Earlier this week, I was directed toward this article in The Atlantic about how Facebook is the downfall of society as we know it.
Now, it’s a long article. TEN PAGES. I know you’re totally all busy people and don’t have time to be reading ten pages from The Atlantic. So what did I do, because I’m the most helpful human being in the history of all the world? Printed this sucker out and red-penciled it for you while I read it. I know. You’re probably all totally impressed right now. Don’t be too impressed. I did it at work. And when my coworkers came by, I pretended I was proofreading something work-related. I know. It was evil. But also the smartest. And the most multi-tasky.
In a nutshell: the author hates Facebook and spends ten pages telling you how it makes us all lonely and eschew REAL-LIFE social interaction for fake internet relationships.
Oh, you want me to go into MORE detail? Or, you don’t WANT me to, but you’ve come to expect such from one such as me? Sure. Sure, I can do that.
The author, Stephen Marche, has a theory. The theory is, as our social networking grows quicker and our social networks broader, our real-life interaction – which, to him, is the only way to keep the evil, evil loneliness at bay – disappears. Therefore, we’re a nation of lonely, sad people, just sitting in front of our screens, hanging our hopes on other sad, lonely people who aren’t real friends at all.
He backs this up with nebulous facts and figures that, to the critical eye, seem to have little to do with the situation at hand. For example: “A 2010 AARP study 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.” Well, that’s sad. And I feel sorry for these lonely people. However, according to this website I found with a quick Google search, only 32% of people over the age of 45 are even using social media, as opposed to 67% under the age of 45. If you look a little further down on their infographic, it even breaks down Facebook users by age – and only 19% of total Facebook users are over the age of 45. So this, to me, doesn’t seem like the best use of facts and figures. Shouldn’t a study have been used testing the loneliness levels of those UNDER the age of 45, since they’re the ones more likely to be using the product that’s being vilified?
He also brings up other statistics about loneliness: we’re more likely to be in non-traditional families and live alone (which he follows with a “heh, heh, but of course THAT, ALONE, doesn’t mean you’re lonely, heh heh”) and that people who are religious tend to be less lonely (followed by a sentence about how probably also religion might NOT help with the loneliness – um, way to waffle, Marche.)
He says the best way to measure loneliness is to use the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Well, you know I researched that puppy. Here it is, in case you wanted to know how lonely you are.
Ten pages. The article was TEN PAGES LONG. And what it boils down to is this:
- The author is transparently biased against social media.
- The author thinks that – and I quote – “Facebook is primarily a platform for lonely skulking.”
- The author thinks that looking at other people’s triumphs on social media will make you more depressed about your own life.
- The author thinks that America’s national pastime is loneliness; that, through our pioneer spirit, we have fostered loneliness, and that will be our downfall.
- The author thinks that, because of social media, we are no longer able to either interact with others meaningfully, or be alone with ourselves, and this is dangerous.
- The author thinks that we are the loneliest we have ever been, and has facts and figures he says back up this assertion.
- The author does not believe that friendships can exist anywhere but in real life – “The ‘real thing’ being actual people, in the flesh.”
Well. That’s a lot of assertions. Good thing this article was TEN DAMN PAGES LONG MARCHE.
The title of the article is “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely.” If you go into an article already knowing what your stance is, probably make it more of an assertion. “Facebook is Making Us Lonely.” Something like that. Right? I mean, I’d punch up the title by putting in some ALL CAPS or a song quote or something, but not everyone can be as awesome about titles as I am. I know. I’m sorry.
Now that we know what Marche thinks, let’s talk about what I think. What, you thought I was going to let this go? Nope. That’d be unlike me.
Let’s take his assertions one by one.
Social media is the devil.
Well, social media is what you make of it. It’s an excellent tool for a lot of things. Let’s take Facebook. It’s great for staying in touch with far-flung loved ones (for example: how would I have seen a photo of Baby Girl Awesomesauce less than 12 hours after she was born, were it not for Facebook? Email, I suppose. But it’s a lot easier for a dad who’s just dealt with a whole day of his wife’s labor to post a photo on Facebook for everyone to see than it is for him to fiddle around emailing it to his contact list but make sure you don’t email EVERYONE, I mean, you don’t want to email, say, PayPal, or that guy you had a fight with that time, or whatever. Oh, and by the way, Baby Girl Awesomesauce a., is BEAUTIFUL, b., has the most wonderful feet, c. will hereafter be known by her new blog alias, which is Ceevee) and it’s excellent for keeping up with what’s going on locally if you’re involved with something like theater, because there’s always something going on, and I could never keep up with it all if it weren’t for Facebook event invites and such. It’s also got a lot of crap on it. “Please repost if you believe in not killing puppies with makeshift potato guns” and such. I know. But if you’re intelligent, you can either skim over that, or you can hide those people from your feed. There are always going to be asshats. That’s just the way of the world.
Social media is also a must if you’re in any facet of the entertainment industry, all the way from Oprah to the lowliest little blogger named Amy. You make networks and connections and you sell your product and you put yourself out there. Not using social media to its full advantage is like trying to run with your ankles tied together. It’s ridiculous. (Also, it bears note that at the bottom of the article in The Atlantic, there’s a link to the author’s Twitter and Facebook pages. It’s like RAAAIIINNN on your WEDDINNNNGGG DAAAYYYY. Don’tcha think?)
Facebook is primarily a platform for “lonely skulking.”
Um. Well, first, wow. I can see someone saying this about Twitter more than Facebook, to be honest. You can be a lot more anonymous on Twitter than you can on Facebook. I mean, I guess what the author means is, you’re there reading everyone’s status updates and not interacting and being all troll-like or something? And sure, there are people who do that. But why are you friends with those people? That’s your fault. Don’t friend weirdos. RULE NUMBER ONE DON’T FRIEND WEIRDOS.
Also, this wasn’t marketed as an op-ed piece, yet the author’s opinion on Facebook came through loud and clear. Listen. I am not head-over-heels with Facebook. It has its problems. I know that. I don’t check it as obsessively as I check Twitter. But as a tool? It’s kind of invaluable. I mean, I got to catch up recently with a friend from high school I haven’t spoken to in almost twenty years. One of the GOOD ones from high school. One of the few. Where else would you get to do that? Would you stalk him and send him a letter, for the love of Pete? Facebook can be annoying, sure. But, as with anything else, it’s a good tool, if used properly.
Heh, “lonely skulking.” Does it help you create a mental image of this author if I tell you his regular gig is as a writer for Esquire? Thought it might.
Looking at other’s triumphs on Facebook will make you more depressed about your own life.
Well, again, that’s on you. If you are so insecure about your own life that you’re all green-eyed monster whenever one of your friends has a triumph, that’s really your issue, not theirs, and not Facebook’s. Do I sometimes see something one of my friends has done and have a fleeting flash of envy? Of course I do, don’t be insane. I’m not a robot. But I’m secure enough in my own life, and the amazing things therein, to say, hey, listen, I’VE GOT IT PRETTY DAMN GOOD OVER HERE. Also, I love my friends. LOVE THEM. And if they’re triumphing? I’m celebrating that for them. I have some of the best friends in the world. I want all good things for them. It would break my heart if all they posted were negative things. So when two of my friends got engaged last week? I cheered out loud. When I read that Ceevee was born and saw her perfect little footprints? I cried a little, thinking of how I’ve known her mom for twenty years and am so, so happy that she’s now a mom and that Ceevee is perfection and she’s married to a great guy and I couldn’t be happier for her. There are no sour grapes in that. There’s pure, unadulterated happiness. I want all of my friends to have the most amazing things in their lives. Don’t you all want that? And if you don’t – well, maybe shine the light on the beam in your own eye, you know? If you can’t rejoice in the triumphs of the people you love – well, I don’t want to be judgey, but there might be a hole in your life you might want to look into filling somehow, and Facebook’s not going to do that for you.
America’s national pastime, brought upon by our pioneering spirit, is loneliness
Now, this is just kind of stupid, to be frank. Who can judge such a thing? I can just see this guy coming up with this while “lonely skulking” at his computer, all Mr. Burns-y rubbing his hands together, thinking he’d reinvented the wheel with this theory. (In additional “I thought of a cool thing, Momma!” news, he says the great American poem is Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” the great American novel is Melville’s Moby-Dick, and the great American essay is Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” Who appointed you poobah of choosing such things for me, Marche? I’m an American and I’d choose otherwise. I bet a lot of other Americans would, too. And you didn’t even throw in an “arguably” or something. You put it as these ARE the great American works. Wow, I’m glad I know now! I can just stop reading, then!) I don’t even have a rebuttal for this point; it’s just that foolish. Also, being alone does not always mean you are lonely. This is a point which Marche brings up, actually, a number of times throughout the article. However, he then goes on to say that cowboys, pilgrims, and astronauts, all American icons, all struck out on their own, and are deified in our culture; being alone, they must have been lonely, and therefore, we worship loneliness. You’re double-talking, Marche.
Social media does not allow us to interact with one another meaningfully; nor does it allow us to ever be truly alone, which we all need.
Let’s just ignore the fact that the whole essay is all “YOU SHOULD NEVER BE ALONE YOUR SOUL WILL WITHER AND DIE” and therefore ignore the second half of this assertion, ok? It’s how he sums up the article. The end honestly reads like a junior-high kid who just learned how to write a five-paragraph essay but didn’t realize you’re not supposed to introduce new information in the last paragraph. Is the fact that, with the addition of social media in our lives, we’re never truly alone, an interesting one? Yes. Does it belong in this essay? No. It’s stuff for another essay altogether. This is akin to a beginning chef adding JUST ONE MORE ingredient to a dish, and being surprised when it flops. You need to know when to stop.
As to whether social media allows us to interact with one another meaningfully – well, I’ll go into that in more detail in a moment. But I’ll bring up an example. Jim – you all know Jim, right? Jim’s one of my favorite humans – is doing a walk to benefit ABOARD’s Autism Connection of Pennsylvania. Through mainly social media, in just one week, he beat his goal of $1,000 in donations to go to the charity. (He’s still collecting! He’s not done! Click the link and help him DOUBLE his total, how about? It barely hurts at all, promise.) Is that not a meaningful interaction? People who’ve never actually met Jim, or his family, donating money because he’s an amazing human being and he’s walking for a good cause? I could bring up hundreds of other examples. Thousands, probably. People whose lives have been saved because the support of their social network. People who’ve married people they’ve met online. People who’ve started businesses, donated organs, money, time, hell, things as inconsequential as made each other laugh. Who are you, Marche, to say these are not meaningful social interactions?
We are the loneliest we’ve ever been.
Well, I cast some light on one of the statistics that Marche used to come up with this assertion above. And over at Slate, the actual author of one of the studies quoted says that the study Marche used isn’t considered a good source – he thinks that the results somehow came out skewed. This seems to be an example of someone skewing the results to fit the picture they want to paint. Listen, when I was in high school, I was on the yearbook committee, and we did this shit ALL THE TIME. We did these senior polls, and if we didn’t like how they turned out, we’d manipulate the numbers until they looked better. It happens. On a small level, in a podunk high school, and on a bigger level, like in The Atlantic. Or on Fox News. Ahem. Sorry, Dad. Moving on.
Friendships can’t exist anywhere except in real life.
This is what bothered me the most about the article. This is what made me stabby. This is what made me sit down and write this post.
OK, so I took the UCLA Loneliness Scale test I mentioned above. I scored barely above the average, which means I’m only slightly more lonely than your average Joe or Jane.
Had I taken that same test a year ago, before I discovered social media (mainly Twitter – I was on Facebook, but just barely, a year ago, and Facebook’s never been my drug of choice)? I would have scored much, much higher. Dangerously into the red on the old loneliness scale.
Now, I know I’m not your average American. I know I’m not good at the social interaction and I actually PREFER the social interaction I get with a keyboard and a screen. I’m not saying I eschew the face-to-face interaction. I’m just not overly good at it. I never have been. You’re a lot less likely to say something ridiculously embarrassing or to spill spaghetti sauce on your blouse if you’re interacting with a computer. Also, I kind of have social anxiety where my whole chest closes up when I have to be social? So my circle of friends was small.
Introduce social media into that – well, maybe it doesn’t work for some people. It’s worked wonders for me. I’ve met people from all over that I just adore. People that I would never have met otherwise. I started blogging. I built a community that I never had a chance to build in real life, due to issues in childhood and trust issues and anxiety issues and issues issues issues ad infinitum.
So Marche tells us that the people you meet online aren’t REAL friends. Huh. Well. I do have to wonder what his definition of friend is. His seems to be “someone you see in real life regularly.” And that’s it. End sentence. And maybe that was a definition of friendship pre-internet. But doesn’t that seem limited now?
To me, a friend is someone you can share your day with. Your secrets. Someone you can rejoice with and commiserate with. Someone you worry about and love as fiercely as family; someone you’d do anything for; someone you look forward to interacting with, someone you laugh with, someone you can have long, rambling talks with. Someone who accepts you just exactly how you are, yet isn’t afraid to call you out on your bullshit. Someone who knows you’ll always be there, someone you know will always be there.
Does this seem fair? Does this seem like a fair definition of a friend to you?
I have these people in real life. Of course I do.
However, I have these people on the internet, as well. People that I’ve met through social media. People that I’ve met – virtually, perhaps, not in real life, but virtually – that mean as much to me as the people I’ve spent real-life time with.
“What? You’re FRIENDS with people you met via SOCIAL MEDIA? INCONCEIVABLE!” I can hear you now, Marche. And you know what Inigo Montoya would say to that, right?
I’m not saying EVERYONE I’ve met via social media is my immediate BFF. Don’t be absurd. It’s much like real life; some people you click with, some you don’t, and some you downright loathe. However, you’re meeting people who have similar interests, so you find a lot more people you click with.
People that immediately discount relationships that either began on or continue on the internet as “not real” make me insane. They also make me aware that they either tried social networking and were utter failures at it, or refuse to try it at all. It’s rude to discount internet friendships and relationships as not real. They’re just as real as the friends in your life that you can touch and see. “But you don’t KNOW them!” Well, do we really know anyone? Do we, really? I mean, you could be best friends with someone and hang out at their house all the time and still find out that they’re a drug addict or they beat their wife when you’re not around or something. We’ve all heard interviews with people who knew serial killers or mass murderers – knew them IN REAL LIFE – and it’s always the same thing. “They seemed so NICE!” Friendship is a big old scary leap of faith. Every single damn time. No matter if the person is sitting there right in front of you, or if that person is across the world from you.
There’s no difference, none at all, between an in-the-flesh friendship and an internet friendship. (And, not to throw a wrench in your works, Marche, but as the year progresses, here, I have plans to MEET some of the internet people. IN REAL LIFE. Therefore making them IRL friends, right? There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. You know the drill.) The people I’ve met online that I consider my closet friends – they’re right up there with my closest friends that I have dinner with and I hang out with in person. They’re ALL my real-life friends. Because they’re all my friends. Because – I’m going to tell you a secret, ready? They’re all people. They share my joys and my sorrows and they’re there for me. And vice-versa. And I love them to distraction. And I want to smack Marche in the face for implying that my friendship with these people is somehow sad or wrong or pathetic. The only thing pathetic here is being judgmental about my life, and the lives of so many of us, Marche. We’ve found our people. Who cares how we got here?
So, IS Facebook making us lonely?
No. It’s not. If you’re lonely, go out and do something about it. Get therapy, talk to someone, I don’t care how you decide to deal with it – just do something about it.
But screw you for blaming social networking for the ills of society, Marche. For some of us, it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to us. It’s making us LESS lonely. It’s making us feel part of something bigger and better than ourselves. And if you don’t see that – well, I just feel sorry for you, honestly. I wish you had a good friend to talk to about your feelings. Me? I’m good.
I have plenty.