are becoming completely inevitable, even though the connection between poor mental health and our social media usage have been made a million and ten times a week, every week, since Facebook blew up in the mid-noughties.
We know that being bombarded with photos of a night out that we weren’t invited on is going to cause feelings of loneliness.
We know that when we see a message from a friend that has been read and ignored we are confronted with feelings of loneliness.
We know that couple photos, baby photos, wedding photos, reunion, family and even pet photos can cause us to encounter feelings of loneliness.
We know that in so many instances, these social media platforms leave us feeling lonely.
What’s the alternative? Give up social media and thus embark on the loneliest journey of them all; the one where everyone lives online except for you?
No, I didn’t think so.
A social media presence is pretty much a necessity. Yes, people talk about doing digital detoxes, and yes your next-door neighbour has deleted her Facebook and YES we all have that one friend who refuses to get a smartphone but who we all love anyway but if we’re real, if we’re really really real about it, social media has become as important to our lives as pasta.
Yes, we COULD live without it… but should we have to????
I rely on social media for my job and in lots of ways that makes me the luckiest fucker in town (I literally can call scrolling through Instagram ‘work’ if I want to) and I am part of a growing number of people whose income relies on them having a strong, systemic, positive and continuous online presence.
Hey to my blogging pals, my social media workers, my influencers. We are living the dream. We are also up shit’s creak in a sense… unless we want our work to simply stop, we must maintain some sort of a brilliant online presence.
We must return, day after day (fine, let’s be honest), hour after hour to a place that is theoretically bringing us as close as possible to the community that we have built for ourselves, but that, in so many ways leaves us feeling empty and alone.
Ooh. Cheery. Being a blogger is G-R-E-A-T.
I’m mostly joking. But I’m sort of not. Like so many others, I do spend a lot of time online and I certainly have experienced loneliness as a result.
With this in mind I think I might be relatively well placed to share my thoughts on what it means to live online and ultimately to chat through the realities of overcoming the loneliness that comes with living on the internet.
Because, YES, I have loads of friends, never experience any FOMO, feel very well loved by everyone, all the time, and am ENTIRELY SMUG ABOUT IT… didn’t you know???
Lol, obviously not. I am quite literally riddled with FOMO. I do not have the answers.
But the fact that my office is online does mean I’ve had more experience of this particular brand of loneliness and that, really, is why I’m so keen to talk about it.
You see, there is a difference, I think, between being lonely, and being alone, and this is where the confusion starts.
There have been many times in my life when I have felt lonely, but through it all, I’ve never really been alone.
I was lonely in school. I was literally surrounded by hundreds of other people every day, I was constantly busy, I was never alone, not for a minute, and yet, at times, I was lonely.
I’d go home to my fantastically chaotic family and I’d feel lonely there too… not all the time and oddly, never when I was actually alone and in my room, more often than not it would happen whilst I was sitting round the table, listening to everyone else laugh and joke and talk.
As a grownup, I’ve been lonely in my relationship. Not because I am unhappy in the slightest or because Alex isn’t fantastic, but because sometimes I go through things that he doesn’t understand and sometimes he goes through things that I don’t. We’re there for each other, we are never alone, not really, but that doesn’t stop us from feelings of loneliness.
If there is one thing that I have learned it is that you can absolutely be lonely and not be even slightly alone.
The assumption goes, I think, that if you have a large following, a big online community, then you must feel well loved, adored, supported.
This is quite obviously a load of shit and if I’m honest, a pretty dangerous assumption (as most of them are).
It’s always been said that it’s lonely at the top, an expression coined long before the idea of social media even existed but one that applies more today, arguably, than ever before.
I’m sure if Shakespeare were alive now, he’d be lonely. It’d be exhausting for him to be utterly brilliant and have no one to talk to about it (or anyone that could understand the ‘haths’ and the ‘haths not’ at any rate). I’m sure the Queen is lonely, there is literally no one alive that has ever done her job before, who do you talk to about issues in the work place when you only got the job in the first place because the last guy died?
Loneliness, when looked at like that, is easy for people to understand.
The idea of being ‘lonely’ when you’ve got however many thousands or millions of people waiting to see what you’ll do next? Ready to read what you’ve written or like what you’ve worn or listen to a song you’ve sung? That sort of loneliness doesn’t compute with people.
YouTubers are coming out one by one to explain the detrimental effect their careers are having on their mental health. Bloggers are continually turning to social media platforms to express exhaustion and frustration. Normal people are deleting their Facebook accounts, deactivating their Instagrams, declaring that they will be happier just to live their lives without all the pressure… and that can’t be a coincidence can it?
The whole point of being online is that you’re never alone. It was created to bring people together, prevent loneliness and yet here we are, about as lonely as it’s possible to be in so many ways.
Social media is the IRL equivalent of walking into a silent disco and screaming at the top of your lungs.
People can see you, acknowledge you even, someone might go so far as to take their headphones off and ask you if you are okay… but for the most part, no one really hears you at all.
And yes, that does sound utterly depressing and quite possibly the most miserable comparison I could have given you, but it’s an important observation (*toot*, yes, that is my own horn I am blowing) because it needs to be acknowledged that social media is not the fountain of all things fucking fantastic that so many of us treat it as.
I can say that because I am as guilty of this as anyone.
When I am feeling low, glum, alone, sad, distressed, (bored, excited, alive etc) I’m all too quick to turn to Instagram. Whether it’s to say in my stories that I am feeling sorry for myself (and hope someone pays me attention probably) or to seek out comfort or inspiration from one of the many brilliant people I follow, the fact that time and time again I am turning to social media to make me feel better cannot be ignored.
Not least of all because I am expecting help and very rarely getting it.. at least in the way I wanted it.
And that is not, as it sounds, a shortcoming of one of the many flawed social media platforms I have found myself in a love-hate relationship with over the last few years, that is entirely the shortcoming of the hopeless twenty-s0mething girl naively hoping that the answer to every problem she’s ever had is hidden somewhere in-between photos of coffees that I can’t drink thanks to my dairy allergy and blouses that my bosoms would never allow me to wear.
For a bit of rest-bite from my reality, social media is the most perfect platform. As a tool from which to do my work, carry about my actual business, it is brilliant.
To use it as a means of seeking out support and comfort, making me feel included, less alone, whole and happy? Well I’m sorry but that’s a lot of pressure to put on anything, least of all a platform entirely made up of people with less than a clue than I have and their own shit to be muddling through.
In lots of ways, subconsciously, I am sure that social media has helped me to feel less alone.
When I’m missing my friends or in need of inspiration or invited to feel like part of a community or reading a blog post I absolutely resonate with or am in a good Facebook group or am being DM’d on Instagram or RT’d on Twitter I DO feel less alone.
As superficial as it sounds – there are times when my social media accounts make me feel more whole and happy.
But in lots of ways my social media platforms do very little to help me fight off the crushing feelings of loneliness that at one point or another we will all experience and that’s normally because I’m looking for solutions in all the wrong places.
If I approach social media with the sole purpose of taking something from it, I may well get something.
But if EVERYONE approached social media with the sole purpose of taking something from it, we’d soon find that there was nothing that any of us had left to give.
Because what is social media if not just… us?
In truth, I don’t think loneliness is a symptom of social media, I don’t even think it’s exacerbated by it particularly.
I think the issue arises when people turn to their social media platforms as a means of fixing a problem that goes so much further than the validation gained from an Instagram like.
Thanks to the constant, never-resting, never-ending nature of the online world, we rarely feel alone and I worry that we are confusing that reassuring prospect with the notion that thanks to the constant company, we cannot possible be lonely when that’s just not the case.
Sure thanks to social media and our new lives online we are never really alone.
But we mustn’t for a second think that means that we’re exempt from loneliness.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying. Maybe I’ve totally missed the mark. I am desperate to hear your thoughts on this one either way!