How Facebook and the Internet can increase loneliness | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Last week  I came across two very well-thought and powerful pieces that tackled the epidemic of loneliness and how, ironically, social networking and the digital age have contributed to the increase of loneliness over the last decade or so.

The Atlantic ran an exhaustive and thought-provoking piece that asks “Is Facebook making us lonely?” Stephen Marche interviewed several researchers and social scientists, among them Moira Burke, a graduate student of the Human-Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon who will be joining Facebook later this year as a data scientist.

Marche asked Burke what she thought about the seemingly happy appearances of people on Facebook, of people who have a thousand-plus friends, and how that could make other people feel that their own social networks are empty.

Burke said, “If people are reading about lives that are much better than theirs, two things can happen—they can feel worse about themselves, or they can feel motivated.”


Loneliness is something that each person grapples with at various points in his or her life. The same article also cited John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at University of Chicago and said to be the world’s leading expert on loneliness. In his landmark book “Loneliness,” Cacioppo talked about how the epidemic of loneliness affects the basic functions of human physiology, and how it burrows deep within.

“When we drew blood from our older adults and analyzed their white cells, we found that loneliness somehow penetrated the deepest recesses of the cell to alter the way genes were being expressed,” he said.

It would be safe to say, therefore, that loneliness affects not only your brain, but your DNA as well. As Marche so aptly put it, “When you are lonely, your whole body is lonely.”

But is social networking, Facebook in particular, a good antidote to loneliness? Cacioppo said it goes both ways: “Facebook is merely a tool, and its effectiveness will depend on its user. If you use it to increase face-to-face contact, it increases social capital.”

If, on the other hand, you begin to shun face-to-face contact and turn to Facebook for solace, then that’s when it becomes a problem.

Meanwhile, in her essay published in the NY Times last week titled “The flight from conversation,” Sherry Turkle, professor of computer culture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of “Alone Together,” said that “Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little—just right.”

Messy relationships

Turkle said that the ties people form on the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind; they are, instead, the ties that preoccupy.

“Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.”

We have lost the art of conversation, the simple joy of talking to one another because of all the intrusion that technology brings.

“If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.”

After all, there is a major difference between being lonely and being alone—in the same manner that saying “I love you” in conversation is much more powerful than reading it in an e-mail or SMS. Social networking and the digital age have made it much easier to stay in touch, but it has also made the quality of relationships suffer. How then do we find a balance?

To stem this tide of loneliness and sense of disconnection, we all need to take some deliberate steps, said Turkle. Creating sacred spaces in the home and making them device-free can be a good step. When I’m driving and my son is the only person in the car with me, he is not allowed to use his headphones. Doing so, we are able to engage in meaningful conversation about his day.

At work, when I’m tempted to fire off an e-mail to my neighbor in the next office, I get up instead and ask the person directly what it is that I need. During birthdays of dear friends, I call, I don’t text, and I make sure to see them in person.

In real time, human relationships can be messy and demanding, but that’s how it really is. The gift of being fully present and truly listening is often the best gift we can ever give to family and friends.

Or as Turkle put it, “It is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.”

Expo for moms

Life was much simpler when I was a young mother, and I sometimes marvel now at the options available to today’s young moms. Expo Mom 2012 until today, May 6, at the Rockwell Tent celebrates the many faces of modern motherhood by putting the spotlight on the latest products and services designed to provide solutions to their many concerns.

Though I no longer fall into the category of young mother, more like midlife mom, the array of products, services and interactive sessions at this two-day event seems worth a visit. For more info, log on to or e-mail

E-mail the author at cathy Follow her on Twitter @cathybabao.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.