Over time, as I was growing up, I have heard the sentence, “Today’s generation are going down a very lonely path.” Or rather, different variations of the sentiment. But why so? Is it the steadily increasing time we spend looking at a lit up screen? That we are slowly withdrawing from the outside world, and instead reaching out for a virtual one?
If I were to look up the definition of lonely and loneliness, I would find something along the lines of “Sad because one has no friends or company.” I have found myself wondering whether this definition applies to the physical sense of being surrounded by friends,.The way I see it, it does not take into account the multiple social networks of today. In a world filled with introversion, loneliness is not a state of physical being anymore, but a state of mind.
It is perfectly possible to be energised by isolation, as natural introverts tend to feel. However, the same is not applicable to everyone; feeling lonely or isolated in a room full of people has unfortunately become the norm. From a screen or monitor, one can be connected to hundreds, if not thousands, of people – so-called ‘friends’ – in a click of the fingers. How much of it is real though?
The Millennials and Generation Z-ers of today, the current youth, are alive and essentially living in the wide world web. We have been exposed to the Internet, social networking and a rapidly evolving world of technology since a young age, and as a consequence of that, we have also become deficient in separating the virtual from our reality. We have become so blinded by the bright colours of a glass screen that we can no longer tell who our friend is and who is not.
Social media is a wonderful thing; it allows us to connect with friends, family – people living hundreds of thousands of miles away. Numerous persons can relate and bond over their likes, dislikes, hobbies and just about anything under the sun, without leaving their own space. The modern wonders of social networking are not there to create a world of hurt and insecurity. There are many instances where, despite being physically alone, the negative feelings of loneliness do not appear.
Sartre described people feeling lonely when they are alone to be in “bad company.” This corroborates my previous statement that loneliness is a state of mind and emotion. One cannot simply define loneliness and put it into separate binaries, as it affects people differently and is triggered by varying events, big or small. However, in what ways is “bad company” parallel to “no company”?
Thanks to the Internet, anyone can be whoever they wish to be, hidden behind whichever facade they choose to wear. This ambiguity – this sense of anonymity – allows a delusion of popularity and of being in the limelight, so to speak, to prevail; therefore, when placed in real-life social situations, an unexplainable bout of distress and isolation may be felt. Despite appearing to “know” someone online, or at least knowing that person’s depiction of the “perfect” life presented on social media, this image is mostly a myth.
This feeling of loneliness and depression, the idea that one must be liked; that one must better oneself, can be linked to Albert Ellis’ ABC Model for Depression (1962). This model describes these feelings to stem from “mustabatory thinking” – the idea that certain ideas and assumptions must either be true or fulfilled, in order to achieve happiness.
Recent studies have shown that one tends to feel bad when looking at others’ assorted online profiles. It has become a trend to only post the most unnaturally perfect depictions of one’s life on social media and to portray them as normal. Because of this, anxiety and depressive disorders are on the rise within the youth of today.
In these cases, would it be possible to classify the media that surrounds young people to give way to bad company? That one’s “friends” are in fact the reason for loneliness?
When looking at a recent picture of a friend or acquaintance uploaded to a social network like Instagram, common behavioural traits and thoughts linked to the idea of “not doing anything” compared with them, and “not being with them” may crop up. This tends to inspire the loneliness one can feel.
In this case, the company one surrounds themselves with on social l media, can be classified as ‘bad company’ as it alienates on in the privacy of their own home, presumably. Despite being a form of virtual company, that one is not physically surrounded by them, it still creates an emotional state of loneliness.
But what if this argument was flipped, approached from the other side? Does the person posting and uploading their seemingly perfect life on social media feel this loneliness? Does it stem from the pressure of witnessing others’ lives on the Internet? If anything, a vicious cycle seems to be created. A never-ending circle of pressure and negative thoughts. Most of the feelings of loneliness and insecurity appear through complete ignorance from the part of others, others who share and partake in the same emotional responses.
Despite the Internet and all its quirks being one of the most useful creations in history, it should not be taken as a pre-set framework for everything. There is a rise in mental health issues amongst today’s generation. This could all be due to the world of social networking we have been born into. With so much pressure to conform, yet at the same time to be unique, with so much pressure to “get with the trends”, no one knows how to be themselves anymore.
There is a loneliness epidemic that is spreading at an unequivocal rate, and it all comes back to social media. The “company” we surround ourselves in can cause nothing but self-doubt and insecurity. Yet at the end of the day, we do nothing to stop it. Loneliness is not going to end as a result of this one essay written by a student facing these very problems. It is not going to end, ever. But we can talk about it, we can raise awareness and cut out the toxic parts of our company. Everyone feels loneliness throughout their life, but all that can be done is to lessen it by standing up to societal expectations and norms and to finally be happy with oneself, as gruelling the journey is.