Me, I (Dis) Connect from You: Reflections on Loneliness and Technology

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reflections on technology's possible role in human loneliness.

Me, I (Dis) Connect from You: Reflections on Loneliness and Technology

The divide between understanding why we have so much information technology to connect with others, yet say we are lonely, is wide. We know loneliness, existing before this pandemic era, has negative effects. Yet there are those truly like being alone. We also know we exist better in herds and the presence of community. Yet we need ‘alone’ time. But is the idea that some just want to exist in virtual cyberspaces rather than meet others in person a bad thing? Why do people say they are lonely, yet will not take action to meet others beyond a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet? I want to explore loneliness and technology, asking has technology really contributed to feelings loneliness?

In the late seventies, English band Tubeway Army, led by singer Gary Numan, wrote a song called Me! I Disconnect From You. In the song, he sings about a form of alienation, loneliness and emptiness at not having human contact. The last verse speaks to someone who feels alone with no connection, not having a voice, and looking into a vast empty space in one’s mind, pleading for help:

Please don't turn me off

I don't know what I'm doing outside

Me and the telephone that never rings

If you were me what would you do?

The person has the technology but no one to share it with. But with the internet, especially social media, there is that avenue to obtain some form of connection. A like, a response or a private message. Often, though, that is where the connection ends. The telephone only rings occasionally online or it is only one-way communication. This can be a lonely experience. You have the ability to connect, or else you would not be sharing or putting your opinions out on a platform. The emptiness though is still there, for you may wonder is this really connection with another live human being?

A Facebook friend of mine is convinced that it is the person using the technology, and their behaviour, that is the cause of negative feelings not the social media platform. This clashes with Mark Zuckerberg’s idea that social media like Facebook unites people and grows connections. It seems with these dichotomies’ technology has contributed to loneliness. The contrast though is that the platform offers a chance to remedy loneliness. For some it does. The confirmation of connection from a like on a Facebook post feels good. For a second you were noticed. It can hit the person, emotionally, when you know that is boundary for filling the feelings of loneliness.

To be lonely is to be isolated. Yet the façade of social media is that here are actually people, so although they are virtual, they are still a bunch of people I can interact with. If we go online with someone and start a message conversation with them, then that can go beyond just the superficial, such as liking a post or posting content. For some these interactions are adequate and it does not suggest every person is lonely. Yet some feel, like the telephone that never rings, loneliness and isolation because the people are not paying attention to your posts, not liking them and even severing the Facebook ‘friendship’ without regard for your feelings.

I have met online people who only want purely online friendships with others. I remember on a chat line asking one man called Adam who was typing online about who he was friends with in the chat room. I asked him if he had met those ‘friends’ in person. His reply at the time was astonishing to my way of thinking at that time. He said they were his friends but he had no intention of meeting them. In this case, technology did not actually cause loneliness. I can only go on his words alone, but I asked him if he felt lonely. He said no. He had plenty of friends online. Was I to argue at his logic? Years later I asked him the same question again, to which he gave the same response. I could only assume he really was not lonely at all and that technology mediated friendships were fine for him.

Therefore, to say technology that was supposed to connect people has actually disconnected them is partially correct. Loneliness for some can relieved by Zoom meetings and chat room interactions. Instagram and Facebooks posts can leave us longing for pre-COVID lives, but remind us of a possible past that can live again. If it makes us feel empty and lonely, then is that is a positive thing as it gives us something to aim for? It does not necessarily ‘cure’ loneliness. It gives hope of the possibility of some form of greater connection with another.

Gary Numan pleads in his song ‘please don’t turn me off’. He asks what would you do if the telephone never rings? Place the call yourself. I agree with my passionate Facebook friend that the user has the control over the technology in that they choose how to use it. If it is not working for them, perhaps ring someone instead. Not very practical advice? No, this essay does not dispense advice. Yet the feeling of disconnection comes from within ourselves, but I believe we are not solely to blame for the fragmentation of community that technology has proven to have played a part in. There are many other factors that have played roles in this problem of loneliness and technology that are too expansive to discuss here.

Loneliness and technology are intertwined. Technology was thought to be a solution to loneliness that has not exactly been true for everyone. But instead of blaming the internet or ourselves, perhaps what we need to do is to use it to connect with a variety of people. We know that not every online connection solves our core loneliness. It does not mean though we cannot through that connection find that person, that group or that interest that will change our internal thinking and remove the disconnection we feel. That is technology’s hope and potential, though it requires personal action to realise it. As Gary Numan sings, ‘I disconnect from you’. But as an alternative, using technology we can potentially reconnect to you.

 

 

 

 


Submitted: September 15, 2020

© Copyright 2021 michaeln. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

I find it interesting that you picked Gary Numan for he is well known for having ASD. There are complicated reasons why some don't have friends but are lonely, believe me I know.
A thought-provoking read.

Wed, September 16th, 2020 6:01pm

michaeln

Thank you hullabaloo. I have been a Gary fan for decades and seen him live four times. Having ASD myself, when he disclosed he had it, that was amazing as it explained a few things. The reason for using that song is it sums up to me that we have become both alienated by technology but also united by it. It's just not really overall been either one way or another.

Thu, September 17th, 2020 2:32am

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