The Loneliness Of Being Social

I’m probably off my rocker and not quite right in the head, but there is nothing lonelier than social media. It is a phenomenon to be sure and I have met a lot of amazing people because of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but I would have to say that the vast majority of people that I follow aren’t my friends. At best, they are acquaintances, random people that I may or may not have future conversations with depending on the phase of the moon, the time of day, and whether we happen to be breathing in the same social space while watching TV, Netflix, or face-planting our mobile devices in bed.

I read articles about how to get more followers, more conversions, more likes, more people reading my stuff, how to write better, but where is the discussion on how to be a better friend? Where are the articles on selflessness, service and loyalty?

In many ways, social media has made me a better communicator, but a horrible friend. I stopped picking up the phone and calling my friends, asking how they are, instead resorting to perusing and “liking” their status updates on Facebook. Does the fact that I like that they just ran 3.3 miles, ate at a local restaurant or just checked-in at church make me a better friend? Maybe it’s the digital empathy that I exude when I go beyond clicking a button, and typing some platitudes about “hanging in there” or “you can do it.”

I have become transparent and authentic, intentional and trust-worthy, but forgot that friendship is about more than what the digital world offers. It’s about accountability: keeping others accountable to what they know they need help with, and in turn accepting the accountability from others for my own faults. It’s hard to be accountable with others in 140 characters or less.

Friendship is also about taking time to listen without distraction. Social media is unlimited connections with maximum distraction. Metaphors are abundant in describing the SocialSphere, my two favorites are “noise” and “fire hose” which are often used in conjunction with the word “filter.” When attempting to filter the noise, how can we chat with a friend and truly empathize with their struggles while simultaneously reading about someone’s Klout score in Batman, the latest news in technology or how to better utilize social media practices to gain more followers?

Finally, friendship is about sharing space in emotional ways. When we are connected emotionally to others, we not only want to know how they are doing, but we hurt when they hurt, feel joy when they are experiencing joy, and laugh when they laugh. One of my friends has a distinct laugh, it makes me smile and I am happy when he laughs. When he types LOL or haha, it doesn’t have the same effect over my emotions.

Social networks have tremendous power for developing communities, but truth be told, I have let my addiction with them transform me into a horrible friend. I have become the lonely hermit that longs for human connection, finding comfort in the digital voices of the thousands that I daily hear from. Yet, I realize that for every thousand digital voices that I see, I would much rather hear the voice of a single friend.

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