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Is social media making us more lonely?

Is social media making us more lonely?

As expats, it’s important to keep in touch with our loved ones. Online technology and social media in particular allow us to do that more effectively. But some studies suggest that a dependence on social media may lead us to distance ourselves from our reality and create more – not less – loneliness in the long run.

Have you ever felt like you can’t wait to get back on your device to check Facebook? Or do you tend to use your phone whilst hanging out with friends? Have you ever sat at a dinner table and been more interested in what’s happening on Twitter than in engaging in conversation?

Connectedness or connection?

Social media can be an incredible enabler. With it, we can make contact with long-lost friends, follow social and political causes we believe in, and share aspects of our experiences with friends and family in one convenient post (or photo album).

Unlike expats in the past, we are fortunate to have a tool that enables instant communication across long distances.

But are we mistaking connectedness for connection?

Sherry Turkle, professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and author of Alone Together, believes so. She suggests social media offers the illusory appeal of:

  • I can place my attention wherever I want it to be
  • I will always be heard
  • I will never have to be alone

Relationships in the real world are complex 

It takes time, energy and vulnerability to build and grow relationships. This is especially true for expats, who often have to start all over again. We assume that being “connected” to so many people means we won’t experience loneliness, right? But if our primary way of living becomes through our smartphones, we risk never reaching out. We may end up living in a bubble and forgetting to experience life. We may end up feeling lonelier than ever!

Tips to help you disconnect

If you find that you’re spending more time socialising online than in real life, and if you’re worried about the effect this has on your wellbeing, these pointers will help you to disconnect… and reconnect:

Put down your device

Whether in bed, at home or at the dinner table, put down your device. Commit to spending less time exploring social media and more time exploring life!

Re-establish meaningful relationships

Reflect on what you want to get out of your relationships. How does social media help you achieve that? And where does it fall short? Find a balance that encourages you to prioritise meaningful relationships that last over short-term connections.

Embrace times of solitude

We will all be alone, or feel lonely, at certain points in our lives. By developing ways to feel comfortable with solitude, we can enjoy its gifts rather than bury ourselves in our devices and distract ourselves from our feelings. 

Do you think social media creates loneliness? What role does social media play in your expat experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts and tips!

PS Thanks to Thomas Tischhauser for his contribution to this article.

Vivian

Author

Vivian Chiona

Vivian Chiona is the founder and director of Expat Nest (www.expatnest.com), which provides emotional support to expats and their families through online counseling services. A bicultural, multilingual expat with family...

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