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Has Technology Made You Lonely?

Posted: August 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: News, Relationship Matters | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Has Technology Made You Lonely?

Has Technology Made You Lonely?As we’ve previously mentioned – Has Our Online Social Experience Improved Our Offline Lives? – there’s little doubt that the social benefits of the internet far outweigh the negatives.

Online tools like email and social networking sites offer “low friction” opportunities to create, enhance, and rediscover social ties that make a huge difference in people’s lives. So in this age of technology, an era that has seen socialising based more and more internet social networking, you’d have to ponder how anyone could ever feel lonely.

But it seems the more technology we use, the lonelier we are likely to be? That’s according to a recent survey conducted by community based, relationship support group Relationships Australia.

According to the group, 42 per cent of Australians who use an average of 4 modes of technology to communicate, like email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter were lonely compared with 11 per cent of people who confined themselves to a single mode.

Relationships Australia survey results, which came from polling 1200 people, also challenged the idea that elderly people are society’s loneliest. The data revealed that people aged 25-34 were most likely to frequently feel lonely – 27 per cent – young adults aged 18-24 were the second loneliest group – with 19 per cent  – frequently feeling lonely. However, for survey participants over 70 years of age, the figure was a lowly 11 per cent.

Sue Miller from  Relationships Australia says she was genuinely surprised by the surveys results,  the survey also surprisingly indicated that respondents who said they frequently felt lonely were more likely to use Facebook to hook up with buddies, family and potential partners – 54 per cent – than respondents who infrequently – 39 per cent – and respondents who never – 28 per cent – felt lonely ::::

Has Technology Left You Lonely?“What we don’t know is which came first: was it that they felt lonely and they used technology as a means to lessen their loneliness; or are they using more social media and that is increasing their loneliness?” explained Ms Miller. “We now want to look at that question in more detail.”

There’s little doubt that technology can bring positives to our current and upcoming relationships – just think about how many people today meet their partners online – Jeremy Malcolm has embraced online social networking as an empowering force in his life, this internet legal eagle lives and breaths internet and points out that his well balanced life is very much indebted to this modern form of socialization.

“I met my wife on a social networking site.  In fact, come to think of it, I met just about every girl I ever dated that way.  Five or ten years ago that would have seemed terribly sad, but now it’s no big deal.” Mr Malcom said. “Today I spend most of my day, both at work and at home, communicating with people from around the world – including you, and this interview –  whom I may never meet in person.  It doesn’t make me feel disconnected from them.  On the contrary, I can move to another country, and be no further away from my friends and colleagues than I was before”

Jeremy Malcolm is Coordinator at Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus, Project Coordinator at Consumers International, Developer at Debian ProjectBlogger – checkout Jeremy’s blog, ubercool – as well as being a constant Tweeter and Internet Legal Expert

When the Relationships Australia survey asked respondents whether they believed social networking had a positive impact on relationships 54 per cent of those aged 18-24 said it did, however, this number decreased as the age of the respondents increased. Mixed in with all this positivism is a worry that virtual communication is no replacement for a face-to-face get-togethers.

“The quality of online communication is impoverished in comparison with the physical, real world face-to-face communication,” says Dr Catriona Morrison, an experimental psychologist at the University of Leeds in the UK, she’s studied the link between depression and internet addiction. “You often don’t hear someone’s voice and you don’t see any body signals, which we know from traditional psychology are important.”

Dr Morrison’s observations – one of the largest surveys ever undertaken – are mirrored in the Relationships Australia survey, where respondents listed having less face-to-face contact and spending time on the computer at the expense of being with other people among the main ways social networking can harm relationships.

Dr Morrison says it’s important to be aware of how much time you are spending online. “It’s like any addictive behaviour … where you have feelings of a loss of control, where you are going online for many more hours than you intend and you are replacing face-to-face relationships with online relationships,” Dr Morrison says. “That’s where the problems occur.”

Not Just Anti-social, Excessive Internet Use is Bad For Your Health

As to whether loneliness drives people to the internet or whether the internet and social media lends itself to behaviours that lead to loneliness, Morrison says that, in all likelihood, it’s probably a bit of both.

“The internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side. While many of us use the internet to pay bills, shop and send emails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities.” Dr Morrison concluded. “Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don’t know is which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression? What is clear, is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies.”

guardian.co.ukThe guardian.co.uk has a great article on Dr Morrison’s study, which was original published in the Psychopathology journal – abstract here,  subscription required for full pdf – the article on the relationship between excessive internet use and depression, the questionnaire-based study used data compiled from respondents to links placed on UK-based social networking sites.

The existentialist school of thought views loneliness as the essence of being human. Each human being comes into the world alone, travels through life as a separate person, and ultimately dies alone. Coping with this, accepting it, and learning how to direct our own lives with some degree of grace and satisfaction is the human condition.

Feeling lonely on occasion is pretty normal – some may even say it’s part of what makes us human – so why should we be worried about it? Well, chronic loneliness can lead to an array of health problems, both physical and mental, from anxiety disorders, depression, to substance abuse. It’s also a risk factor for cancer and cardiovascular disease, the simplest way to think of chronic loneliness is as a permanent form of stress.

While it’s been known for many years that people who are socially isolated have poorer immune systems than those who are socially connected, it’s only been in the last few years that a biological mechanism explaining the link between loneliness and ill health has been determined.

In a 2008 study, Berkely University in the US found that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections – friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbours – was so closely related to well-being and personal happiness that the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping. This group of people also have increased levels of hormones, such as cortisol, a stress hormone. It now appears that these hormones alter gene expression in immune cells, which compromises the body’s ability to fight infection and contain inflammation.

Interestingly, physically being with others can lead to a release of the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin, which is an anti-inflammatory.

In an article published by The Greater Good, sociologist Christine Carter Ph.D. says, “We live in a world where social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and  smsing make it easier to be connected to loads of people all the time. Many of us also live in a society that values privacy and independence over proximity and interdependence. Setting aside that happiness can come from establishing our connection to nature and monk-like training retreats, physical isolation is a recipe for loneliness.”

Authors of a study, published in PLoS Medicine, say the negative effect of loneliness on people’s wellbeing is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic and that it exceeds the effects of no exercise or obesity.

Has Online Dating Left You LonelyThe 2010 research, involving more than 300,000 people across several previous studies revealed that inadequate social networking and frequent isolation can have negative effects on a person’s health equal to that caused by smoking and alcohol abuse. Researchers found that those who experience sufficient social interactions were 50 per cent more likely to be alive when re-examined eight years later than those who were more socially isolated.

The scientists on the project ranked having low-quality relationships with friends and family as equivalent to frequent substance abuse – 15 cigarettes a day or heavy alcohol consumption – even worse for a person’s health than not participating in exercise and being obese. Timothy Smith, project leader from Brigham Young University, in Utah, claims that “the importance of having a network of friends and good family relationships is comparable to quitting smoking and exceeds many risk factors of mortality such as obesity, physical inactivity.”

Related studies have shown that quality relationships stimulate mental and physical health. Smith says that General Practitioners should also examine a patient’s social network when looking into health issues. “Physicians, health professionals, educators and the public media take risk factors such as smoking, diet and exercise seriously. The data presented here make a compelling case for social relationship factors to be added to that list,” Smith said.

The analysis, which was based on 148 independent studies that measured frequency of human interaction and tracked health outcomes for an average of seven and a half years, also found social connections – friends, family, neighbours or colleagues – improved the odds of survival by 50 per cent, and it’s well worth remembering that loneliness isn’t the same as being alone.

In 1973, renowned psychologist Robert Weiss penned a definition of loneliness –  Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation – that is still used today: Loneliness is a distressing mental state where an individual feels estranged from or rejected by peers and is starved for the emotional intimacy found in relationships and mutual activity. Since the modernisation of the telephone system in the 50′s, millions of people have had the ability to communicate quickly and cost effectively, what we see today has simply grown out of this technology, what’s changed is our reliance on electronic forms of communication to drive our social lives.

Casting our memories back just a few short years – we may shudder – when we recall faxes as a speedy way to communicate, internet with a ring-tone, email that strolled along slightly faster than faxes, but still less efficient than telephone, our letting go of that last tactile remnant – voice – opens wide the opportunity for connectivity without any contact.

Our digital worlds are now almost entirely linked, Facebook, Twitter, Email, Telephony all available on every digital device in our lives. Have Social Networking Sites improved our lives though?

Chronic loneliness is a serious, life-threatening condition. At least one study has empirically correlated it with an increased risk of cancer, especially for those who hide their loneliness from the outside world, and it is also associated with increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Loneliness has been linked with depression, and is a risk factor for suicide.

Émile Durkheim describes loneliness, specifically the inability or unwillingness to live for others, for friendships or altruistic ideas, as the main reason for what he called egoistic suicide.

People who are socially isolated may report poor sleep quality, and thus have diminished restorative processes.

Loneliness has also been linked with a Schizoid character type in which one may see the world differently and experience social alienation, described as the self in exile.

Loneliness can also play a huge part in alcoholism and substance abuse.

In children, a lack of social connections is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior, most notably hostile and delinquent behavior. In both children and adults, loneliness often has a negative impact on learning and memory. Its disruption of sleep patterns can have a significant impact on the ability to function in everyday life.

For majority of us, the internet helps us function better.

Life  OnlineFor the vast majority of us, the internet can help us to function better in our increasingly global world, but Morrison says we just mustn’t lose touch with the physical community around us, and the people in it. “While it’s nice to be in touch with your cousin in England over Facebook, that can’t replace a more intimate face-to-face relationship… you need to balance this with relationships within the community you are actually living in,” Morrison says.

Whether you’re an avid social networker or you prefer an old-fashioned face-to-face meeting with friends, all of us can feel lonely from time to time. so who’s at risk? Everyone, we all need social interaction, it’s the amount, the quality that’s variable.

Some other effects of loneliness may not infact be symptomatic for years. In 2005, results from the American Framingham Heart Study demonstrated that lonely men had raised levels of Interleukin 6, a blood chemical linked to heart disease.

A 2006 study conducted by the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago found loneliness can add thirty points to a blood pressure reading for adults over the age of fifty.

Another finding, from a survey conducted by John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago, is that doctors report providing better medical care to patients who have a strong network of family and friends than they do to patients who are alone. Cacioppo states that loneliness impairs cognition and willpower, alters DNA transcription in immune cells, and leads over time to high blood pressure.

It’s been estimated that approximately 60 million people in the United States, or 20% of the total population, feel lonely. One recent study found 12 per cent of Americans have no one with whom to spend free time or to discuss important matters. Other research suggests that this rate has been increasing over time.

If you are out of practice at meeting people take small steps. Make the most of all chances for social contact, whether it’s speaking to the local shopkeeper or responding to a fellow bus passenger who strikes up a conversation. Join a class or find an interest group. Getting to know new people can be part of the learning process in a new class. Whether you enjoy country walks or going to the cinema there’s bound to be an interest group in your area where you can meet like-minded people. It may be necessary to seek professional help. Small group counselling sessions or one-on-one sessions with a counsellor may be useful.

It’s All In Your Head…

Loneliness also seems to interfere with the functions of the brains mirror neurons – our agents of empathy, used to infer the experience of others – in many scientific test, lonely or socially disconnected subjects seem to interpreted facial images of anger, fear, happiness, and sadness much less accurately than  their connected counterparts, finding that lonely people fixated on negative images, such as that of a person in peril and  a tendency toward being distrustful among lonely players in a trust game.

Viscous Circle

Vicious CycleUniversity of Chicago Professor John Cacioppo writes in Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection [Kindle version] “When we feel lonely,we tend to scan the horizon for any possibility of social danger, but with an eye toward protecting ourselves rather than with genuine concern for what others may be thinking or feeling.” What’s more, people who expect a person to be lonely tend to consider them as less sociable, and behave less socially toward them. It is as though the lonely brain erects a fortress of solitude from within, while those on the outside dig the moat.

Nearly everyone feels isolated and alone from time to time, but the majority emerge from that unpleasant state on their own. Feeling lonely after a friend moves away or a loved one dies prods people to reach out to those around them, to renew their ties or replace broken ones. Generally, Cacioppo says, “loneliness does seem to be working on its own in most people. Some people get stuck, but on average, when you get lonely—or when you’re in pain or when you’re hungry or you’re thirsty—you do something to get out of that aversive state.”

Like every evolutionary adaptation, loneliness varies from person to person. There are extroverts, introverts and inbetweeners, those who don’t seem to need friends at all, those who are hopeless without a dose of human contact. Our online social lives should simply fit into our social requirements.. “Some people do not feel strong pain by disconnection,” Cacioppo says. “That makes great sense, because those are the explorers. We need them. But for those who feel warmer near the communal fire, isolation works as a civilizing influence.”

Interestingly the cures for loneliness are’t as obvious as one might first think, despite findings from studies that favored group formats, Cacioppo  found no advantage for either group or individual interventions.

“Effective treatment are not so much about providing the lonely with people with whom they can interact, or providing social support, or even teaching social skills. Effective therapy is about changing how people who feel lonely perceive, think about, and act toward other people,” Cacioppo said.

Even more surprising, in a recent study Cacioppo and his associate Christopher Masi look into different therapies for loneliness and found that putting a group of lonely people together didn’t necessarily make the loneliness dissipate. “That’s not that surprising, because bringing a bunch of lonely people together is not expected to work if you understand the root causes of loneliness,” Masi said. “Several studies have shown that lonely people have incorrect assumptions about themselves and about how other people perceive them. If you bring them all together, it’s like bringing people with abnormal perceptions together, and they’re not necessarily going to click.” Christopher Masi, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago said.

If you think you have a problem, addicted to the internet?

Try putting a day aside that you DON’T access the internet, choose a day, any day and STAY OFFLINE. Plan to do something that keeps your mind off the online, make it physical – go for a bike trek, window shop – whatever it takes, just stay offline for THAT day. If your worried that this is too much, try putting aside offline hours each day, build up to  a full day. PLAN

Part of the secret is finding something else to occupy yourself! Sitting there wondering what to do will definitely have you back at the keyboard!


While your weaning yourself off online, wean yourself  ONTO your offline sociable-self. TRY hanging out in places where social manners are adhered too, the library is a graet place to start. Pick on the staff, they’re paid and trained to be nice to you (remember your boundaries) TRY smiling at someone, say good-morning to your neighbour. THIS isn’t a secret, we all need to be trained into socialising, starting late is FINE! 

TRY creating neat habits, go to the same coffee shop every morning, get amiable – that’s friendly without touching – with the staff, you’ll find getting treated like a regular builds confidence and makes you feel like a regular Joe.

REMEMBER even though everyone tells us we’re SPECIAL! There isn’t a feeling or emotion that hasn’t been felt by SOMEONE ELSE! You can do this, as Nancy said, JUST SAY NO! If you feel like you’ll weaken? Ask your online buddies to support you, get them to not CHAT!

Cacioppo, Masi, and colleagues next hope to apply what they learned from their review toward designing new ways of measuring and treating loneliness. Interventions of various intensity can also be designed for use by psychologists and primary care physicians on people with minor or severe loneliness. But all such designs would do well to focus on social cognition above other tools to reduce the health hazard of loneliness.

“I think loneliness is increasingly recognized as an important problem in medicine, and certainly the demographic trends in society will likely exacerbate this problem,” Masi said. “We found a type of intervention which seems to be effective and we are looking forward to testing a new intervention based on these findings.”

Prevention is always better than cure

Christine Carter reckons it all starts with children when it comes to fostering social connections, she reckons the focus needs to be on three areas. The first is our family relationships – where it all starts, establishing secure caregiver-child attachments. Social and emotional intelligence is critical for forming strong relationships, and the parent-child bond is a great place to teach the emotional literacy that will lead to social intelligence.

Carter says that as kids get older, having the skills to negotiate and maintain relationships becomes more important, teaching children how to successfully resolve conflicts is really important, along with gratitude and forgiveness. Having the skills we need to forgive can make or break a relationship, and people who consciously practice expressing gratitude and appreciation have stronger relationships.

Thirdly Carter says that altruism, being kind to others helps to create deep and positive relationships, check out Carters Blog at: Raising Happiness Carter and cohorts are full of really good down to earth advice.

If your feeling a bit down, a little blue, don’t hesitate in contacting someone for support, if you think you might have a problem please get in touch with one of the many organisations that specialise in these common problems:


Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au

Phone (Australia) 13 11 14


Black Dog: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Facebook: facebook.com/blackdoginst Twitter: twitter.com/blackdoginst


More Resources:

Net Addiction Test: www.netaddiction.com


source: abc

source: guardian

source: berkeley

source: psychologicalscience

source: wikipedia

source: uchicago

source: science daily 

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