The paradox of this little hypercommunicated in which we have hundreds of
friends on social networks, at the same time, there were never as many people alone as now. One in four people in the US UU. -equivalent to 80 million people- believes that he will have no one to rely on in the case of an extreme need, and the United Kingdom created in 2018 a government agency to face the dramatic increase in the number of isolated people. Latin countries, thanks to our idiosyncrasy, seem better planted against this phenomenon. In a survey I conducted, only 1% said they had no social support, although almost 30% feel more alone than a decade ago.
In parallel, research conducted at Bringham Young University in 2015 showed the devastating effects that loneliness has on our health and well-being: the lack of strong links has negative effects comparable to smoking, being obese or suffering from addictions. And it has been growing to reach epidemic dimensions.
The way loneliness works is quite anti-intuitive. On the one hand, being surrounded by people does not guarantee that we are not alone. Loneliness is suffered even more when you have people around you but you are not accepted and included. On the other, developing the ability to be alone is a key mechanism for not feeling lonely. We need to be able to separate to get closer. In the survey, almost half of the people feel that the networks eliminate the voids that made introspection possible, as if we set out to suppress silence by filling every moment with noise.
The challenge, in the words of MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, is to be "alone together." However, in the age of networks "being alone feels like a problem that needs to be immediately solved." It is enough that there is any downtime, sometimes even a traffic light, so that we instantly use the cell phone to fill that void. The networks appear as the antidote that entertains us and makes us feel accompanied and achieve the opposite effect. Undermining our ability to be alone ends up increasing our sense of loneliness. A report by the Academy of Pediatrician of the United States registered a new phenomenon to which they baptized the
Facebook depression, which occurs when preteens and adolescents who spend many hours in that social network begin to manifest symptoms of depression with the consequent risk of social isolation that entails.
As a more extreme symptom, several companies are using artificial intelligence to create apps that serve as friends. One of them already has more than 1 million users! There is probably no connection more illusory than that. Our greater willingness to show ourselves vulnerable with software rather than with a person says a lot about the time we live in.
In short, more than imaginary friends, the best antidote against loneliness is probably to spend more time cultivating our strong bonds and connecting more instead of communicating so much. If you sit alone, it may be time to use less networks and join a club, do volunteer work in an NGO or simply recontact with old acquaintances and invite them to have a coffee.
- The author is an entrepreneur and technologist, author of the book
Passage to the future (South American)
. The epidemic of loneliness – LA NACION