Sounds of Silence: The Epidemic of Loneliness, By Mrs Vera West

A crisis of loneliness is occurring across the West. In the UK, for Gen Z the loneliness generation, for people aged between 16 and 29, they are twice as likely to say they feel lonely "often or always" than those over age 70, and over 30 percent of Gen Z say that they do not know how to make new friends, and have as sense of isolation. A similar situation exists in the US and Australia. What is the cause?

No doubt the Covid lockdowns had an impact, but the loneliness trend was existing before then. One suggestion made by a Gen Z writer at Afterbabel.com is social media has re-defined friendships and relationships for an entire generation, for the worst: "when phone-based social media platforms emerged in the early 2010s they did not just take time away from real-life friendships. They redefined friendship for an entire generation. They gutted it. They removed the requirements of effort, of loyalty, even of meeting up, and replaced them with following each other back, exchanging a #likeforlike, and posing for selfies together. Facebook made becoming friends as easy as clicking a button. Snapchat reduced staying in touch to sending a black screen with the word STREAK. They took teenage friendship—which used to be full of friction, thrills and adventure—and made it another joyless thing to do on a screen. Another thing to be performed and marketed and publicly measured.

As Jon put it in chapter 6 of The Anxious Generation:

When everything moved onto smartphones in the early 2010s, both girls and boys experienced a gigantic increase in the number of their social ties and in the time required to service these ties (such as reading and commenting on the posts of acquaintances or maintaining dozens of Snapchat "streaks" with people who are not your closest friends). This explosive growth necessarily caused a decline in the number and depth of close friendships.

And so, many of us don't have friends anymore; we have followers. We don't deeply care about each other's lives; we consume them as content. We don't have people we can be vulnerable with; we have people who view our Stories. It's hard to tell if we have loyalty, or just people hoping we like their photo back. Nowadays we meet someone new and immediately exchange socials and end up committing to scrolling and skipping through each other's lives, forever. Friends are for keeping up Snapstreaks. Friends are for forwarding each other memes that our algorithms sent us first. Friends are numbers. Sometimes it feels like the only one left asking us "What's on your mind?" is Facebook."

What can be done here? The problem is that social media has got its claws into an entire generation, so that many young people would face serious mental collapse without it; it is an addictive drug at the level of heroin. People will need, obviously enough, to begin to break their addiction to social media, which would work better than going "cold turkey," and backsliding. But before that can occur, much like alcoholics, they need to recognise that they have an addiction problem. That is not going to be easy given that many people are locked into the social media world, which is more real to them than the world we know. Witness people with headphones on, walking the streets looking at their mobile phones. No wonder people get robbed in the streets, with no situational awareness!

https://www.afterbabel.com/p/arent-you-lonely

"The most common question people ask me when I say I don't use Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or TikTok is: aren't you lonely? Aren't you cut off? How do you stay in touch? In a way these are strange questions.

I find it strange because my generation, Gen Z, is the loneliest generation. In the UK, those aged between 16 and 29 are twice as likely to say they feel lonely "often or always" than those over age 70. Over 30% of young people say they don't know how to make new friends, and have never felt more alone.

Rising Loneliness Among American Teens

As well as having fewer friends, members of Gen Z spend much less time together in-person than did those in previous generations. American teens meet up with their friends far less than those in the '90s did. Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.

But this is more than statistics. Look around; loneliness is everywhere. Gen Z are posting friendship applications on Facebook. We're ruminating on Reddit forums about why we feel so alone, and why there's no community anymore. We eat dinner with YouTubers. We pretend to FaceTime influencers. We play video games alone in our rooms, or watch strangers play instead. Even the fact that #mentalhealth has over a hundred billion views on TikTok seems to me less a triumph of mental health awareness and more like a collective cry of loneliness. Why aren't we opening up to each other, in real life? Why are we telling TikTok?

Of course, there are other explanations for our loneliness: the decline of third spaces; the collapse of faith; the fallout from COVID-19 and lockdowns. But recently I was sitting at one of Jon's talks in London and he asked members of Gen X and Baby Boomers to think back on their childhoods. He asked them to remember all the things they did, all the adventures they had, and then imagine removing 70% of the time hanging out with friends. At least 70%. Next remove hobbies, then risk, thrills, and adventures where you might have gotten hurt—imagine 80% of that gone. Now imagine growing up with what's left.

I felt a bit sick because I didn't need to imagine. I never snuck out. I didn't build a den or a hideout in the woods. I can't remember goofing around in the park, or going on teenage adventures. And I know why. I came home from school and immediately loaded up MSN. I kept up Snapstreaks with my friends, alone in my room. When friends did come over for sleepovers, we took selfies for Facebook; we posted questions on anonymous messaging platforms like Ask.fm; we spoke to naked strangers on Omegle. Sometimes we sat side-by-side, scrolling.

Here's what happened: when phone-based social media platforms emerged in the early 2010s they did not just take time away from real-life friendships. They redefined friendship for an entire generation. They gutted it. They removed the requirements of effort, of loyalty, even of meeting up, and replaced them with following each other back, exchanging a #likeforlike, and posing for selfies together. Facebook made becoming friends as easy as clicking a button. Snapchat reduced staying in touch to sending a black screen with the word STREAK. They took teenage friendship—which used to be full of friction, thrills and adventure—and made it another joyless thing to do on a screen. Another thing to be performed and marketed and publicly measured.

As Jon put it in chapter 6 of The Anxious Generation:

When everything moved onto smartphones in the early 2010s, both girls and boys experienced a gigantic increase in the number of their social ties and in the time required to service these ties (such as reading and commenting on the posts of acquaintances or maintaining dozens of Snapchat "streaks" with people who are not your closest friends). This explosive growth necessarily caused a decline in the number and depth of close friendships.

And so, many of us don't have friends anymore; we have followers. We don't deeply care about each other's lives; we consume them as content. We don't have people we can be vulnerable with; we have people who view our Stories. It's hard to tell if we have loyalty, or just people hoping we like their photo back. Nowadays we meet someone new and immediately exchange socials and end up committing to scrolling and skipping through each other's lives, forever. Friends are for keeping up Snapstreaks. Friends are for forwarding each other memes that our algorithms sent us first. Friends are numbers. Sometimes it feels like the only one left asking us "What's on your mind?" is Facebook.

And now? Now these companies have the nerve to sell us their substitutes. Sure, Snapchat hollowed out friendship but hey, so what, now Snapchat AI is here, someone to talk to every day who acts like a real friend. Or we can replace what we lost with Replika: "THE chatbot for anyone who wants a friend with no judgment, drama, or social anxiety involved"! Meanwhile, Snapchat tells us that the way back to meaningful connection is to "boost those friendship numbers". And don't worry, those real-life friendships these companies degraded?

Of course I'm not saying that nobody in Gen Z has real friends, but we do have fewer, and I'm speaking for the many who are lonely. The ones who, like me, were quiet and shy children, and didn't stand a chance when these platforms came along promising quick and painless connection. The ones who were left without deep connections to anyone.

My advice to them is simple: forget those who view your Instagram Story but never ask how you are feeling. Forget those who use you like a prop to look popular on Instagram but otherwise can't be bothered to come over. And if someone wouldn't remember you if you deleted your Snapchat account—so be it.

Actually, my advice is keep whoever has the least interest in your social media. The ones who take your online persona the least seriously. They want the whole you, and they know an Instagram grid couldn't possibly capture it. They like your ugly laugh, not the fake one you use for TikTok. They like those candid, silly pictures when you forgot to perform yourself for a moment, not the staged Instagram selfies that don't even look like you. Even better—they cringe at that! Keep those people! The ones that aren't afraid to laugh at you! That ground you when you get caught up in all this. That couldn't care less about what's on your Instagram Story but would come with you to the hospital if you called them at 3am. That don't send you a DM but drive over when something comes along in life and floors you. Friends are those who will be there when life brings you to your knees.

I have made an effort to do this. It's hard, and I have moments of loneliness. I don't post selfies anymore, so the girls from my school who left heart-eye emojis on my posts have long forgotten me. I don't post personal updates, so people I haven't seen in years don't pretend to care how my holiday was or who I'm dating.

But when friends contact me now, they contact me because they care—not because my Instagram Stories relentlessly remind them I exist. They remember my birthday not because Facebook nudged them but because they never forgot the date.

So I know who is worth keeping. I know who is real, and rare. I told my friends the date I was having surgery once and none of them remembered because I didn't post anything—except for one friend who listened when I told her the name of the hospital and sent me a hand-made card. When I worked in a cafe I used to hide books beneath the till and read between customers, and when I left last year nobody stayed in touch—except one friend who still messages me to ask what I'm reading. None of my flatmates from university speak to me anymore—except one who sends me Blondie songs out of the blue, not because I listed them as my favorite band on Facebook, but because I had posters of Debbie Harry in my dorm and she never forgot. And when we meet, these friends have no idea what I've been doing, I haven't seen their Instagram Stories, we haven't been scrolling through each other's lives for mindless entertainment, so we don't sit in silence on our phones, or get our selfies and go home. We have so much to say we can't catch our breath. We forget about marketing ourselves for a moment. We are so lost in our connection we don't care about packaging it up for anyone else.

So no, I'm not lonely. I probably have fewer friends than you. I probably receive fewer notifications. But again—funny question. Sometimes I want to reverse it. To young people on these platforms, who tell me they couldn't give them up because they would be lonely, I get it. You're right, in some sense. You will lose people. Your life will be quieter. But quieter from what? Quieter from what Jon describes as a sea of "transient, unreliable, fair-weather 'friends,' followers, and acquaintances." Quieter from noise and notifications.

It is in this quiet that I've realized: sometimes the best thing you can do to reconnect is disconnect. The best thing you can do for loneliness is to log out. And the only way to forge deep friendships is to risk losing some shallow ones first.

Besides, a movement has begun. The youth rebellion is growing. If you are brave enough to leave some of this behind, I can promise you one thing: you won't be alone." 

 

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Friday, 19 July 2024

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