They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. But what happens when we never allow for any absence? What happens when we take all those spare moments of our lives–the moments that would otherwise have been quiet and empty–and fill them up with stuff? I don’t know about the heart, but there’s a video making its way around the internet that explains pretty well what happens in your brain.
The Innovation of Loneliness makes a compelling argument for why social media doesn’t fill the void we think it fills. In a society that already has a thin social fabric, sites like Facebook come in and give us the illusion of being surrounded by friends and acquaintances. But these friends are only showing you carefully edited bits of themselves. In turn, you’re only showing them carefully bits of yourself. So you’re not really “with” them.
And as we all spend more and more time on social media, we lose our ability to be alone with our thoughts. The result? You feel lonely rather than comfortable with being alone. Even as you’re surrounded by virtual people sharing curated bits of their lives–vacation pics, photos of what they ate for dinner last night, articles they like, maps showing you exactly where they’re currently enjoying a margarita–you’ll feel lonely.
And for young people, who’ve grown up with social media, there’s something else to be concerned about. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are going to rob you of one of life’s biggest rites of passage. And the worst part is, it’s probably already too late to do anything about it.
I’m talking about your high school reunion.
For people who grew up before the age of social media, the ten-year high school reunion was one pretty weird experience, trust me. You graduate high school, say “good luck” to everyone, and then head off to start your life. You might have a group of friends that you continue to hang out with. But most of your high school colleagues will no longer be a part of your life. And that’s important.
Because in ten years, you all come back together, and you’re shocked to see that all these people who were kids the last time you saw them are now adults. You see and feel just how much time has passed, and how different people’s lives turn out to be. You find yourself thinking about your own life. What have you been doing? How does it stack up? A tidal wave of self-reflection follows and, quite possibly, guides your own life for a while after the reunion. Like when you see someone you haven’t seen in a while, and she says, “Hey, you’ve lost weight!” You didn’t notice because you see yourself everyday.
For those of you graduating today, you won’t ever have this experience because you’ll never be completely separated from the people you grew up with. You’ll graduate and then continue to see updates from most of your fellow graduates just about every single day, possibly right up until the day of your ten-year reunion. No shock. No surprises. No news. Instead of talking about what you’ve been doing for the past ten years, where you’ve lived, what you’ve done, you’ll all just talk about the same stuff you were probably talking about on Facebook yesterday. There won’t be any self-reflection–it’ll just be an evening that’s maybe a little more memorable than most.
You can’t be reunited if you’ve never really been separated in the first place. But as the video shows, you’re not really connected in any real sense on social media anyway. So if you aren’t separated from people and you aren’t really connected to them either, then what are you?
But seeing as Facebook has about one billion users, you’re not alone.