Gini Dietrich

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

By: Gini Dietrich | May 17, 2012 | 

Earlier this month, there was an article in The Atlantic written about Facebook…and it’s effect on our loneliness.

The article begins by telling the story of Yvette Vickers, the former Playmate and actress who was found dead in her home a year after she died. Her computer was still on and, when they checked her phone to see who she might have talked to before she died, they found she called distant fans who found her via the web instead of her “real” family or friends.

Of course, this makes the assumption she knew she was about to die. The coroner later released the autopsy study that shows she died of heart disease. More likely, she was just going about her day so, in her mind, wasn’t really making her last calls to distant fans.

While her connections late in her life had increased, the article claims they were more shallow, “as has happened for many of us.” We’re extremely accessible now, but it seems we are more isolated: A contradiction in the sense that the more connected we are, the more lonely we become. “We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.”

Is it the Fault of Facebook?

Facebook is closing in on one billion users, as they begin their roadshow for the initial public offering. They’re rumored to be valued at $104 billion and think they’ll raise $16 billion when they go public…the largest Internet offering in history. Last summer it became the first website to reach one trillion pageviews (TRILLION) and nearly three billion likes and comments every day.

Most of us use the social network. Many of us are addicted to it (cough, me, cough). We struggle with accepting, or ignoring, friend requests and some even obsess over who is unfriending them on a daily basis. The more we use it, the more comfortable we become with it and our boundaries change on what is acceptable and what is not.

We now live in this very strange world where we consider people we’ve never met in person real friends. When I talk about this when I speak, particularly to business owners, they just shake their heads. It seems strange we’re making friends online, with or without ever seeing them in person. Some even make the joke their kids have 250 Facebook friends, but no one to go out with them for dinner.

Are We More Lonely?

Facebook arrived when Americans seemingly are more alone. “In 1950, less than 10 percent of American households contained only one person. By 2010, nearly 27 percent of households had just one person.”

But living alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely. I was listening to Barry Moltz interview Susan Cain last week and she talked about how half of our population are introverts. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like to be around people. It simply means, while extroverts get their energy from being around throngs of people, introverts get their energy from a quiet glass of wine with a friend or reading a book. Just because we don’t like to be out every night at a rave does not mean we’re lonely.

Facebook, and the other social networks, give us the ability to “talk” to people without actually having to talk to them. When clients ask us who we recommend they put in charge of a particular social network, we always recommend they start with the introverts inside the company. Social media allows them to make friends and break the ice behind the comfort of their own computer screen, which makes them much more comfortable and productive at trade shows, conferences, and networking events because they’re not meeting people for the very first time.

Solitude is Altered Forever

The appeal of Facebook, of course, is it allows us to combine distance with intimacy. I always say Facebook is my own personal stage – I use it to see which jokes, which updates, and which photo captions people will find most engaging. I use this “market research” when I write, when we work with clients, and when we create new content. But I would never actually get up on a stage and perform. It’s not in my DNA.

The Atlantic article goes on to say, “The real danger with Facebook is not that it allows us to isolate ourselves, but that by mixing our appetite for isolation with our vanity, it threatens to alter the very nature of solitude.”

We never take a break. Human beings have always created elaborate acts of self-presentation. But now we do it before we get out of bed and right before we plump our pillows and close our eyes for eight hours. Yvette Vickers’s computer was on when she died. It stayed that way for a year and no one noticed she wasn’t commenting or participating in the conversation.

I don’t know. I’m torn. In one sense, I think Facebook feeds our need to be social and in the other, I wonder if all this technology and accessibility really is making us more lonely.

What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I think this is an area in which we need to be careful. I often speak to groups who ask about the isolation caused by social media, and I think this might be more perception than reality. Check out the studies at the Pew Internet and American Life project. I often quote  few of them (and just did so yesterday when speaking to NPO volunteer coordinators)  that indicate that those who are heavy social media users are a) actually more social “in real life”, i.e. get out there and do more, and b) are more active in causes and organizations that those who aren’t using social media as much. 
    I think that when it comes down to it, heavy social media use can magnify the behaviors that are already there.

    • ginidietrich

       @KenMueller Yes, but on the flip side, The Atlantic article quotes studies that disagree with Pew and American Life. I think, like anything else, you can make a case for either side.
      From my own experience, when I started AD, I worked alone. I had to join PRSA just to get out of the house. Now, between my travel and social media (and a team I talk to every day), I don’t have that same feeling of isolation I had just seven years ago.

      •  @ginidietrich Understood. Again, I think it’s what you allow to happen, but let’s throw in the fact that much of our Facebook use, and I haven’t seen the stats, but it might actually now be a majority of Facebook use, is done via mobile. While we are out. On the road. I think that CAN change the numbers here. The picture that’s painted is that we are all at home sitting behind our computers all day waiting for things to happen on Facebook. 
        Yes, it is changing us, but not always in bad ways.

        •  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich That reminds me of something geofflving shared on your podcast Gini – it’s not like people are spending 3 straight hours on FB doing nothing else. It’s all very much on the go or in the midst of doing other things. Are we more isolated? Perhaps. But I cherish the friendships I have developed both online and the reconnections I’ve been able to form with old friends. 
          This also makes me think about loneliness and connecting it to suicide risk/attempts or depression. I can think of at least 3 different occasions where someone in my husband’s circle posted something indicating they were in real trouble. And because of that public posting and that circle of “social media” friends, they got the help they needed and were unable to ask for in person. 
          A bit off track there I guess, but it’s immediately what came to mind.

        • ginidietrich

           @katskrieger  I almost wrote a section about Trey Pennington in this and then decided against it. That was a case that someone was not able to get help, but I also feel like it opened many of our eyes to look for signs of distress via FB updates and posts. When I first read The Atlantic article I thought, “No way! They’re wrong.” But, after letting it simmer in my brain for a week, I’m not so sure.

        • @kenmueller @ginidietrich I believe the new research from Pew and Edison show this, but consider as well that mobile doesn’t necessarily mean out and about. 
          When I connect to my social networks in the evenings, it’s typically coming through my iPad, which would be reported as mobile usage. But my hind-end is firmly planted on my couch.  Nielsen is showing much of the same trend, as people are using their mobile devices as the second screen when watching TV.

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller And I think that’s part of their point (like the image I use). We’re doing it when we’re out and about, instead of paying attention the people we’re with or, like lisagerber said i her blog post yesterday, just reflecting on what’s going on around us.

        • ginidietrich

           @jasonkonopinski  @kenmueller  Me too. I rarely check FB from my laptop. It’s always from my phone or iPad. From an airport or a hotel room or a shuttle bus.

        •  @ginidietrich  @KenMueller  lisagerber  I am SO guilty of this. Sometimes you have to snap yourself out of it and just put down the phone (or iPad or etc etc etc). We’ve seemed to have reached a place where we need constant stimulation via the content we are consuming and/or participating in. It is a little scary.

        •  @ginidietrich  @KenMueller  My wife Lisa (who checks FB frequently but tends to do so passively i.e. not creating/commenting/engaging) is a perfect example. Her phone is her internet access at home, despite having a laptop. She consumes all of her information and social stuff via mobile app.  I think that sort of user is approaching ubiquity. 

        •  @ginidietrich  @katskrieger As I was reading your piece and The Atlantic piece, Trey immediately came to mind. I think his suicide did train our eyes. 

        •  @ginidietrich  @katskrieger I think the Trey story is somewhat different in that there were far deeper issues there, and for him to get help would have required him to go public with some things about his life that would have been hard for any of us. 

        •  @ginidietrich  lisagerber @jasonkonopinski On the flip side, my presentation yesterday was at the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. They actually are encouraging social media use as they find it empowers their clients. The head of their organization is completely blind, and uses an iPhone. They said that social media has changed they way they operate and work with clients, because now they feel much more social and are out there more, when before many of them were afraid to go out. In the end it comes down to us and how we choose to use these things. 

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller  That made me laugh out loud. I’m clearly a jerk.

        •  @ginidietrich haha. Nooooo. I never said that. and would never even think that.
          I don’t have an iPhone, and I bash Apple a lot, but i think it’s cool that Siri has opened all kinds of doors for these people.

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller I love Siri. She calls me Princess Gini.

        •  @ginidietrich yet another reason I will never own an iPhone…

        •  @ginidietrich  @KenMueller That seriously made my morning. Princess Gini – when is my freaking upgrade date?! I can be Queen Kat. Watch out!

        •  @katskrieger  @ginidietrich You two keep this up, and you WILL be lonely. Hope you and Siri have a long, wonderful life together.

        •  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich You are being a little dramatic. 

        •  @katskrieger  @ginidietrich I’m very sorry, “Queen Kat” and “Princess Gini”.

        •  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich  lisagerber It also fits well with Joe Fernandez’s story about how he came up with Klout. He was recovering from a jaw surgery and social (Twitter, mainly) was his single method of communication. annereuss is another inspiring story. 
          This looks like it will be an interesting read:

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller  @katskrieger Bwahahahaha! LOL!

        •  @jasonkonopinski Funny to see this convo going on. It is something that I have been thinking about a lot these days. Yes I think many of us like @ginidietrich  thought of treypennington when this topic comes up… I know his last tweet haunts me to this day. Though to be clean being lonely and dealing with depression are two different things, though they often go hand in hand. With that never asume social numbers = friendships.
          For me social media has given me some amazing friends, heck half of my staff I met via twitter and none of them have I met F2F, so social media is a great way to start relationships, but in-order for them to grow they have to be taken off line or to the next level, more than just tweet relations.  I have also had IRL relationships that were flat and thanks to Social Media we’ve become better friends.
          Odd thing about this is “the human factor” meaning we are all so different it is hard to put us all in a X or Y group. We all know those people who seem to have a million best friends or BFF’s but I find many of them are the most lonely of us all.  For me, I tend to have a few really good friends and the rest of the world is “good people.” I also love to have my cave time. That often comes off as me being seen as a prick or snob, but it is what I am comfortable with. Does that mean that I don’t feel lonely? Sure I do… I openly tell people that depending on what is going on my life I can be a “attention whore!” . Again all this goes to the old saying of “all in moderation.”
          Maybe  just maybe we are no more social or lonely than we’ve ever-been it is just for the first time in history, with social media we can see and here what life is like for most of the world at once… Now more than ever we can see if we are keeping up with the “Jones'” .

        •  @KenMueller Hey man, Tray had gone public and had even gotten help with his depression. With the people he felt he could trust he was very open about what he was dealing with.

        •  @JustInTheSouth He had, but more came out after the fact. And some of his close friends were aware, but many of us had no clue.

        •  @KenMueller You lost me on that one. So he did go public – but since he did not tell the whole world, he did not go pubic? Help me out here.

        •  @JustInTheSouth I’m just speaking within the context of this particular post. Yes, he had gone somewhat public. But it turns out that there was much more than most anyone knew.

  • You know, I was hoping that you’d write on a post in consideration of that Atlantic piece. I’ve been thinking a lot about it myself since I first read it – and may still visit the topic in a post of my own.  We’ll see.
    I’m not one to blame the tools because, as you know, I’m active on a variety of social platforms. Internet communities are just *made* for all us introverts out there. It gives us the separation we need while still feeding our need to communicate – on our terms.  
    Social has, in some ways, forced us to sacrifice deeper relationships for a wide, shallow network. Like so many things in life, it’s about striking that balance.  I was on a podcast just this week where we spoke at length about this article and the host brought up an interesting story about someone he had befriended online. This young man lived in a war-torn part of the world with a vacuum of positive role models and hope. Twitter filled a void there.  

    • ginidietrich

       @jasonkonopinski This is exactly why I’m torn. I met one of my dearest friends ( jeanniecw ) on Twitter. Now we see each other multiple times a month and I beg to get to hang out with her boys. Without the social network, I might have met her in other ways, but it’s doubtful. And she’s become a very good friend…a deep relationship that was built on a shallow network.

      •  @ginidietrich  jeanniecw I think we all have examples like that in our lives. I know I do.  I’ve made some tremendous friendships on Twitter. Relationships were built and strengthened before we ever met F2F. Happened with you and me, for instance. If I really break down my network and suss out the casual follows, I’d say I’ve only been in the same room with 5%(?) at best. 

      • @ginidietrich @jasonkonopinski This is why I’m torn, too. And in some ways, social networks have helped me feel connected when otherwise I would be isolated. And it brought me Gini. Total win, IMHO.

        • ginidietrich

           @jeanniecw   @jasonkonopinski I guess it’s really individualized. I’d like to think SOMEONE would notice I wasn’t on the social networks after a day or two. It makes me sad no one noticed that about Yvette.

        •  @ginidietrich yeah, I am still trying to understand… a YEAR???? but to your points, social networks either help start relationships which are deepened by in-person encounters, or even the other way around – you meet someone in person and deepen the relationship by keeping in touch with them online. It just amplifies.

        • ginidietrich

           @Lisa Gerber I guess she didn’t have any family? Sad.

    •  @jasonkonopinski I’m not so sure about social making us more lonely, but sacrificing deeper relationships is where I think I land. We have many more superficial acquaintances rather than people we know, and want to know, everything about, and vise-versa.

      •  @Anthony_Rodriguez I don’t believe it’s making us ‘more lonely’, but it is pulling our attentions into different areas. If your nose is buried in your device when someone is sitting beside you at dinner – well, there’s your sign.  🙂

  • Hmmmm… I have so many thoughts running through my head. Such a fascinating topic! For me, personally, Facebook definitely doesn’t make me feel lonely in the least bit. It’s likely because I am still grounded by my wonderful family who is always there to love and annoy me. However, for those that don’t have a support system or real people at home, I can see how Facebook would make you feel isolated and jealous of the lives of others. I just use Facebook as a human experiment to see what people “like” most!

    •  @SociallyGenius HAHAHA!  I should read everyone’s comments BEFORE I comment, not after. 🙂 What you said! 

      • @Lisa Gerber your’s was a little different but humorously similar!

        •  @SociallyGenius  @Lisa very humorously similar!!!

    • ginidietrich

       @SociallyGenius I’m with you…I LOVE Facebook for that very purpose.

  • M_Koehler

    You know my thoughts on this. I do agree that the internet (it’s not just FB but Twitter, message boards, chat rooms, etc.) has isolated a certain percentage of people to the degree that they are more alone then before even though they have tons of “friends”. However I think that is a small population. I think it’s a great way of meeting people that you eventually become friends with in the real world. I have several that I’ve become very good friends with in real life after meeting originally through a couple music message boards I frequent including a few from overseas. Unless I know you in person, I don’t add you on Facebook typically. I might me in the minority on his however.

    Afterall, I met Mrs. K through the internet.

    •  @M_Koehler I think this is one of those situations where we could all think of both positive and negative examples. We only hear about it when something like this happens. It’s kind of like back in the days of Xanga and MySpace, pre-Facebook, parents were deathly afraid of social media. It was a bad word and we only heard about it when it was on the news because some teen girl had run off with a middle aged man, or had been found dead after meeting someone who wasn’t who they said they were.
      It didn’t happen a lot, but it was magnified by the stories we heard. Clearly there were much deeper issues with Yvette that had gone on for years.

      •  @KenMueller You said earlier that social can magnify the behaviors that are already present. That’s what I think; and I also think that it can induce behaviors based on observing how other people react posts made on social. I don’t think we can lay the blame on social, or any one platform. Remember the murders that were dubbed the “Craig’s List murders”? Those weren’t the fault of CL; people have to take precautions online just as they would offline… and just as happens IRL, sometimes you do everything you can and even then a tragedy happens. 
         @ginidietrich Human beings have the greatest power of all; to actually *decide* how to do things, what to do, what platforms to use, etc. Of course it’s easy to get sucked into technology; but it’s easy to get sucked into anything. Personally I think it’s far too easy to lay the fault for getting lonely, or depressed, or whatever, at someone else’s door – even if that is a social platform. If someone turns to FB to post a suicide note, what’s going on in their lives that they didn’t talk to a close friend, or parent, or partner, about it FIRST? That’s what we should really be looking at. IMHO.
        Personally – and you two know this firsthand – I’ve seen social to be an immensely enriching world. And yes, I’ve been at that point where I’ve gotten sucked into it, but as I look back, I realize there were things going on in my personal life that made me feel the only place I could connect was social. Fortunately that stuff has improved vastly, but I’ve still made so many great friends through social, that it’s just part of my life, now, like everything else.

        •  @Shonali Well After reading your comment you took the words right out of my mouth…but you said it better so umm yea…agree! cc:  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich 

        • NikkiBusmanis

           @Shonali I completely agree. There certainly needs to be more accountability than simply blaming our actions on a technology. In the article, Marche gives somewhat neo-luddite examples of other technologies that people could blame for loneliness/isolation (i.e. the grocery store, the car). 
          In Marche’s words, “We make decisions about how we use our machines, not the other way around.”
          There needs to be a balance. While social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are great for enhancing relationships, they aren’t meant to replace them (great lesson I learned from maineprmaven )

        •  @Shonali @KenMueller @ginidietrich  Like all of you I’ve had these discussions countless times, but I am certain that Facebook is not making me more lonely.  I use it as a tool and for socializing. I have met great online ‘friends;’ the ones I really feel connected to always become friends IRL.
          Just this past week I spoke to samfiorella Michelle Kay Tim McDonald Sean McGinnis  because I was working on a couple of business projects and I needed their input.  A few years ago I didn’t know any of them….  but through  our connections on FB/Twitter and through blogs I knew they were the right people to turn to.I’ve also connected with many people I met on FB over the phone and in person just because I thought they were damn cool.
           I’ve lived all over the place and FB allows me to maintain contact with friends thousands of miles away; before it we didn’t know what was going on with each other.Like every other communication tool – it depends upon how you use it.  

        •  @AmyMccTobin I agree with how FB allows me to connect and maintain relationships with so many people I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise. Of course, just like my neighbors, some of the relationships are more shallow than others. 

        • ginidietrich

           @Shonali  And, without this web, it’s unlikely we’d have met. Or maybe we would have at a conference, but we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to connect daily like we do now.

        • ginidietrich

           @AmyMccTobin  Do you notice that @Sean McGinnis never comments. He likes comments and lurks, but rarely comments.

        •  @AmyMccTobin  @Shonali  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich  samfiorella  Michelle Kay  Tim McDonald  Sean McGinnis This has been a wonderful discussion – and it’s one side of social that doesn’t get really discussed in many business-centered blogs, though it should. At least acknowledging the complex psychologies that get played out online could benefit business strategies. 

        •  @tamcdonald And imagine if you were forced only to talk to the people you meet in Real Life; I grew up in a very rural area and THAT was one of the worst parts… opportunities for intellectual stimulation were so rare because you had a much smaller pool to pick from.

    • ginidietrich

       @M_Koehler And, it reconnected us after many years and I think we’re better friends now than we were in high school. Some of that is FB and text messaging, some of it is we grew up.

      • M_Koehler

         @ginidietrich And that is saying something. And yes growing up helped.

  • Farreys

    I think facebook is helping us to stay more connected with the world, but we really need to learn how to use it effectively so we keep time for us and family.   

    • ginidietrich

       @Farreys I don’t know why we can’t use the simple rule: When with family and friends, in person, put the phone away!

  • This is such a fascinating topic and I have so much to say. Let’s see if I can keep it brief!
    First of all, over dinner with several friends last night, the classic topic of FB came up pitting those who are on it against those who look down upon it, saying they are just too busy and “i don’t get it.” I don’t even get involved in those conversations, actually. I just sit there, and shake my head internally. 🙂 I mean, come on. 
    To answer your questions, I’d say yes and no.
    Yes – I think it can breeds a whole new dynamic that can create negative IMMATURE feelings of “that person’s life is better than mine, they are having more fun…etc.” “no one commented on my photo.” “DId you see what that person said…? ” 
    No – I live (and work) in a very isolated place. I can go all day without seeing a single person. Actually, I love it. most of the time. And I turn to my social networks for company. 

    • um, quick correction. My husband is a person, and I do see him. So I exaggerate slightly. 

      • @Lisa Gerber You mean you exaggerate that he’s a person!? 🙂

        •  @jeanniecw  @Lisa I really needed that laugh just now. Thank you. 

    • ginidietrich

       @Lisa Gerber Yeah, the “I don’t get it” conversation happening in 2012 isn’t really worth a response. Give me a break.
      You also turn to Skype. Or is that supposed to be our secret?

  • AnneReuss

     @jasonkonopinski It’s really inspiring for me to see that my story reached out to you too! I could go on and on about this topic in debate (for those who don’t know – I am Deaf)
    I entered the world of social media the start of October, and it”s been incredibly rewarding. Love love.  It was an opportunity to amplify my personality and show others how much I, well, love people! Mind you, I can do somewhat darn decent at meeting people on my own with my deafness but on twitter I found I could meet anyone seamlessly and jump in conversation at the same pace in ways I can’t online. It was a new mode of accessibility to me. Twitter is my “radio”.  
    Bravery is something one possesses that keeps growing in ways you don’t realize, kind of like confidence. I’m more willing to go to events now because it makes it more comfortable to meet people (or even more so – easier for the OTHER so they know that they’re “getting into” ha!) which is one thing that drives me to use social media – so I can get ‘out there’ but  I’ve realized not long ago that I feel lonely working at home part time…antsy on the computer… As much as this girl liked her freedom, I found myself wondering if finding a job would solve this problem. BUT not getting hired (another story, another time) led me to this pretty neat situation I’m in here so I have the opportunity figure out my path so I can be like @ginidietrich  – travel, speak, meet more people on/offline! So yes, I see both ways..ok, ok .time to go write a future blog post THANKS for the brain exercise gosh! 

    • RebeccaTodd

       Thanks for sharing this Anne! Great to see another perspective, and one that focuses on the possible benefits.  Brought a smile! Thanks.

      • AnneReuss

         @RebeccaTodd Not a problem at all – and I just read your comment – young adults are doing it too! i’m like “put that away!!” when we’re out for dinner and drinks – even I slap my own hand! 

        •  @AnneReuss
           Exaclty! I was out with my freinds last weekend having a wonderful time, yet at one point 7 of us had our phones out… ugh! I really love this photo: and trying harder to live it!

        • AnneReuss

           @RebeccaTodd Real talk! Must bookmark!

        •  @AnneReuss  @RebeccaTodd I normally don’t like posting links to my own site on other folks’ blogs, but you reminded me of a guest post a friend wrote for me. She is deaf, and works with the deaf and hearing impaired. We met via Twitter, and later in real life. She’s a local, and talks about how social media works in her life.

        •  @KenMueller @AnneReuss Thanks for sharing Ken!  I am heading to check it out now. 

    •  @AnneReuss My little sister and her husband are deaf. Ok, they wear hearing aids but most of the time if you aren’t facing them they won’t hear you speaking and even then it can be dicey.
      I sometimes watch them online and I am thrilled because they are different people. That is not to say they aren’t great in person because they are, but it is a different vibe and atmosphere for them.

      • AnneReuss

         @TheJackB Agree, sometimes people that I know tell me they learn more about me by watching my online presence! 

        • KevinVandever

           @AnneReuss I’ve heard the same thing said about me. People I forget are even FB friends because they don’t engage much will come to me in person and “like” my posts.

        • AnneReuss

           @KevinVandever I’ve been wondering if I should “clean” up my friends on FB especially since I started at a young age in high school – but then this happens! 🙂 

        • KevinVandever

           @AnneReuss I’ve had similar thoughts, and still might do some cleaning, but it won’t be as much as I’d originally planned.

        • AnneReuss

           @KevinVandever So we both have a date with Facebook! Kind of ironic. 

        • KevinVandever

           @AnneReuss Yes. Good point. A date to break up with people.

    • ginidietrich

       @AnneReuss  I really, really love that you’re able to have an outlet that makes it both easy for you to jump into conversations AND put other people at risk. I talk about how it levels the playing field for businesses, but it does the same for us personally.

  • RebeccaTodd

    This is a topic I have been ruminating on a lot recently. First Sherry Turkle’s amazing TED got me thinking, enough so that I have started her new book “Alone Together”. As an introvert, I distinguish between “loneliness” and “aloneness”, but I find that the constant connectivity means that I sometimes use social media as a substitute for authentic interaction. Sherry’s line “I need to have a feeling, so I send a text” has stuck in my mind. It has made me much more aware of my urges to connect virtually. While as adults we have some awareness, I do have concern for my younger nieces and nephews who just don’t know any other way.  My sister in law is a high school consultant, and she says that on field trips all of the students now sit in their seats quietly, texting and facebooking. I think that is really quite sad.

    •  @RebeccaTodd I just wanted to tell you that I love this line ‘As an introvert, I distinguish between “loneliness” and “aloneness”‘.

      •  @C_Pappas Thank you.  Have to say, stolen directly from my therapist.  

    • ginidietrich

       @RebeccaTodd That makes me really sad. When I was that age, I was making out with boys in the back of the bus…not texting anyone!

      •  @ginidietrich I know! Jen says she has to stop her self from saying “scream! Run around! Switch seats!”

    • ginidietrich

      P.S. New avatar?

      •  @ginidietrich Yes indeed! I like yours- very scampy!

    •  @RebeccaTodd for every facebook status update there is 173 SMS Texts. I like text it is real time. I share photos, links, videos. I also do this via mobile email. Per Hootsuite I send 850 Tweets per month. Per Verizon I send 1500+ texts. Which makes me a laggard the average high schooler sends 3000 texts per month the last survey I saw. So they are definitely texting more than Facebooking, I think it proves we like privacy more than the Facebook IPO and Social Ninjas want us to believe.

      •  @HowieSPM Or at least we like the illusion of privacy.  

        •  @RebeccaTodd you are correct. While my emails with @ginidietrich discussing our plans for world domination are private. We both know the NSA has been eavesdropping and ready to whisk us to Gitmo to prevent our take over. Or Gini could print them out and send them to Wikileaks in a coup because she really hates any sort of power sharing agreement.

        •  @HowieSPM  @ginidietrich Are you pondering what I’m pondering? 

  • walnutwriting

    Anne, this piece is a real eye opener about the sad state of our society. I live in India, and although the state isn’t so bad here, my work is such that I hardly speak to anyone, except via email (if I can even call it “talking” or “speaking”). Most days, I go for extended walks, just to see some people. 
    And really, even though most of us have more than 200 friends on Facebook, they’re not really our friends, right? We hardly speak to them, an occasional like or comment is our preferred form of communication. It’s sad really!

    • ginidietrich

       @walnutwriting If you mean speak, as in actually talking to them, I agree. But I put a lot of time into engaging with people online so I feel like I really do get to know them. And then, when we see each other offline, we continue a conversation started online.

  • I can see how Facebook might make it easier for some people to feel badly about themselves and their lives, but you have to hear those whispers already. Social media doesn’t necessarily present us as we really are. Sometimes you see just what we show you.
    My family is scattered around the world. Facebook helped us reconnect so I could argue that in some ways it wiped away loneliness.

    • ginidietrich

       @TheJackB That’s more toward where I’m leaning. Like you, I have family scattered across the country and it’s a heck of a lot easier to connect with them online and keep up with what they’re doing.

      •  @ginidietrich @TheJackB 90% of my reconnects from my past I said hi to, caught up over 3 or 4 status posts, never to talk with them again. But I agree it will keep people superficially connected which is fine vs say the phone call every 5 months or the random meeting at a wedding.
        My mom is funny. She stalks the extended family. She never ever posts. Never comments. She sees a photo or an update and immediately calls people like me and my sisters giving us the scoop LOL

        •  @HowieSPM  @ginidietrich  @TheJackB Lisa does that. I think it’s hysterical. 🙂 

  • autumnmthompson

    The first thing I thought is where is Yvette’s family?  There wasn’t one person in her family that would have wondered where she was in a year?  That’s sad.  I find Facebook humorous.  It’s like dating, you are only meeting someone’s representative.  Some are outwardly crazy others not so much.
    We recently had (and are still having) a debate in North Carolina over an amendment.  I saw such nasty things written to “friends” on Facebook, I had to take a break from it.  Why is Facebook considered a different platform to discuss a topic with someone?  Why do people say things they would not otherwise say IRL?
    I love seeing people I know on Facebook and occasionally engaging with them but it will never replace the real people in my life.

    • ginidietrich

       @autumnmthompson It’s the same with any written communication…people say things to one another in email they would never say to their faces. We could all learn a thing or two about when written communication is OK and when it’s not.

  • People would never think it, but I am an introvert at heart. Sure, I can hold my own just fine IRL as much as I can online in the networks, but I prefer aloneness. I have always been drawn to the social networks (chat rooms we called them back when  Prodigy was around). I loved playing the part of someone else, being anyone I wanted because it wasn’t real (it’s much more real now I think).
    I have had heated discussions with close friends that complained they were bored when they were not surrounded by others. I dont think it’s good to be bored at all – when my friends get ‘bored’ they turn to the social networks. On the flip, I have lost friends because they were so consumed with their online lives that they forgot about all the people physically surrounding them.
    It’s a good discussion and something to think about. Just the thought that it is now a viable threat to say to someone ‘I will unfriend you on Facebook if you piss me off’ is enough.

    • ginidietrich

       @C_Pappas I have had dinner with you and two other people and you do NOT come across as an introvert. I agree with you on the being so consumed with your social life online. It really makes me angry when I’m with my friends and they constantly check their phones. I always put mine away and check it only when I sneak away to the restroom. 

      •  @ginidietrich It’s true. I value my alone time and I get extremely overwhelmed if I am with people all day and all night every day. So I dont come across as an introvert? That all caps word ‘not’ makes me wonder if I was too much the opposite? I do talk a lot! LOL

        • ginidietrich

           @C_Pappas Just based on your personality, I would have guessed you’re an extrovert.

        • @ginidietrich @C_Pappas I’ll take that as a compliment! Thanks

        •  @ginidietrich @C_Pappas INTROVERT FIGHT!

        •  @C_Pappas  I love this. I would have NOT guessed this about you from our chats on the phone! But I too love some cave time.

        •  @C_Pappas  @ginidietrich This is something I come across, too.  I am in sales, and most would not guess how introverted I actually am. I need my alone time in order to recharge. As to using your online life to substitute for a real life, again I agree. I am just making my way through my divorce, and when I felt I had no “real” friends to turn to, I looked online. And then, surprisingly, ended up meeting some amazing people who have become true and honest “real” friends. So while I certainly agree that people need to put down their phones and BE with the people they are physically with, online relationships can play a very needed role. 

      •  @ginidietrich  @C_Pappas Which is why she drinks so much win. To pee more often. 

        •  @ginidietrich  @C_Pappas *wine*

        • ginidietrich

           @jasonkonopinski  @C_Pappas I was trying to figure out what drinking win meant.

        •  @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski  @C_Pappas She drinks to win Jason. Thus the thermos of space daiquiris on her desk that @Lisa Gerber keeps refilling.

    •  @C_Pappas Excellent reply! I completely agree with the notion that some feel “bored” or “left out” when not in constant contact.  This can be ok, but I have to say, I know a few people who are engaging in very real text-affairs rather than confront their unhappiness. I was also recently unfriended by a long time acquaintance without a word-is this really how we deal with upset and confrontation these days? 

  • I read that piece and (cc @Shonali @KenMueller  re: existing behaviors), there were are few good counter-argument posts I read that pointed out that: 1) most social users are already social elsewhere, have connections and 2) the story didn’t properly cover cause/effect. Does FB — Interwebs in all its social gore – I mean glory 😉 — make us lonely, or are ‘lonely’ people more drawn to it naturally? I’m not lonely, but am very comfortable – sometimes prefer – being alone.
    Gini I know you think social is a great place for introverts to step out (agree); wanna say I had a similar conversation w/ joey_strawn  about a shy gamer, who in the right setting, became very social. Social lets us find ‘our’ peeps – those who have similar likes and interests; once we do, the ‘shy’ takes a step back and we realize that we really aren’t alone in this world, there are others just as obsessed with “Vampire Diaries” as I. 
    It’s the ‘elaborate acts of self-presentation’ – that is what social is doing: making it harder to hide, making it work to be a human and professional and the balance b.s.  It’s the fishbowl effect maybe, always feeling like you’re being watched and judged?  @TheJackB is right: you see only what I choose to show. FWIW.

    • ginidietrich

       @3HatsComm  I suppose the other thing is we only let people see what we want them to see, so it’s no all of us. For instance, I’m REALLY grouchy today so I’m staying off of Facebook. I know that, because I’m overly tired, I’ll be super sensitive to something someone says that wouldn’t typically bother me. So it allows us to manage our moods more effectively than in real life.

      •  @ginidietrich @3HatsComm I am an Alien on Twitter. On facebook I am the CEO of mercedes Benz – Jordan, but I was born in Mongolia, I live in Mali and have a degree from Oxford. Social is great I can be anything I want to be and no one would know the truth. And people wonder why Facebook ads don’t work.

        •  @HowieSPM  @ginidietrich On Twitter I’m also a hot demi-goddess who curses a blue streak, imbibes copious amounts of vino and has designs on the lottery. So .. not so much different I guess. 😉

        •  @3HatsComm  @ginidietrich on Twitter Gini is the Queen of Manwich. On facebook she is the avant garde reclusive socialite. On pinterest a party hostess. On myspace a punkrock guitarist.

  • patmrhoads

    I think the answer to the title question lies at the root of how people use Facebook or any other social channel. I lost my wife to a boating accident late last year, and between the blog I started and being connected to people via Facebook and Twitter, I have found a huge community of support. In other words, I am FAR less lonely than I would have been had this happened even 5-6 years ago.
    For me it boils down to HOW I interact with people, online or off. Quality interaction breeds quality relationships. Shallow interactions will not create real relationship, and in times when people need that real connection, it won’t be there. I’m sure we can remember people who, even before social media, seemed popular and to have lots of friends only to find during trials that they seemed to suddenly have no one there. Social media may amplify that and make it possible for more people to be in that situation, but it’s not the cause, IMHO.

    • ginidietrich

       @patmrhoads Wow. That is a really compelling and interesting story. I wish I’d know this when I wrote the blog post. I would have had you co-write it with me. Thank you for sharing your loss and how you dealt with it via the social web. Really, really good stuff.

      • patmrhoads

        Oh wow, thanks. I would have loved to have co-written a post about this topic with you. Maybe some other time – I have strong feelings about how people interact online versus offline (in case you couldn’t tell!). And yes, social media has practically saved my life the last five months.

        • ginidietrich

           @patmrhoads Would you be interested in doing a guest post on the interactions of online vs. off? 

        • ginidietrich

           @patmrhoads I just spent some time on your blog. Wow.

        • patmrhoads

          @ginidietrich I assume you’re referring to the “Missing Aimee” blog?

          And yes, I would love to write a guest post for your blog. Maybe we can exchange a few DMs and nail down the details?

        •  @patmrhoads  Thanks for sharing.  I’m not a religious man, but bless you.

        • Hi @patmrhoads , I’m the chief content officer for Spin Sucks and I’ve been observing the conversation without jumping in. I too spent a little time on Missing Aimee this afternoon and I was moved beyond tears. I really don’t have words to express what I want to say but it was hard for me to return to work afterwards.
          I’m excited you would like to guest post. And  @ginidietrich is going to refer you over to me at this point anyway, so I’ll say, “hi,” and ask you to email me at lgerber at arment dietrich dot com for details. 

        • ginidietrich

           @Lisa Gerber  @patmrhoads Lisa is right … I’d refer you to her now so chat with her! We’d love to have you and it’ll be a really good follow-up to this blog post!

    •  @patmrhoads Holy. Chills. 

  • Robb_Wexler

    I would just like to state for the record that I am friending everyone on this post and therefore under rule 34.302…subparagraph 6 of the social media code…..those people owe me dinner….or a restraining order.

    • ginidietrich

       @Robb_Wexler Wait. You owe ME dinner.

    •  @Robb_Wexler you should have @ginidietrich make you her famous manwich recipe.

      • ginidietrich

         @HowieSPM  @Robb_Wexler No, no. Not til I get my dinner first.

        •  @ginidietrich  @HowieSPM  @Robb_Wexler Everyone, friend Robb first and he owes US dinner.

        •  @AmyMccTobin  @ginidietrich  @Robb_Wexler but will Robb turn out to be a deep or a shallow connection? We can make him our case study!

        •  @HowieSPM   @Robb_Wexler Robb is a deep connection for me. He came to my book launch party!

  • Robb_Wexler

    <thinking> Crap…..she remembered.

    • ginidietrich

       @Robb_Wexler Bwahahahahah!

  • I don’t believe the Facebook numbers. How can activity per person go up by a magnitude of 10 yet time spent per person drop over 50% in the last 2 years. One odd thing is for the last 2 years the average user had 150 friendships per Facebook. But venture beat has this pegged at 100bil total which means much less friendships around 110ish per active user. and since I know many people with hundreds of friendships….I bet 15-20% of users have huge networks and 60% have less than 50. I have friends on facebook who post non-stop so I still see 15-20% of the users creating 75-80% of the content. Sad we can’t get more resolution on this.
    As per your post here I think Facebook allows introverts to be safely social, extroverts to be more social…..or not social at all online. I find that the most social people I know in real life do not spend much time on Facebook. They will use twitter and more immediate services like Instagram.
    I don’t agree with the Atlantic on the shallow connections thing. I feel that is true if you meet people on facebook vs real life or even twitter and then connect on facebook.

    • ginidietrich

       @HowieSPM Since I wrote this, I’ve decided it’s not the tool that is the problem. It’s in how people use it. Yvette Vickers clearly didn’t use it in the right way…she was probably feeding a need she had since retiring from show business. But I’d like to think someone would miss me if I missed a day or two on the web.

      •  @ginidietrich  @HowieSPM Oh we’d miss you. We’d have to spend all that time finding someone else to make fun of…

        • ginidietrich

           @KenMueller  @HowieSPM That would suck, wouldn’t it?

        •  @ginidietrich  @HowieSPM yeah. we hate change.

  • Several thoughts on this post:
    1.  Ten years ago I read an article about how the Web was connecting us with strangers but ignoring our neighbors.  We used to chat over the fence — Al Bundy style — but now come home and get on the terminal.  Sort of lonely. 
    2.  The Web is interesting for introducing us to people we might not ordinarily meet.  Amazing, not lonely.
    3.  The people I’ve met online and then in IRL has grown dramatically. I don’t have enough fingers and toes an more.  Amazing, not lonely.
    4.  I work a lot. In fact, I’m almost always working.  That’s the Web’s fault.  And my inability to turn things off.  Sort of lonely. 
    That’s all I got.  Inconclusive.  As I see it, there are three possible answers to the question in your headline:   yes, no and somewhere in between.

    • ginidietrich

       @Frank_Strong LOL! That’s exactly why I said I’m torn…lots of reasons for and against and they’re balanced. But you know what? I’m SUPER excited to finally meet you in person in less than a month!

  • I do think that facebook does cause its user to make more connections that are more shallow as opposed to having fewer close friends as we did in times past. Plus the internet, though it allows more connections, is also a barrier to forming a personal bond.

    • ginidietrich

       @richescorner I remember reading a couple of years ago that a human being can only handle 50 relationships at once. Total…between work and personal. So, while we collect friends and followers and connections, we really can’t handle having any sort of relationship with more than 50 of them.

      • rdopping

        That’s a lotta relationships to juggle. I have trouble with 5 but then again I spend most of my time on the internet…….;-)

        •  @rdopping Can you juggle more than five on the Internet? I’d venture to guess you can.

  • Online life and real life are two different things and given that you can’t be in the same place at the same time if someone is a lot online it means that he’s not offline. All day on FB means no friends or family and this is not at all for our benefit. Our life is outside the net or outside the cubicle.
    From a healthy point of view the less you stay connected the better your life gets because it’s real. Just like the more you stay outside in real nature the better you feel.
    At the end you can live without a pc or a smartphone but you can’t without air, food, water, family, friends….
    Connectivity is a tool but it’s not life, imho. But well I’m also a Naturopath so probably my point of view is biased. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

       @Andrea T. H. W. I like the biased point of view because it gives us all something else to consider. But, I have to say, I can be in two places at once. It’s something I’ve invented called clones. Would you like in?

      •  @ginidietrich Yes so he can work and I can go fishing. 😀

  • workmommywork

    This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot and I would answer yes – but with a caveat. I don’t think Facebook is making us lonely – I think it is diminishing our ability to communicate well and form real world connections. I see this most markedly in my kids, who range in age from 5 to 17. The teenagers can’t seem to open up an talk honestly with anyone. It’s like candid conversation scares them – and I”m not just talking about being open with their parents.
    What is striking is that they don’t hesitate to share a lot on Facebook and via texts, but they can’t do the same in real life. I worry what this will mean for them when they begin to date and, ultimately, marry. I’m a big believer that strong relationships are built on a foundation of complete honesty and open lines of communication and these are skills that I fear my kids will never learn how to develop.
    I don’t blame Facebook for this – it is not Facebook’s fault. Rather, it is a generational issue that has come about because of our increasing reliance on digital forms of communication. You could actually flip the logic and argue that Facebook is in fact a PRODUCT of this (we are drawn to Facebook because we don’t HAVE to communicate in person!) rather than the CAUSE of this!
    Thanks for posting…

    • ginidietrich

       @workmommywork As a business owner, it does scare me to think about how hard it’s going to be working with people who don’t know how to talk to their peers in person. We had something similar a few years ago. I discovered some of my younger staff was saying HORRIBLE things to one another over email. Things they would never say in person. And, even though they only had half a wall to separate them, they’d email instead of talking to one another. I banned email for a month. It forced people to talk to one another and morale improved dramatically.
      But you think about these things so I’d guess your kids are the exception and do know how to talk to one another.

      • workmommywork

         Ha! I wish I could say that awareness on my part has translated into better communication on the part of my children, but that is not the case. I’m still holding out hope for my 5 year old, but I really worry about the older ones. And you are right about how this manifests in the workplace. I can tell when some of my younger employees are frustrated or unhappy, and while they are very comfortable texting each other about it, it’s really hard to get them to open up in a conversation with me. I’d love to know how you were able to ban email without impacting work (in my case I’d probably ban texting!).

        •  @workmommywork We only banned internal email. So they could still email clients and media and such. It was a workaround my IT guy figured out. And it worked really well!

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  • I am on Facebook right now and I am lonely. Oh wait there is @KenMueller one of my fans. He will keep me company while I wait for my other fans. Ken is making me BBQ Chitlins or Chicken or something. Oh here is @ginidietrich she brought me whiskey. Now I am not lonely on Facebook. I was a bit worried.

    •  @HowieSPM  It’s not nice to lie. You’re not on Facebook.

  •  @ginidietrich I think I’m torn on this one too. It is all to easy to isolate, even for those of us who are not introverts, and Facebook can (as you and I know all too well) take up a lot of time. It can become all too easy to overlook the people in real life and the local face to face opportunities to visit. Life feels so very busy for all of us that it is all too easy to go online instead of out there…On the other hand, Facebook, and some of its groups, has introduced me to people whose friendship and counsel I have come to rely on and treasure greatly. I feel so much the richer for it (and it pains me to say that). The time I spend in social networks and using other social media has rewarded me very richly. One of the things I have learned to do is to reach out to my online (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.) friends and make contact by phone or Skype or in person whenever possible. To try and keep it real.Thought provoking post, my dear. 😉

    •  @allenmireles I don’t feel like I would have met you without Facebook. So I’m on the pro side of things right now.

  • rdopping

    I guess it’s lonley if you don’t have any friends…..I have some….I think.

    •  @rdopping No, actually I don’t think you do. At least that’s what I hear through the grapevine.

      • rdopping

        What? I really don’t have any friends? Huh. Bummer.

        •  @rdopping I’m so sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

        • rdopping

          Crap. I hear you can by friends on Twitter! Should I try that (silently weeping)?

        •  @rdopping Yes! Those robots will talk to anyone!

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