shout lone header

I’m not one to buy into the mod­ern fad of call­ing every­thing an epi­demic or a cri­sis. The media uses alarmist words like the­se to grab our atten­tion and inject fear direct­ly into our eye­balls at every turn, but one pro­posed epi­demic did catch my atten­tion: an epi­demic of lone­li­ness.

In October 2013 a sur­vey of adults showed that almost 50% of all UK adults feel a degree of lone­li­ness; rang­ing from mild and some very acute. The thing most strik­ing about the­se num­bers is that it affects younger adults (18−24), as well as old­er adults who we more tra­di­tion­al­ly asso­ciate with the lone­li­ness that comes with old age.

lone side 1I’m not here to grand­stand about the evils of social media, and I’m not going to shake my walking-stick at the sky and lament the days when we took the wood­en tram to the talkies. I’m just here to share a feel­ing I think a lot of us have expe­ri­enced as our lives turn increas­ing­ly busy and our social time becomes increas­ing­ly com­pressed. Social media is a quick snack of inter­ac­tion, it is the rushed half of a cere­al bar of social­iza­tion we eat run­ning out of the door. Like cook­ing a meal from scratch, or sit­ting down and read­ing a book,  face to face social­iz­ing has increas­ing­ly become a casu­al­ty of our worka­holic soci­ety. The prob­lem is, like liv­ing on snacks, it has dimin­ish­ing returns and shouldn’t be done long term. We’re becom­ing mal­nour­ished in terms of human con­tact.

The more we inter­act, the high­er the noise lev­el and the less the­se inter­ac­tions mean to us. We don’t expe­ri­ence things on a human lev­el any­more, it becomes a blur of noise. The human mind fix­ates on neg­a­tive com­ments over pos­i­tive ones oft times, and plat­forms like Twitter and Facebook make that process even eas­ier as we skim past a hun­dred neu­ral or sup­port­ive posts and focus on the one neg­a­tive one. We can also become quick­ly numb to val­i­da­tion online. As time goes on, some need more and more rein­force­ment to keep feel­ing the same lev­el of sup­port.

Social media gives us a taste — a lit­tle 2D slice — of human inter­ac­tion and at its worst it can make us feel worse when we are iso­lat­ed. It reminds us of the real expe­ri­ence, but doesn’t deliv­er the full thing. It’s a cock-tease for real, mean­ing­ful, and engag­ing inter­ac­tion and it leaves us want­i­ng more.

We only half-read posts online, we skim by, we lazi­ly browse, and in the shuf­fle it’s easy to miss cries for help. These plat­forms were not designed to hold a long-form con­ver­sa­tion, and in the case of Twitter it is active­ly designednot to — Twitter is lim­it­ed in depth by design. This can lead those look­ing for deep­er con­ver­sa­tions or more con­cen­trat­ed atten­tion feel­ing reject­ed when that doesn’t come.

The design of social media also feeds into feel­ings of inad­e­qua­cy as we view the san­i­tized pro­ject­ed lives of oth­ers from afar and attempt to com­pare that to our own imper­fect sit­u­a­tions. Platforms like Facebook can make you feel like you are miss­ing out of so much, or that you are on the fringes of a social group — pushed aside and less engaged than oth­ers. The thing is, an entire group can feel this about each oth­er regard­less of the real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion. On social media we can all be lone­ly togeth­er.

Lone insert 2

There is a real stig­ma attached to lone­li­ness online, and a lot of neg­a­tive inter­net stereo­types revolve around peo­ple who lack social con­tact or are in some way alone. Some would say forever alone.

As always, a lit­tle bit of meme mag­ic gives us a more astute insight into our shared feel­ings of online lone­li­ness than we would like to admit; the con­tort­ed, tear-stained gri­mace of “forever alone” with its hol­low smile and lumpy fea­tures express a truth about our inner feel­ings. It’s easy to feel forever alone when fum­bling an online inter­ac­tion when there’s no one there to put an arm around you are tell you it’s not a big deal.

We end up chas­ing our own tails some­times, con­stant­ly wor­ry­ing about what our posts will say about us or how we are per­ceived. We are com­plic­it in pro­ject­ing the aura of some­one who isn’t feel­ing alone at all, we con­tin­ue the lie that every­one is doing okay lest we be the lone­ly loser. This in turn pre­vents oth­ers know­ing they are not alone in… well… being alone.

A favourite web cre­ator of mine Paul Neave cre­at­ed a site called Lonely Tweets, which sim­ply reposts tweets with the word “lone­ly” in them. It’s kind of melan­cholic to just sit there and watch the lone­li­ness roll by. The site asks a poignant ques­tion“We are able to share our most inti­mate thoughts and feel­ings with the world at any given moment. But is any­one lis­ten­ing?”

I guess that’s my real fear, the real feel­ing behind the title of this loose series; that all my words will fall on deaf ears and my attempts at per­sua­sion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion will come to naught. That my work will be left unread in some dusty cor­ner of the inter­net , for­got­ten… and alone. Shouting into the void is to let the words pour out of you and dis­ap­pear –unheard — into the black­ness. It’s what a lot of us feel we are doing online and it’s what a lot of activists, inter­net sav­iours, and fol­low­er count­ing ego­ists don’t real­ize they’re are actu­al­ly doing some­times.

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I’ve increas­ing­ly been favour­ing direct engage­ment plat­forms like Skype or Teamspeak over the cold, con­trolled, and very pub­lic envi­ron­ments of large social net­works. We know from expe­ri­ence the human brain responds in incred­i­bly com­plex ways to the sound of the human voice, even more so to face to face inter­ac­tion. Social media is good to sup­ple­ment our real life con­nect­ed­ness, but it can’t replace it. It’s like eat­ing food with no nutri­tion­al val­ue; we feel full up on social inter­ac­tion but we’re real­ly mal­nour­ished. You just can’t replace real human con­tact.

Touch is a strong repel­lent of lone­li­ness. I’m sure most of us feel much bet­ter after I hug. Living alone for the past months after being in rela­tion­ships, and look­ing after par­ents, I know I’ve need­ed a hug and not had access to one. I have, at times, spent a por­tion of my day on Twitter or Facebook and then real­ized I was actu­al­ly just feel­ing lone­lier.

I recent­ly decid­ed to quit Twitter due to my own destruc­tive rela­tion­ship with the plat­form, but the mes­sages I received when I announced I was doing so made me real­ize I wasn’t as alone or unval­ued as I some­times felt. The same is true for many of you out there. If you get into a one to one con­ver­sa­tion with some­one with­out char­ac­ter lim­its or pub­lic virtue sig­nalling you will often find you are val­ued and yes even loved.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go out­side and see some peo­ple. I’m feel­ing kind of lone­ly on my own in here. SweeneyEditorial and OpinionOpinionShouting into the Void,Social Media,TwitterI’m not one to buy into the mod­ern fad of call­ing every­thing an epi­demic or a cri­sis. The media uses alarmist words like the­se to grab our atten­tion and inject fear direct­ly into our eye­balls at every turn, but one pro­posed epi­demic did catch my atten­tion: an epi­demic of…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.