Why is Being Alone Something We Avoid?
In such a connected age, loneliness is still something we all fear.
I call my parents at around 11:45 AM everyday. It’s when I’m walking to the dining hall on the other side of campus. It’s not a long trip, but it’s a quiet one. While I’m certainly capable of being alone, in a time and age where everyone knows everyone, who would want to be?
When I spend time relaxing, I feel like I’m losing time. I’m missing out on family road-trips. That internship Jane Doe got. John’s amazing vacation of a lifetime. Even on social media that isn’t universal bragging zones like Facebook and Twitter, there’s reminders to put yourself out there and create a brand. Blogging platforms, with their endless scrolling and millions of users, are usually impossible to read entirely. Even micro-blogging platforms such as Tumblr encourage constant productivity. I can’t help but wonder how much of what we write is actually read. It’s like we’re all shouting into a void simultaneously.
To say that technology is a net-negative for humanity is an overstatement, but we do face challenges with the rise of constant media. There have been studies to suggest that excessive internet usage increases depression, stress, loneliness, and other negative feelings (1,2). Perhaps this is because we use social media as a crutch to highlight ourselves. Maybe we simply don’t take time to fully appreciate who we are when we aren’t overachieving. I’m definitely not innocent in this. Social media has also become a guilty pleasure of mine, with my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, VolunteerMatch, and yes, all my blogging platforms. It’s like I need a break from my break-time.
Last spring I took a road trip up North Queensland, Australia to see Daintree National Park. Although a lot of chaos comes with riding up a foreign country with four people you barely know, my time reading on the beaches was perhaps the most relaxed I’ve ever been. There wasn’t cell service or wifi. While my travel buddies went through their own withdrawals, I found it almost freeing to not know what was happening in everyone else’s lives.
It took the end of that trip for all of us to finally start talking deeply with each other. After our cameras were shut off and tucked away, we sat in the car in silence. We began talking about religion and politics. We were all civil and accepting. Even if it was just for that night, we all connected with each other in a way that felt sincere and rare.
The reality is that social media isn’t going away anytime soon. Internet is not restricted to hipster cafes, and cell service gets better every few years or sooner. Technology is advancing, and honestly? I’m grateful. Despite all it’s challenges, this globalized era allows me to communicate with the friends I have around the world.
But being constantly plugged in is dangerous. As hard as we try, online communication can’t fully replace the physical parts of human connection. The pats on the shoulders, reassuring hugs, and shared laughter. It just staves off loneliness. And if you’re not plugged in, it means you have to confront the issue of being alone.
We need to remind ourselves that in an age where everyone knows each other, not everyone understands. We put our best foot forward online, sometimes to the point where we forget about ourselves. In this net-working, ego-boosting, over-achieving age, we need to be aware that sometimes breathing and being alone for a while is okay and even necessary.
I know. I’m still learning too.