I took my first full-time job in my early twenties, during the pre-internet days. I had moved to a sleepy city where I didn’t know a soul. I survived by reading a lot, but I remember the workdays feeling excruciatingly lonely and long until, near the end of my first year, the magical invention of e-mail arrived. I was then able to have intermittent communication during my day with my old college and high school friends, which was a lifesaver.
These days the first thing I do upon waking is peruse my email and the web. I actually look forward to getting out of bed in order to do so. In fact, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the internet and all it has brought me– blogs, podcasts, email, forums, and the like.
Prior to the rise of the web, I looked for solace in books and in other like-minded souls on the serendipitous occasions when I could find them. I confess that in my youth there was a lot of hanging-out with people I didn’t have much in common with, who weren’t all that good for me, and who often left me feeling alienated and self-doubting. Part of that was youth, I’m sure, but part of it was that back then we didn’t have the whole ocean of human thought before us to dip into whenever we felt lost or questioning.
The internet gave me a great gift by letting me know there are many others out there who think and feel as I do– who have the same politics, the same sense of humor, who get enraged by the same things. I feel like this enables me to “speed up” my evolution as I don’t spend as much time “lost in the woods” as I might otherwise.
This, of course, has a potential downside. Perhaps the internet is enabling me to stay solo, for better or worse. Without it would I have married someone I wasn’t gung-ho about out of the sheer need of human connection? Is it keeping me from befriending people I don’t have much in common with but might grow to feel affection for over time? Or do both those things spell a lifetime of frustration from which the internet liberates us?
And as much as the internet can make me feel less alone, it can in other ways– particularly via social media– make me feel more alone:
Her conclusion suggests that my sometimes unhappy reactions to Facebook may be more universal than I had realized. When I scroll through page after page of my friends’ descriptions of how accidentally eloquent their kids are, and how their husbands are endearingly bumbling, and how they’re all about to eat a home-cooked meal prepared with fresh local organic produce bought at the farmers’ market and then go for a jog and maybe check in at the office because they’re so busy getting ready to hop on a plane for a week of luxury dogsledding in Lapland, I do grow slightly more miserable. A lot of other people doing the same thing feel a little bit worse, too.
Still, Burke’s research does not support the assertion that Facebook creates loneliness. The people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from Facebook, too, she points out; on Facebook, as everywhere else, correlation is not causation. The popular kids are popular, and the lonely skulkers skulk alone. Perhaps it says something about me that I think Facebook is primarily a platform for lonely skulking. I mention to Burke the widely reported study, conducted by a Stanford graduate student, that showed how believing that others have strong social networks can lead to feelings of depression. What does Facebook communicate, if not the impression of social bounty? Everybody else looks so happy on Facebook, with so many friends, that our own social networks feel emptier than ever in comparison. Doesn’t that make people feel lonely?
“Can you imagine a life in which you refuse to enjoy or take pleasure in a single word of appreciation or to rest your head on anyone’s shoulder for support? Think of a life in which you depend on no one emotionally, so that no one has the power to make you happy or miserable anymore. You refuse to need any particular person or to be special to anyone or to call anyone your own. The birds of the air have their nests and the foxes their holes, but you will have nowhere to rest your head in your journey through life. If you ever get to this state, you will at last know what it means to see with a vision that is clear and unclouded by fear or desire. . . . You will know what it means to love. But to come to the land of love, you must pass through the pains of death, for to love persons means to die to the need for persons, and to be utterly alone.”
Awareness — The Perils and Opportunities of Reality (1990)
pp. 172, 173
You will know what it means to love. But to come to the land of love, you must pass through the pains of death, for to love persons means to die to the need for persons, and to be utterly alone.”
Interesting stuff. This quote seems to reflect the consensus these days about what “love” is. There is however a contrarian, somewhat old-fashioned viewpoint that says this quote actually not love but indifference, the opposite of love.
When discussing the subject of love, It’s important to know which definitions of love someone embraces.
Apologies – that sentence should read:
There is however a contrarian, somewhat old-fashioned viewpoint that says this quote actually describes not love but indifference, the opposite of love.
Sounds like indifference to me, for sure,
The answer is yes. Interestingly, I heard on the news a week or so ago that studied lonely women on FB. I do not know why it was lonely women but the study suggested that lonely women posted more often on FB than the non lonely in order to connect. Perhaps those who are posting the most, who seem to have so much going on are maybe the most lonely? Who would’ve thought?