I long for the days before cell phones, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Skype. I know I'm going to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I remember the days when kids looked forward to getting together to play a game of pick-up football. Now, with social networking sites like Facebook kids don't even have to leave their bedrooms to connect with each other. And that weekly football game? Forget about it. Why leave your house when you have Madden Football?
For some time now, I've been convinced that all of this "social networking" is paradoxically impeding our ability to form relationships with one another. According to one report commissioned by the Jed Foundation, the effects of being constantly online is negatively impacting some colleges students. Of the 2,000 undergraduates surveyed by the Jed Foundation, one-third reported spending more than 6 hours a day online. One in seven of these students also said that social networking sites served to increase their feelings of isolation.
It's ironic that technologies designed to connect people are actually serving to alienate us from one another. One of my colleagues, Dr. Amir Afkhami, a psychiatrist at George Washington University, frequently works with college students. He reports that he is starting to see college students "recede to this virtual world," while at the same time lacking "a real connection to a real living, breathing individual."
Even those students who are self-aware enough to reach out to friends and family for help, often are doing so online. Unfortunately, this "virtual support network" lacks the intimacy that comes with the physical proximity of being with another person. Is it any wonder that such students feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness?
To be truthful, it is not clear whether social networking sites like Facebook lead directly to loneliness or whether students who are already lonely and depressed are more likely to be drawn to such sites. Regardless, the prescription is the same. If social networking sites are getting in the way of you having genuinely satisfying relationships with people, than it is time to turn off your computer, leave your room, and get together (face-to-face) with a friend. If doing so presents difficulty than you might want to consider contacting a professionally trained psychotherapist who can help you address your interpersonal difficulties.
Tyger Latham, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist practicing in Washington, DC. He counsels individuals and couples and has a particular interest in sexual trauma, gender development, and LGBT concerns. His blog, Therapy Matters, explores the art and science of psychotherapy.