Monday, November 19, 2012

It’s a Flop: Facebook is unable to comfort its users’ anxiety of loneliness

A Guest Post by Erica Bettac
Facebook. A place of connectedness. A place of relationships. A place of utter lonesomeness.

Wait, is that last word a typo? You would hope Facebook, now boasting over 500 million users worldwide, would be the last source of loneliness. Think again.

Facebook is now causing a type of cultural anxiety never seen before. A malicious cycle has users spinning: a general feeling of isolation followed by increasingly more time spent on site, only triggering a greater sense of utter lonesomeness. What is this trigger? In other words, how is Facebook unknowingly sparking loneliness? Although scholars are working to clearly define normal and abnormal Facebook usage, there is now a developing concern of loneliness found online despite Facebook’s attempt of allaying this anxiety. Facebook is not just a place of socialization. It is a source of loneliness.

Most compelling is the evidence that is found in the YouTube video “Facebook: The Things That Connect Us” (theofficialfacebook).

On October 4, 2012, the Official Facebook released this one minute and thirty-one second clip exposing a total of sixty-two screen shots.

In the beginning of the video, the narrator addresses chairs and their ability to provide people with a place to sit down and relax as well as converse with each other by the swapping of stories and telling of jokes. She compares Facebook to that of a chair, saying they are one in the same. Facebook as a “chair” gives people a place of relaxation, unwinding and utmost, conversation and laughter. The fact that Facebook is compared to a chair likely alters the frame of mind of a Facebook user to the point where the social networking site serves more as a “chair,” or crutch, than the very chair they sit in.

Foremost is its portrayal of chairs as a place of comfort, conversation, and ease just like that of Facebook. However, quite the opposite is proving true. Facebook in reality yanks the chair in which the Facebook user sits right out from underneath them! In fact, it simply eliminates the original comfort (face-to-face interaction) that physical chairs once provided with a face-to-Facebook interaction. Humans undoubtedly need in-person contact and without it, will become lonely.
Notice something strange? Despite the narration, the chair is isolated and remote...

The screen shot of the chair also proves interesting: it is depicted alone. Although the narrator articulates the many chairs around the world being connected through Facebook, it ironically shows a single chair. At one point, it is floating in the middle of nowhere, evoking the viewer a different direction than the narrator first implied. The chair is isolated with no physical company just as user is left sitting alone in their own chair without any interactive stimulus. Simply put: the user becomes isolated just as the seemingly innocent lonesome chair.

Furthermore, Globalization is presented through the discussing of transportation elements such as planes, bridges, and doorbells. Just like that of Facebook, these elements bring people together and allow for interactions with individuals from anywhere, even across the globe. Great Nations is a term also brought forth, implying that Facebook is a “great nation” due to its virtual globalization just as real world “great nations” implement physical globalization. Globalization refers to the connection of the entire world, and Facebook is able to create this relationship.

Such loneliness is then globalized around the world, even spanning the “great nations” of the world. Facebook may claim to be among the great nations; however, through its globalized dispersal of loneliness (derived from lack of in-person interaction) it is essentially only creating isolation.

Scholar Amanda L. Traud of the University of North Carolina would find this particularly intriguing. In her 2011 article “Social Structure of Facebook Networks," the demographics of the user are taken into account. Traud confines her research to the location, age, and gender, and according to her calculations, location primarily affects a user’s type of use (Traud 4178-4179). Location is once again accounted for; first by the globalization of Facebook, and now, by scholar and researcher Traud. If a user lives in a secluded region of the country and lacks the conversation he needs, he may in turn log on to Facebook more often to meet this conversation “fix” thus traveling down the road to addiction and further loneliness.

The video then makes reference to the unknowns of our cosmos:

“The Universe, it is vast, and dark, and makes us wonder if we are alone. So maybe the reason we make all of these things (chairs, globalization elements, and countries) is to remind ourselves that we are not” (theofficialfacebook).
Are we alone?

In essence, this statement signifies that we may indeed feel alone, however, through the use of Facebook we will “remind ourselves that we are not.” It is ironic that Facebook would make such a claim. “Remind ourselves that we are not” alone? The social site is proving to be doing quite the opposite! Facebook expresses it “makes us wonder if we are alone,” yet perhaps humans question this isolation from the “vast” and “dark” unknown because they themselves are lonely.

Do lonely users use Facebook differently? An answer is found in Sophia Xenos’ of RMIT University 2011 article “Who Uses Facebook? An Investigation into the Relationship Between the Big Five, Shyness, Narcissism, Loneliness, and Facebook Usage.” She initially breaks users down into three primary groups: shy, lonely, and narcissistic individuals (Xenos 1659).   Xenos concludes “Facebook gratifies its users in different ways depending on their individual characteristics” (Xenos 1662). Specifically, lonely and neurotic personalities spent typically more time on the social site per day than their non-lonely counterpart.

Loneliness and other traits of Facebook users are uncovered in Kelly Moore’s article “The Influence of Personality on Facebook Usage, Wall Postings, and Regret.”  It was here, in 2011, that she suggested “personality accounted for significant amounts of variance over and above that explained by gender and Facebook experience” (Moore 271).

The lonely user filling the void with the empty use of Facebook has indeed become a malicious cycle. However despite its attempt through this recent YouTube video, Facebook is still unable to comfort the global anxiety of feeling alone. For now, the vicious cycle continues…

Feeling alone? You may have reason to blame Facebook...

I myself am not a Facebook user. This is my personal choice: the lack of privacy makes me uneasy but more importantly, the effects that the social site has on its users are too unmistakable today. If you are a Facebook user, don't throw in the towel just yet! Loneliness isn't just spreading over Facebook users, but to users of technology itself.

Want to know more? Navigate these sources:

Why am I feeling lonely? Find this out and more here.

Works Cited

Moore, Kelly. "The influence of personality on Facebook usage, wall postings, and regret." Elsevier (2011): 267-274. Internet.

theofficialfacebook. "Facebook: The Things that Connect Us." YouTube, 4 October 2012. Web.

Traud, Amanda L. "Social structure of Facebook networks ." Elsevier (2011): 4177-4178. Internet.

Xenos, Sophia. "Who uses Facebook? An investigation into the relationship between the Big Five, shyness, narcissism, loneliness, and Facebook usage." Elsevier (2011): 1658-1664. Internet.


  1. In your conclusion you say that it is not just specifically Facebook that is to blame, but the use of technology itself. To what extent do you think your research applies to other social media sites, such as blogs, and sites like tumblr? Is Facebook more or less guilty of creating this lonliness than other social media sites?

    1. I am confident that other social networking sites other than Facebook cause loneliness. I specifically chose Facebook because it has been here the longest (therefore more studies and research conducted). However, according to psychologist Sherry Turkle it does not matter if it is a social site like Facebook, blogs, tumblr, whatever you may think of: the effect is the same. Humans using cell phones, computers, social sites, blogs, etc., inevitably become lonely because we are trying to replace face-to-face interaction with technological communication. This simply doesn't fill the void, making us lonely. No, it is not just Facebook; look into the references I listed at the end of my post, they'll expand the information I just gave you.

  2. I found your topic to be very interesting. I personally use Facebook as a way to distract myself from homework. Would you say Facebook is also partially a distraction from the real world? You mentioned the chair being ripped out from under people and could it be that reality is being ripped away from people as they fall farther into the online worlds? How you say this applies to other sites like online games and the like? Are they used because people are lonely and looking for interaction?

    1. That is exactly what I am suggesting, Facebook can distract from the real world and face-to-face conversation leading to loneliness. The chair being ripped from underneath can indeed simply plunge the user into other "online worlds," again leading and deepening that sense of loneliness. I also believe that gaming sites, shopping sites, etc. (just as social networking sites such as Facebook) all can contribute to loneliness. As stated in my post, social networks and other online sites (in accordance to Sherry Turkle) may be overused after a small sense of loneliness, only leading to more use and further loneliness.

  3. I found your topic to be very intriguing! I have noticed a trend in my own facebook/ social media use in that people who are often the shyest and quiet in public settings are often the most vocal on facebook, constantly posting statuses about their lives and commenting on other's posts. Would you say that these lonely individuals are using social networking as a subsitute for face-to-face interaction?

    1. Sam,
      That is exactly what I am suggesting. People are in fact using social networking as a subsitute for face-to-face interaction. Sherry Turkle expands on this as well. Check out her link at the end of my post; the video is a bit long, but so so intriguing!

  4. Although, like you, I do not have a facebook, I have seen my friends log on and check their walls more times than I can count. I've witnessed some of these examples of loneliness without even realizing it at the time. I've seen mostly the narcissistic side of the loneliness though, and especially in some of the younger facebook users. I feel as though they are the age group that people should be most concerned about because they are easily influenced, and their online personalities could potentially leak into the real world.

    1. You bring up a lot of excellent points, Jessica! Psychologist Sherry Turkle shares the same concerns and even wrote a book and many essays on what you mentioned. I would suggest checking out her video linked at the end of my post...

  5. I think that Facebook does have the ability to create the lonely feelings that you mentioned, and I agree that I do see many people using it in a way that seems to suggest they're asking for attention. Facebook also, though, is a communication tool that I believe can be used as a supplement for face-to-face communication. I am not too serious a Facebook user, but use it more to stay in touch with friends rather than update everyone on my day-to-day life. I think it makes staying in touch with those far away easier, as it takes the 'out of sight, out of mind' element and reduces it; shortening distances with far away friends. I agree that it can be used in a way that replaces interaction, but if used as a supplement rather than a main communication channel, it can aid in the process of interaction.

    1. To a certain extent, yes Perry I agree that Facebook can simply aid face-to-face interaction. However, I think people in this day and age are prone to replacing personable communication face-to-face (with or without knowing it). I think social site users just need to be informed and aware that loneliness can easily take hold if we are not careful of time spent and use on social sites like Facebook.

    2. Perry and Erica, I find this thread of comments especially insightful. Perhaps, Erica, after people use these social media sites long enough, they might collectively realize that it's not curing the ill that they seek to address.

      But perhaps, as Perry suggests, the ways one uses social media might help combat rather than develop loneliness. That is, users might use it as a supplement rather than a replacement, just as Perry suggests. Perhaps it's by balancing online/offline time. Say I comment on a friend's post so many times--I might think "Ah! This is a sign not that we are staying in touch effectively online, but that I desire to stay in touch and this online medium is not enough! I shall make plans to visit. When we see each other, some of the details of catching up will be easier because I will ask about those recent updates."

      --Prof. Bates

  6. Hey Erica! Having read your full paper, I can appreciate just how hard this probably was for you to cut all of it down, but I think you did a really good job! Your analysis of the chair video was just as thought provoking as in the full paper. Although I can't help but agree with Angela- is Facebook the only culprit? How do other sites (such as Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest) contribute to these problems? Very good job!

  7. Erica
    Thanks Anna! I do believe any online site (whether it be gaming, shopping, social networking) can cause this sense of loneliness. The sites you mentioned I am confident are culprits as well!

  8. For reference, my account was malfunctioning, causing me to reply to comments under "Anonymous." So I stated my name in the reply. Sorry for any confusion; thank you for your compelling comments!