Smart Citti

Is technology to blame for our feelings?

It’s a commonly heard argument: the phenomenal rise in technology and social media usage contributes largely to feelings of social isolation and a lack of real human connection. As new research continues to suggest that loneliness has reached ‘epidemic levels’ throughout the globe, to what extent can these feelings be attributed to technology and the online world? Are we really becoming a more isolated society, whilst simultaneously being an increasingly connected one?

We’ve all felt it. The feeling of isolation. Of being out of place or not belonging. The lack of connection, even whilst being ‘connected’. Recent research suggests that, while we spend a large chunk of our lives connecting, socialising and existing online, this could be having detrimental effects on our wellbeing and health. More research is obviously needed in this area, but experts suggest that, as a generation, we’re heavily connected but we’re also more lonely.

Recent findings seem to hint towards an association between feelings of loneliness and age. For example, a recent survey, headed by Brunel University London, found that millennials are the loneliest age group. Similarly, according to a new survey from the health company Cigna, report that nearly half of Americans feel left out or lonely. Generation Z (aged 18-22) seem to be the loneliest, followed closely by millennials. While it may be easy to blame social media, the survey didn’t find a significant difference in loneliness levels between those who used social media often or infrequently.

So, then, what causes these feelings and what can we do about it? Experts suggest that feelings of loneliness can cause heart problems, bad moods, infections, poor sleep, risks of dementia and suicidal thoughts. It’s clear that social hunger and human connection is a deep primal need and, in essence, loneliness deserves more attention, maybe now more than ever.

Teach and encourage family, friends and colleagues that making time for fun and social connection is as important as making time for work and purpose-driven tasks. Sometimes it’s ok to sit back, relax and have fun. Balance is critical. Have some ‘me-time’ - learn to find a friend in yourself. Find a hobby or passion and make new friends in the process. Reassess your priorities; it can be easy to flake on a coffee date because of work commitments or you’re just “too busy”. But it could be this busyness which is causing our feelings of isolation. While we are constantly trying to fill our free time with meeting goals or getting to the ‘next stage’ in our lives, it can be easy to forget about the small, simple things that could alleviate our mood or make us feel more connected.

And, ironically, don’t disregard technology or social media. Active engagement with social media isn’t necessarily a predictor of loneliness - it’s only through excessive usage and when a person’s main source of connection is through online technology that loneliness is a significant concern. Stay connected with your friends online but also be sure to have meaningful real-life interactions. Because, ultimately, technology is here to stay - as a society, we need to find ways to handle the online world, utilize it to the best of our abilities, whilst being mindful of our health and wellbeing.

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