Why do we even feel lonely? Don't we have so many "friends" on social media platforms that we could talk to and socialize? Aren't there so many like-minded people to talk to and share ideas? Just like many other things there is more to loneliness than meets the eye.
First let's get one thing clear right off the bat. Loneliness is not a mental health problem. Or at least not yet. Loneliness is a symptom of a paradoxical society that we created and can't really find a fix to. At the same time let's stress out that loneliness is not the same with solitude. There are people who prefer to be alone by choice. They enjoy the solitary life and less social contact. Whenever we talk about this subject with people, for those that have played the sims game or have head of them I have an easy example to make it simple to understand. When creating your sim in the game you get to choose, besides other things, their social interaction need on a scale of 1 to 10. Choosing 10, means that particular sim will be a party avid person who needs to have contact everyday with at least several friends in order to feel good. On the other hand if you choose the social interaction need of 1, that sim will fulfill its social need if they talk with someone on the phone once a week. It's the same in real life with how different people need different levels of social interaction. So if loneliness is not a mental health problem, why are we even talking about it? Simple, because it has become a great cause of concern for many people and more psychologists, mental health professionals and other specialists in the field such as sociologists find this symptom to increase at a very fast rate and lead to actual mental health problems. Not only that, it is slowly but surely affecting the entirety of our society with most western countries having the lowest birth rate in decades which continues to drop. While some people are concerned by overpopulation, in the western countries specialists are concerned with an aging population and the very real fear of a declining population.
But, hold on a minute, someone might say, what about my online friends? I have over x amount of Facebook and y amount on Instagram. Not to mention all my followers on twitter. And most people have the same today. How can they be lonely? Well this is the paradox that we mentioned earlier. We live in an age where we can connect to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people at the push of a button. We can accumulate thousands of friends on different social media platforms and engage in conversations were hundreds of people participate. Isn't this the opposite of loneliness. This is maybe a confusion which is created by the difference between being alone and feeling alone. One is physical and the other is emotional. The things is, you can be surrounded by many people everyday and even interact with them. You can hold online conversation with thousands of your friends but in turn still feel lonely. The reason for this is as complex as we human beings are and has roots in everything our society entails. But since we mentioned social media let's first address this aspect first.
It seems that instead of bringing people together, access to social media and active participation is doing the opposite. This is because of how our brains function. A lot of us crave that sweet dopamine that is released when you are being acknowledged for literary anything. And where else can you get tons of recognition with minimal effort than of the internet. But this has reduced the purpose and role of our interactions with others to mere numbers and an inflated sense of self worth that comes with it. And at the same time this leads to an artificial sense of social activity when in reality it makes a lot of people feel lonely. This in turn translates to why people are dating less, marriage is at an all time low, there are fewer births and the demographic is constantly aging. And let's be real for a second. Most of the people involved on social media know that the so called "friends" that they have on those platforms are mere numbers and nothing else. They are not real people that you can actually socialize with. They are there only to give you validation and make you feel better about yourself. But this is one of the biggest problem with social media and the internet. It gave people the feeling of instant gratification for minimal effort and it made everyone expect to be rewarded for nothing.
These expectation then grow to outside the internet into the "real" world where it does not quite work the same. Thus people are then stumped that they can't make friends so easily, they can't agree with other people so easily as they do in their online social media bubble and most importantly they can't get rewarded for nothing. Or at least that's how it was supposed to be until this instant gratification model started to seep into the offline world as well. We could see it creeping in when instead of awarding first, second and third place at school competitions or even other competitions that involve teens and children, everyone would get an award either participation award or another type to validate those who lost. And if this can be considered mild then lowering exam thresholds and difficulty or giving higher marks should be considered highly destructive. It seems at some point in our timeline effort is becoming a very unwanted idea. Everything needs to be attained easily today as to not hurt people's feelings.
But in turn, not having their feelings hurt makes people fragile. It might be a controversial claim but looking at how people react today to normal events like a tweet from a celebrity I believe it to be a true claim. This fragility then affects our mental health. That's because life is not a fairy tail. Not everything is easy in life and rewards are not just there for the picking. Also not everyone will be walk on their toes around you as to nut hurt your feelings. Especially since you have been catered to so much that your feelings can now be hurt by everything. This contrast between expectations that were planted by an overly cautious society and reality hits hard as it happens and our brains cannot handle it. This is why people scream in the streets if a teacher they don't like comes to give a lecture. A few decades ago that person would be seen as insane but today they are everywhere and considered "rather" normal. In turn this discrepancy between expectations and reality, between online and offline and between expected effort and actual required effort makes people feel misunderstood and alone. They scream at the world to be heard and wonder why so few actually hear them. But it is not just these types of people who feel lonely. Regular people cannot interact with each other as they used to because of the instilled mentality of: you are either with us or against us by politicians and the media establishment.
This feeling of loneliness then leads to actual health and mental health problems. Depression, stress and anxiety are some of the most common conditions that can occur due to loneliness which in turn can lead to hearth problems. Stress in particular is a problem as it is only amplified by other things in our life such as our jobs, family, friends, social interactions, etc. Another very common effect of loneliness is to nobody's surprise substance abuse increase. How often have you heard of people drinking because they are lonely. Sure they also do it to drown other problems but loneliness is one of the most common causes. This feeling of loneliness over extended periods of time also change our thought patterns. We perceive the world differently and continue to do so in more radical ways.
If you are now wondering why would social media interactions lead to us having a hard time in the offline world, the answer is simple. The divisiveness that was more or less artificially inflated online and offline by social media giants and politicians made people not trust other people. When you are outside your social bubble you expect the worst of people since they are either with you or against you. Why would someone actively work in dividing us. I wonder...who would be more easily controlled or conquered, a group of united people or another one which is divided. I believe that answers everything.
If loneliness is affecting so many people and to such a degree it makes sense that is is also affecting society as a whole. There has been a lot of debate and research done over the declining birth rates affecting mostly western countries with some articles and sociologists reaching the conclusion that it is mystery. Some even said that it is not tied to any socio-economic or political influences which seems to me as an absolute absurdity to say. Honestly you can't tie the declining birth rates to one factor, this is true, but in turn there are many causes and one of them is the loneliness that people experience. First of all families used to have a lot of children in order to help them work and raise money. Life was very hard and there was need for a lot of manpower even if that manpower was young children. As we advanced as a society families did not need to produce as many offspring since earning enough to feed a family became normal for a single person or both parents. Thus, instead, families focused on offering their children enough resources for them to live a happy life. Nevertheless as time progressed, life became more expensive so raising more than 2 children became a burden for a lot of families if they wanted to provide all necessities for them. This lead to families having only 1 or 2 children.
Then came Covid with all the restrictions that followed including isolation. As if loneliness was not already rampart enough, the isolation rules made one epidemic create another one: the loneliness epidemic. Having lost even the last shred of human connection and relying only on the online world made people feel extreme loneliness which in turn made them suffer from mental health problems like depression, severe stress, substance abuse and more. It might be cliché at this point to blame media and social media for this but it doesn't change the fact that it is the truth. Conflict is more interesting than peace, bad news generate more clicks and more views than good news. So what do you do if society has reached a point were life is a lot better and there are less conflicts? You can just artificially create conflict. Divide people intro groups and then turn everything black and white. Make them unable to hold a simple conversation between them, unable to trust each other and completely blinded by hatred. This way you can have your bad news, get those views and make more money. Of course as I previously noted, the media is not the sole factor that led to the spread of the feeling of loneliness but it is one of the major factors. The problem now becomes how can you change something that has become so powerful. One "wrong" idea shared on twitter or one statement against someone in the media can lead to you being completely destroyed by way of smearing and slander of the highest degree.
So now that each of us can feel completely alone in a crowd of people and experience this loneliness, is there a way to "cure" it? Even though it is not a condition, how can we prevent or revert ourselves from the feeling of loneliness? Unfortunately it is not much we can do. I know this might not be the answer you were looking for but it is the sad truth. Only social interaction with real people with different ideas can make us into individuals that will not feel so lonely. Our social online bubbles are not going to help with that. Contrary to what people might believe, having everyone just agreeing with everything you say and do is not productive at all. Progress comes from different ideas battling each other all the time. Innovation comes from people being allowed to share different opinions and not be shunned for it. But if we really can't go out into the world and experience real people, the next best thing would be virtual reality. Although not nearly as good as the "real thing", virtual reality does offer a higher degree of social interaction than simply texting online. Just seeing an avatar move and talk online is better than a comment on Instagram. Also with technological advancement we might be able to upload a life-like version of ourselves as an avatar in the future which will make meeting people feel a lot more real in a virtual reality and at the same time slightly improve this feeling of loneliness. Will this be enough? No. Unless some big changes will happen in the online and offline media so that they stop trying to divide people all the time, we are on our way on a downward spiral towards the collapse of western society. Women being pushed to hate all men as this third or forth wave of feminism becomes more toxic, men being pushed to disregard all women as predatory and only after money, fame and status, black people being pushed against white people, white people being regarded as the bane of civilization thus pushing them to hate themselves and others, religious people being pushed to hate atheists, and so on and so forth. Maybe what we need is to better understand human nature and how conflict needy we are to the point of artificially creating it where there is none. What will happen with our society in the near future? We can only live on and see for ourselves while hopping for the best if we can't actually work and do something about it.