Sydney Engelberg PhD

The Practical Professor


The Loneliness of Social Media, Part Three

No miracles, just practical, concrete advice for overcoming loneliness

Posted Aug 03, 2015

A few weeks ago, a photograph of me holding a baby while lecturing went viral. Initially confused and puzzled, I decided to explore in more depth why this took place and why my photo triggered the frenzy it did.

Sarit Fishbaine/Facebook
Source: Sarit Fishbaine/Facebook

In a nutshell, despite my wife's comment to Yahoo that "… (W)e just find it all very funny. I think it must have happened on a no-news day,” the flood of responses reflected a profound sense of loneliness. And so my first post discussed why so many experience such loneliness in our digital age.
Post Two explored what this teaches us about life in today’s social media age. We learnt that there are three components of life that are necessary for overcoming loneliness. They are a psychological sense of community, true emotional and social support and emotional and social intelligence. What they are and what we know about them was covered in that post.

This post, Post Three in the series, provides some solutions, how we can overcome loneliness and create meaningful relationships. But a word of caution! You know, the old honesty in advertising clause. Despite all the articles that claim that there are 3 or 5 or 7 simple steps you need to take in order to feel better, get happier, or live a fantastic and fulfilling life, I hate to be the one to inform you that there aren't 3 or 5 or 7 things that will change your life overnight. There are no "silver bullets" or magical lists. What there is are recommendations. 
So let’s begin, and, as always, it is easiest to begin with ourselves and our emotional and social intelligence. To cultivate social intelligence, consider the following: 


Find the time to invest in these three activities:

  • Reflect on the links between your feelings and what you think, do, and say. 
  • Consciously spell out your values and goals, and 
  • Learn to laugh at yourself. Nothing shines a light on who and what we are like self-directed humor.


You want to improve your self-control?

  • Practice managing your impulsive feelings and distressing emotions, even if you only use simple techniques like counting to ten before responding. 
  • Be willing to admit your own mistakes, even if you have to work on it, and 
  • Build trust through reliability and authenticity.


  • Operate from hope of success rather than fear of failure. 
  • Actively search for information that will reduce your uncertainty, and 
  • Search for ways to do better and improve your performance.

Social Awareness
Want to understand people better?

  • Learn to be attentive to emotional cues, really listen well and learn how to “read” body language
  • Be willing to recognize people’s strengths, accomplishments, and development. 
  • Respect and relate well to people from varied backgrounds, including being understanding of diverse worldviews and being sensitive to group differences.

Social Skills
Finally, in order to influence and be respected by others,

  • Foster open communication and stay receptive to bad news as well as good. 
  • Cultivate and maintain extensive informal networks which will help you spot and nurture opportunities for collaboration
  • Don’t forget to encourage debate and open discussion in your communication, and 
  • Model the behavior you expect from others.
  • Besides working on yourself, you need to reach out to others. This means working on receiving and giving emotional and social support.

Emotional and Social Support

You can complain that you have no friends, family or social life. My guess is you already know that’s not going to change anything. So look to build social support groups that will allow you to express your feelings and emotions to peers who have been or are currently in the same position or have common interests. You have a hobby, join a hobby group. You love art, register for a course at your local art museum. You get the general idea, initiate rather than complain. Despite their limitations there are also online groups that offer a way to interact with others without the constraint of only being able to interact on a specific day and time. Only don’t confuse web interactions with real life.

The final piece of the puzzle is to work on enhancing our psychological sense of community.

 Psychological Sense of Community

The quality of life we experience is directly related to our sense of community. Experiencing a sense of community is not about singing around the campfire, though. It is something we have to take the time to develop and nurture. Working towards the following goals will help us with this process:

  • Promote everyday relationship building. How about reaching out and suggesting a neighborhood or block party or even an online forum? 
  • Encourage community responsibility. Why not try and organize a neighborhood volunteer day?
  • Work to create social gathering places. We should always remember the importance of physical spaces, so maybe suggest a community garden or volunteer for the park committee.
  • Host Purely Social Events. Put yourself out there. Social events and group recreation lead to an increased sense of community.
  • Celebrate and Mark Achievement. Ceremonies and rituals are important and create a sense of pride in membership. Create your own and share them with others in your community

For each of the life components listed above I have pointed you in the right direction. Now it is up to you to work on them, reinforce them, sustain them and maintain each and every one of them if you really want to have meaningful connections in your real and virtual worlds.