Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Feeling Alone in a Technology Driven and Social Media Society

There have been a number of articles written over the past year talking about social media and some of its negative effects upon us.  The first article I came across and read in 2012 spoke about people feeling lonelier in spite of having hundreds of “friends” on Facebook.  I didn’t find the aspect shocking and began to consider if it was true or not.  I’ve been mulling over this (off and on) for many months and have read more articles.  Some of the articles address the loneliness, jealousy, and narcissistic factors promoted by social media.  Meanwhile, some articles lean the other way and state that all that negativity about social media is probably unfounded and not true.  

Through my personal experience, the following is what I’ve concluded about this matter. 

While I do not think it is a simple, cut and dry issue whether or not social media actually creates loneliness, I believe that it absolutely has the potential to make us feel lonelier.  I believe that holds true for social media or any other digital technology.  Being alone and feeling lonely are two different things.  There are times we need and long to be alone, without other people around us, and it is beneficial for us.  That is not loneliness.  And there are times when we find ourselves feeling desperately alone all the while being surrounded by people.  That is loneliness.

As a majority, human beings long for relationship with others and a sense of belonging with others.  There are some who make up a minor exception and are perfectly content being alone and removed from society. But for the most part, the human soul desires to be connected and in relationship with others.  This is why our world is not filled with billions of loners who do their own thing and are disconnected from every single other human being. Instead, our human society is made up of couples, families, common interest groups, organizations, churches, etc.  We look for and gravitate to those with whom we can relate to, and we pursue relationship with them.

Personally, I enjoy spending some time by myself.  I like and need to be able to think, pray, journal, and read in peace and quiet.  However, I am not a loner.  Over the past few years, I have discovered how very much I value sincere and real relationships and how much of a relational person I am.  In order to make complete sense as to why I’ve come to the conclusions I have about loneliness and our society, I must back track just a little into my past.

The Backdrop of Family

I am the third and youngest daughter to my parents.  My older sisters were very close to each other, being only two years apart.  I came along five years after my parent’s second daughter and so it was kind of like being a third wheel.  I knew my parents and my sisters loved me.  But my relationship with my sisters was never as close as the one my sisters shared with each other.  For a few years, there were moments when felt like the black sheep of the family (and probably acted like it).  I’ve always been the non-conformist.   I will never forget my mother once saying to me, “Why can’t you be more like your sisters?!”  For the majority of my adulthood, neither my parents nor my sisters have lived nearby, and we do not see each other in person very often. This is a great sadness to my heart, and I feel disconnected from them.  When my husband, children, and I lived in Texas, we enjoyed having my husband’s family near us, but after moving to Colorado 12 years ago, we lost that.  Especially during the holidays, this fills us with sadness and loneliness.  For various reasons, family visits across state lines don’t happen very often.   Phone contact is okay, but it can never replace in person relating.

The Backdrop of Friendship

Without family near to us, we have relied on friendships.  Ah, friendships… 

Friendships have never been the easiest subject in my life.  I have had very few honest to goodness true friends.  I consider true friends, the people who truly love you, no matter how sad or happy you are, and who show it by standing by your side and helping no matter what difficulties life brings.  True friends are willing to take the time to listen, not just talk your ear off while you listen to them.  True friends do not assume the worst about you, do not walk out on you, do not gossip or lie about you to others, and do not completely abandon you because you have a disagreement or see some things differently.  True friends do not just take from you, they also give abundantly.  True friends do not care about the physical distance across state lines or the expanses of ocean between you.  They still remain connected and true friends. 

I’ve had plenty of acquaintances and casual friends in my life, people I’ve known and who have known me on some level.  But I’ve had very few true friends.  Oh, there have been many who have called themselves my true friends, but they were not.  And there have been fellow Christ believers who acted like they were true friends until it did not suit them any longer, and they decided to ungracefully erase me out of their lives.  Through the most painful and beautiful experiences of all those relationships, I have learned how to be a true friend, and I have learned the immense value of having a true friend.

I lived in Texas most of my life and my husband lived there all his life.  Twelve years ago, when we packed up and moved with our three children to Colorado, we left behind in Texas some family and true friends.

The Backdrop of Church Fellowship

For ten years (until 2005), our family attended church and participated in countless church activities and fellowship groups.  We were part of something and of others and enjoyed that sense of belonging.  We made lots of church friends.  The connection with others was not always perfect, as is the reality with relationships in all walks of life, but it was full of special and meaningful moments.  Relationships are messy while also being rewarding and fulfilling.

In 2005, through some really ugly and unpleasant events, God literally plucked us out of the mainstream church scene and gave us a dream and desire for participating in home church fellowship.  Around the same time, He gave us a “new set of glasses” to see Him through.  It was a lot of transition and change at once and over the past few years, but I am utterly grateful for it.  I am thankful not to be stuck in the traditions of men, religions, creeds, or denominations.  The downside to these changes has been the loss of relationship and fellowship with other Christ believers.  For me, this loss has been colossal because talking and sharing with others about the ways and workings of my Father God and my Lord Jesus Christ is my favorite topic of serious conversation.

Multiple times over the last seven years our family has attempted to join with others in home church fellowship groups.  We have visited existing fellowships and started a couple of our own.  Unfortunately, to this day, none of these groups have proven to be the right fit for our family, or lasted any length of time, or have been compatible with our beliefs about God’s all-surpassing power, sovereignty, and grace.  Often, people who think they want home church fellowship are not prepared for the realness and personal participation that such a fellowship brings.  People are much more comfortable with the mainstream church scenario where it is easy to sit quietly in a chair or a pew while all eyes are focused front and center at the pastor and the music team.  Comfortable habits are hard to change.  Along with that aspect, we face the barrier that our beliefs about God are no longer in perfect alignment with mainstream Christian beliefs.  For one (a “biggie” to many Christians), my husband and I no longer believe in hell or eternal torment.  We have excellent, solid, and scriptural grounds for our belief, but most people who believe in hell, do not take that lightly.  It’s as if to be a “good Christian believer” it is a requirement to believe that God has to torture billions of people in some inferno called hell, for all eternity, without ever ceasing.  The moment we bring up that we don’t believe in such a hell, it feels like we are instantly judged to not be of sound mind or theology and that we must be corrected in our heretical error.  That is very frustrating and alienating.

Back to My Point

All that said and background given, it may seem that I’ve digressed from the subject I initially began writing about at the beginning of this post, but I haven’t.  Those experiences, with not having family nearby, being plucked out of the mainstream institutional church, and not believing exactly the same as most other Christians, have contributed to the “Loneliness Grand Canyon” I am currently facing.  I’ve appropriately named it so because it is a relational grand canyon where I feel like I’m shouting out, “Is anyone there?!  Does anyone care?  Does anyone want to have real, meaningful, and sincere relationships, *in person*?”  I’m calling and shouting out, and no one is answering.  I only hear my echo calling back to me.  It’s as if everyone is just too busy minding their own business and enjoying technology and virtual relationships to even notice.  The enormous loss of friends, family, community, the believer’s fellowship that we once knew, and the inability to find all that again has led us to where we find ourselves today.  Lonely.

What does any of this have to do with digital technology and social media?  Well, I own and post to a handful of blogs, I have a Facebook account, and I also manage a handful of Facebook pages relating to my blogs.  I frequently visit Facebook and make attempts to interact with Facebook friends.  I also belong to a couple of private, special interest Facebook groups which can be a little bit more “personal” than just posting on public Timelines.  I have all those things and participate in them as time allows.  Yet, those virtual connections leave me feeling almost equally as lonely as if they did not even exist.  I want to look into someone’s eyes and verbally talk with them and have a real conversation!

Digital technology and social media cannot replace a need and desire for face to face, in person relationships.  Sure, it’s nice to connect with out of town friends and family and to make a few new “virtual” friends with common interests and beliefs.  But the virtual world is no replacement for the real world.  Virtual relationships are no replacement for face to face relationships.  I long for realness, earnestness, sincerity!  I long to sit across from a friend, have a heart to heart conversation, and look into that friend’s eyes and visibly see they care about me and how I feel.  I want to see and audibly hear their compassion and their encouragement, not just read it through an email or Facebook comment box with an added emoticon.  And I want them to be able to look into my eyes and hear my voice and feel the same thing. 

There is too much hiding and masking that takes place in the virtual world of technology and social media.  Most of the time people are intent on putting up an image of themselves that is far from the reality, often in an effort to protect themselves.  And God forbid, if they get too real and honest in their Facebook posts, some of their “friends” may be offended and call them out on it.  I have actually seen this happen to some of my Facebook friends in a few separate instances.  They were being honest about their feelings or thoughts and someone said something to them that made them feel bad about being real and sincere.  Really, people?  If you want to wear a mask and pretend you never struggle with life, fine.  But don’t forcibly hand a mask to others just because you don’t want to be real.  I’m not saying we should be airing out a bunch of dirty laundry or bad mouthing other people.  But there is nothing wrong with stating we are frustrated or angry or feeling down.  It’s real.  It’s life.  I hate masks, and I hate pretense.  These are not the kind of relationships I am looking for. 

Appropriately, my husband and I were just chatting after dinner and discussing the things I was writing in this post, and he told me a friend of his shared this quote today:

“One of the reasons we struggle with insecurity is we're comparing our behind-the-scenes with everybody else's highlight reel.” - Steven Furtick

And I commented to my husband, “Yes, comparing with everyone’s highlight reel that may or may not be real.”

We are Losing the Art of Relationship

Beyond the social media outlets, we deal with the distraction of incessant technology all around us.  Truly, I am convinced we are losing the ability to sincerely relate with each other because we are so focused on the technology before our eyes.  I observe that people are getting together, but instead of spending time talking face to face, sharing lighthearted or serious discussions, or playing together, they are playing video games, watching movies, or watching television.  Their eyes are not on each other.  Their eyes are on entertaining technology.  Add to that the cell phone in all of our hands which continuously draws our focus and attention from the person standing right before us.  We are losing sight of who is really important.  People are important.  Technology is a mere tool.  People are living and breathing human beings to be loved and cared for.  Technology is a thing to be used.   It seems to me that it has become more common for people to be used and technology to be loved.

Today’s technology is so entertaining!  We are bombarded with colorful images, virtual games, flashy lights, entertainers, and on and on.  I suppose real life, common people can appear boring next to all that hoopla flashing before our eyes.  Especially when we hold in the palm of our hand the ability to view images and stories of the whole wide world.  Often, technology draws so much of our attention that we lose total sight of the smaller world where we are actually living.  We forget that God physically placed us in a certain place, at a certain time, around a certain group of people, for very good reasons.  We have physical presence where we do because that is where we are meant to be at this particular time.  There is much to be gained and learned from relating with the people around us—the ones God has placed in our daily lives.  Oh, but we lose sight of that too easily!  We take people for granted, or find them annoying, or of little importance compared to that bigger whole wide world out there with which we can connect virtually.  That virtual world outside of our own backyard is quite lucrative and seems more exciting and full of promise to be more spectacular than our simple, little lives.  But that is not true.  There is a mask on that virtual world; so much reality of it which we cannot see.  People can pretend to be and do anything sitting behind a computer and a keyboard.  And the media is terribly biased and wants to make us believe things that are not necessarily true.  The old saying still stands:  The grass is not always greener on the other side.  No matter how often we are told that, we want to believe otherwise.

Real life is way more complicated and intricate beyond the eloquent or energetic status, perfect picture, elaborate blog post, entertaining YouTube video, or witty tweet.  Real life is difficult and exhilarating, full of ups and downs, good moments and bad moments, joy, sorrow, laughter, doubt, perseverance, health, illness, depression, insecurity, success, and failure.  I want to share real and personal life with close and true friends.  I want to have heart to heart discussions, face to face.  I want to worship and fellowship with fellow Christ believers and talk about the wonders and ways of God.  I want to fill my soul’s “Loneliness Grand Canyon” with real and sincere relationships. 

Rediscovering the Art of Investing Time and Effort in People

I am a giver by nature.  I love to give of myself to others.  That is a major reason for my blogs and why I volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center.  I long to share my love with others, be a listening ear, and help in any way I can.  However, I’ve arrived at a place in my life where I would really appreciate being given to so that I may receive.  I recently told my husband, “I feel gived out.”  Gived is not a word, but that is the best way I can describe it.  A week ago, my husband and I went to see the movie Silver Linings Playbook.  I really enjoyed that movie.  Why?  Because it was real.  It revealed real life, real people, real struggles, joys, doubts, and fears.  It revealed people being real with each other, not trying to be all masked and proper.  And it hit so close to home during the scene in the movie when Tiffany passionately tells Pat how she’s always giving and giving and never getting anything back and how she wants to get something back.  A few weeks ago, I was sharing something similar with my husband about how I’ve repeatedly given and listened to so many, but I can hardly find someone willing to listen to me.  It almost feels like I’ve been a good listener to a fault.  It’s awful to think or write that!  I want to shout out to the world, “Can I say something now?” 

I’ve seen this quote circulate through Facebook multiple times over the past years:

“Did you know the people that are the strongest are usually the most sensitive? Did you know the people who exhibit the most kindness are the first to get mistreated? Did you know the one who takes care of others all the time are usually the ones who need it the most? Did you know the 3 hardest things to say are I love you, I'm sorry, and Help me. Sometimes just because a person looks happy, you have to look past their smile and see how much pain they may be in.”

I see that quote and it somewhat makes me mad.  That may sound strange, but it’s true.  It makes me mad because I see it posted and re-posted, but I don’t think people are really paying attention to what it says!  This quote is true, and I personally feel that quote.  I am a strong woman, but I am also extremely sensitive.  You may not see me falling apart on the outside, but that doesn’t me I’m not falling apart on the inside.  I am determined to be kind and super graceful towards others, but I don’t feel the same given as liberally to me.  I am always taking care of someone, but who is taking care of me?

What If…

In this post, I’ve had my say.  I write mostly to help myself sift through all the thoughts and emotions and “vent”.  Back in 2007, I began this blog as a way to be free to express myself whether someone was listening or not.  I have no illusions that this post is going to solve the problems of relationships in my life or in our current society.  But…what if…

What if anything I said in this post made a difference in someone’s life? 

What if we took account of how much time we spend using technology or being entertained by it and instead devoted more of that time to people and relationships? 

What if we spent less time on Facebook and devoted more time on face to face relationships? 

What if we spent less time with our eyes in front of a screen and more time with our eyes looking into someone else’s? 

What if we spent less time holding on to our cell phones and more time holding someone's hand?

What if we spent less time with ear buds in our ears and more time listening to someone share their joys and sorrows with us?

What if instead of typing into comment boxes and clicking "Like" buttons we took the time to have verbal dialogue with others?

What if…we were real?

For a follow up, related post:  We are Losing the Art of Listening

If you are interested in reading some of the articles on social media that I refer to at the beginning of this post, here are their links:

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?  (I find this article the most thorough) 

If you are interested in understanding more about why my husband and I no longer believe in a fiery inferno called hell or in participating in the mainstream institutional church, here are some things I’ve previously posted on this site:

Great Article on Home Church  

Update - on March 23, 2013 I came across this article that spoke along these similar lines:  "How To Miss a Childhood".  I believe we don't just miss our children's childhood.  I believe we miss all sorts of relationships with people around us and who touch our lives day to day.


  1. Beautiful. I'm listening, and taking a lot of this to heart. ♥

  2. I told my family that the next time we have the blessed opportunity to all be together in one room I was going to make everyone put their gadgets in a basket at the door and they couldn't pick them up again until they left. We have so little time to be together. Last time we were together the electronic interruptions made me want to cry. It was such a waste of precious time. I wish I lived near you. I would love to get to know you, via a non electronic venue, but I am glad to be able to get to know you a little at least this way.

    1. Thank you for your comment "pmac". I feel and understand your frustration. The electronic drop off basket sounds like a great idea. It IS such a blessing to be able to gather with friends and/or family together without electronic interruptions, but also a very hard thing to accomplish these days. I am also blessed by connecting with you, even if it is just in this virtual manner.

  3. sister Mary Ann, social media is problematic and virtual to relationships, while our relationship to the Father in the Son should not be suffering the same; we should know Him within; know Him above; recognize Him in those He lives. He is our all and all.

    any "God box" will tend to obscure or blemish our relationships with God's kids, including the "No Hell" or "No torment" box for God. To trust truly under the sovereignty of the Almighty One, impose upon Him no "box" --- let Him speak for Himself. If He decides to torment people for millions of ages, will you and your husband be Okay with that? If not, you have been allowing for an apparent box to contain or restrain the sovereign God.
    No home fellowship was meant by God to be a "right fit for our family". Instead, He brings us into small Family settings with other believers and wanna-believe-rs who will provoke us to love and good deeds --- not because they're comfortable or matching to our family, but rather in an intimate & challenging opportunity to love and grow in grace.

    1. Marshall, thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts with me. You're right, our relationship with our Father God through our Lord Jesus Christ transcends all of these earthly difficulties. How thankful we can be for that!

      It is true that God boxes can be very problematic and a hindrance to our relationships. I have reached a place in my life where I have actually freed God out of the many boxes in which I used to hold Him. And that has happened because I have let Him speak for Himself. For years, that has been my greatest request of God--that He would speak to me Himself and reveal Himself to me and that all man's perceptions and beliefs about Him would be put aside. My greatest request of Him was that He reveal His true self to me. The beliefs about there being no eternal torment is one of the things which has come from that utmost request and from me listening intently to Him speak. In the past, I used to be okay with an eternal torment perspective because that is what I was taught most of my life, but I can no longer accept that or be okay with it.

      As far as the home fellowship, I am not saying that there are any perfect fits. There are no perfect people and no perfect groups, churches, or home fellowships. The fellowships that were not a right fit for our family was due to the fact that we felt provoked to frustration because of the God boxes held in esteem and/or because we did not feel that it was a place where there was intimate and challenging opportunities to love, to grow in grace, and to experience and discover God together.

      Blessings, grace, and peace to you, Marshall. Thanks again for the dialogue.


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