Can facebook make us lonely?

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 7.40.46 PMThere is no one facebook. Facebook is what you make of it. Is there one way that facebook would like you to use it? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean the medium is in and of itself making us lonely. If, as Marshall McLuhan has stated, the medium is the message, is facebook the medium and the message is loneliness?  Stephen Marche argues that the constancy of facebook’s impact on our lives, whilst not necessarily making us lonely, has affected our ability to be in solitude. Marche seems to point to facebook’s capacity, by limiting our ability for self-reflection and self-reinvention, to create a more disturbing state than loneliness – a state of connected isolation.

Rather than look at whether facebook is making us lonely, we should consider can facebook make us lonely? Myriad technological advances have heralded claims that they will destroy social bonds and Claude Fischer shows the absurdity of the history of hysteria over loneliness. Gutenberg brought predictions of mass damnation from the church, whilst Puttnam similarly argued, with slightly less dire consequences, that television was damaging our social fabric by creating a society whereby people bowl alone. The same scaremongering is emerging now with the advent of social media; that access to increased information dilutes our social ties as we spend more time in our heads. But facebook does not inevitably keep you in your own head, just as books and television do not close you off from the world. Both books and television have the ability to bring people together and are not necessarily asocial as Fischer argues (look at the growth of book clubs and how television was able to become a social activity in living rooms across the world – or have a look at the UK television series Gogglebox, a show simply about people watching TV, as evidence of TV’s social abilities). It is how we use technology, not the technology in and of itself, that causes loneliness. Facebook can lead to more integration, but doing any singular activity for vast swathes of your life has risks of loneliness. What would make you lonelier if you did it for 9 hours a day – reading books, watching television, or being on facebook?

The question we should be asking of facebook, just as we asked it of television and printed books before, is whether the medium helps us learn. Facebook’s main intention is not to help us learn, it is to help it learn. Its remit is not to convey information, but to collect information. Rob Horning has argued “the point of being on social media is to produce and amass evidence of being on social media” and as Jaron Larnier points out “you have to be somebody before you share yourself”. By reducing our capacity for disconnected isolation facebook makes it increasingly difficult to become somebody.

 

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