Digital World: Alone Together

technology, internet, loneliness, computer, social networkA study from the University of Bristol showed that the more time a child spends looking at screens, the more feelings of loneliness, sadness and negativity are reported.


When I shared this study with my teen interns, most of them were amazed. In fact, one said, “But when I am online I am with so many people.” But are we?


Yes, when we are on Facebook we have 1000 plus friends and lots of people to chat with. Online games are often with users half-way around the world. Chatrooms are abundant. So are we alone when we are online?


We are alone together.


Technology has affected friendships in many ways. You can be friends through your machines and friends with your machines—many teens half-jokingly refer to their iPhone as iPrecious in reference to Golum’s obsession with his ring in Lord of the Rings.


Here are a few problems with online friendships:


1) They are just social enough to quell the need for people to go out and spend time with friends in person—or find new friends.


2) Friendships can stay very surface, it is harder online to make deep connections.


3) There is a false sense of intimacy. When you are chatting with someone online in your bedroom, sitting in your PJs on your bed, it feels intimate, even if you are only talking about surface ideas.


4) Relationships become ‘tethered.’ We feel we have to constantly check-in with our friends and they can see what we are doing without us necessarily knowing.


5) Online relationships also need to be defined much faster—labels on Facebook, social networks or virtual worlds.


6) We know what our friends are doing, but we didn’t necessarily tell them ourselves because they can check in with our updates and profiles.


7) Our avatars our friends. What we put online is a crafted version of our self. We put up what we want people to see, perhaps an ideal or limited view. So our avatars our friends with each other, as opposed to actually seeing each other for who we are.


8) Communication is different in writing—venting, talks, posts are different online than they are in person (for better or worse).


I am not saying that relationships are all bad. Technology has also given us access to relationships we might never have had, it keeps families in touch, it allows people to connect on some level with each other. However, we must balance online and offline relationships. We have to work to minimize the bad effects above with the positive effects of having online connections. As technology becomes more abundant, we have to keep some relationships sacred.



Scientific American: Preteens and Glowing Screens

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