The Internet is an extremely important communication tool today. There is no doubt that it has enhanced the worldwide exchange of information. Since information is readily available and accessible through the net, proponents have increasingly supported the integration of Internet in schools, higher learning institutions, and other social scenes (Porter 7). However, some psychologists do not support this euphoria surrounding the Internet because they claim it is increasingly alienating people from social life. Extensive literature indicates that the Internet is replacing various aspects of human interaction because it facilitates privatization in consumption. This means that it is creating an illusion of false intimacy and companionship by ignoring the deeper demands of a cultivated friendship that are is normally enabled through one-on-one interactions. This is an outcome that has come to be increasingly noticeable with the rise in number of social media websites such as Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter. People are becoming lonelier, yet some of them boast of having thousands of online friends in their social networks. By hindering the development of meaningful interactions and relationships, the Internet is making us lonely.
It is estimated that over 3.17 billion of people have access to the Internet across the world. This translates to about 40% of the world population. Most of these connected people use the Internet for purposes such as interpersonal communication. Through social media, these people meet and foster different relationships with people having similar interests (Baym, 44). From a distance, social networking is an exceptional tool for people. However, studies show that there is a profound difference between online social networks and real-life human interactions. The online friendships create an illusion of companionship and provide a false reassurance that the bonds formed are real. Despite the apparent fact that there will always be someone online to “comment,” “like,” or “retweet” our latest status updates, the emotional fulfilment developed from face-to-face communication can never be attained through the Internet. According to Farber (98), “despite being more connected than ever, more people feel more alone than ever.” The more people create social networks online, the more their offline networks decrease. Recent studies indicate that young people below 35 years old are more likely to report feeling the loneliest yet they are the most prolific users of the Internet (social media). The Internet makes it easier for many people to stay in touch while being on a distance, but it also makes people feel more distant and never in touch (Gardner 66). This means that the Internet is a socially isolating technology because it replaces crucial aspects of human interaction, which makes people feel more alone.
A study conducted by File and Camille (206) indicated that the Internet usage is positively correlated with loneliness, stress, and depression. This research reveals the negative aspect of the Internet, which is fast becoming a public health issue. Perhaps, Internet addiction should be reviewed by relevant authorities to denote its effect on young people because studies show increasingly less appealing outcomes of Internet usage. Rusciano (26) claims that “there are a number of emotional factors which may be related to individuals’ Internet addiction.” For example, more individuals turn to the Internet to manage unpleasant feelings such as loneliness and anxiety (Young 15). With time, these people lose touch with the real world and become Internet addicts. The overuse of Internet is associated with an increase in the frequency of loneliness and depression because it displaces valuable time that individuals spend with friends and family. This leads to the reduction of social circles and higher levels of stress and loneliness that the Internet was initially supposed to alleviate. People who suffer from anxiety and stress have immense challenge interacting with others in a healthy and meaningful way. These are some of the human characteristics that are noted as crucial determinants on addiction. As research studies have indicated, psychological problems such as loneliness drive people to increase Internet usage (Kirmayer, Laurence , Eugene , and Sadeq 176). At the same time, loneliness has been directly associated with a deficit in social skills and preference for compulsive Internet use. This trend aggravates the psychological problems that might have been alleviated through a cultivation of positive, meaningful, and healthy one-on-one interactions.
Human beings crave for intimacy. This is the connection that develops between individuals who have learned to trust one another. It is a connection that develops as a result of mutually shared beliefs. Virtual communication inhibits intimacy because its quality is impoverished in comparison with the physical, real world one-on-one communication (Yang, Peidong, Lijun and Xuan 201). Genuine intimacy requires people to come out of their online shells and reveal who they really are. The Internet inhibits intimacy because it helps users to hide behind computer screens. Online friendships are often shallow and mostly superficial, and they fail to stand the demand of genuine friendships. The Internet fails to fulfil the human need for intimacy and genuine connection which can only be achieved through spending time with people. It ends up creating distance in human relationships and destroying that critical element that constitutes intimacy. By creating artificial bonds that have no power to influence meaningful human interactions, people become lonelier for they have no genuine friend to turn to in times of need.
The advent of the Internet has revolutionized global communication. People have access to a wide source of information and knowledge. It has also supported the development of new social networking sites that enable people to stay in touch with their close ones in distant places. Sites such as Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter have millions of users. For example, by 2016, there were approximately 1 billion monthly active users on Whatsapp. This means that about one in every seven people in the world are using the application mostly for interpersonal communication. Despite the rise in a number of social networking users, there are studies indicating that people are feeling lonely. This is the irony of the Internet which was supposed to create more human networks and fulfilment from the interactions. What has come to be noted is that the Internet replaces the tangible social spaces, with the one-to-one relationships being replaced by online relationships. The aggregated relationships are broader but less meaningful in terms of the emotional and intellectual aspects of a healthy relationship (Lynch 21). An individual may have a million online friends and still feel alone. This is indicated by the rise in number of people suffering from depression and anxiety for being isolated from social scenes. People become less connected to others and their relationships become superficial as well as less rewarding. From this trend, it can be said that the Internet makes us lonely.
Baym, Nancy K. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
Farber, Dawn. “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other Sherry Turkle New York: Basic Books; 2011; 360 pp. R.” Fort Da 22.2 (2016): 91-104.
Gardner, Howard, and Katie Davis. The App Generation: How today’s youth navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World. Yale University Press, 2013.
File, Thom, and Camille Ryan. “Computer and Internet use in the United States: 2013.” American Community Survey Reports (2014).
Kirmayer, Laurence J., Eugene Raikhel, and Sadeq Rahimi. “Cultures of the Internet: Identity, community and mental health.” (2013): 165-191.
Lynch, Michael P. The Internet of us: Knowing more and understanding less in the Age of Big Data. WW Norton & Company, 2016.
Porter, David. Internet culture. Routledge, 2013.
Rusciano, Frank Louis. “” Surfing Alone”: The Relationships Among Internet Communities, Public Opinion, Anomie, and Civic Participation.” Studies in Sociology of Science 5.3 (2014): 26.
Yang, Peidong, Lijun Tang, and Xuan Wang. “Diaosi as infrapolitics: scatological tropes, identity-making and cultural intimacy on China’s Internet.” Media, Culture & Society 37.2 (2015): 197-214.
Young, Kimberly. “The Evolution of Internet Addiction Disorder.” Internet Addiction. Springer International Publishing, 2015. 3-17.