A study revealed last week that the post millennial generation, consisting of 18-22 year olds, are actually the loneliest generation to date, with the main crux of the report pointing to the influence of social media’s role in plunging young people into lonely and even depressive thoughts and states of mind.
To find out the answer, I sat down with my Mum last week to ask her about her university experience in the 1980s, when social media did not exist, to find out her opinion on the matter.
Whilst my Mum agreed that social media is an incredible thing that was indeed part of a natural step progression for technology, there was also the argument that friendships and relationships possibly suffer today, unlike in the 1980s, from the lack of actual human interaction due to the abundance and availability of social media.
Are we actually just a generation glued to our screens?
In light of my mum’s comments, I decided to explore my experience with loneliness, social media and university.
How does my modern experience, complete with ghosting, snapchat and endless hours of YouTube, differ to that of my mum’s in the 1980s, and does it get to the bottom of why young people are experiencing loneliness today?
Firstly, Fresher’s Week.
In my opinion, social media definitely heightened the experience of Fresher’s Week yet also brought a negative aspect to the whole affair.
Whilst it was indeed easy to ‘make’ friends through adding someone on Facebook, the actual number of friends that I managed to keep talking to and build friendships with can be seen as a miniscule number next the number on Facebook.
Social media managed to weave it’s way into my life without me really noticing it, warping real life social situations into online ones.
For example, when talking to a person, there is never really an appropriate time to say; ‘can we be friends?’ It would be bizarre to simply demand this of someone within a few minutes of talking to them.
Yet, with Facebook, it’s the perfect ice breaker. Question, click, and done. Regardless of whether you actually talk to them or not, they’re there on your friend’s list for everyone to see.
Which leads me onto my next point, loneliness at university is a difficult one to assess as one often does not realise they are even experiencing it.
Students pass many hours in their room using technology, whether it’s the sights and sounds of YouTube, chatting to friends over chat or playing online, technology creates an echo chamber for us to stay in, without even realising we are not actually talking out loud to anyone.
This is definitely something I struggled with during Fresher’s week. Whilst watching YouTube or scrolling endlessly through Facebook would pass the time, if the internet went off, leaving you alone, it could be an interesting experience.
In terms of the whole aesthetic of social media, concerning my experience as a 18-22 year old, the report does hold some truth in questioning the integrity and the motive of certain social media posts.
With the rise of ego travel amongst the young, how many images uploaded online are there to encourage a reaction, to display a certain way of living or to possibly make other people aware of what you are up to, who you are speaking to and where exactly you are in the world right now?
There’s a constant desire to please with social media, one that is fuelled by a constant sense of expectation and a constant need for perfection.
Speaking for the Independent, psychotherapist Dr Ruth, argues that social media is breaking down the barriers between everyday life and online, stating that many people are given far too much false hope and pretense from their experience online; ‘It gives people unreasonable expectations like that a Prince Charming will come riding in on a horse. I’m very concerned about loneliness, people are losing the art of conversation. They’re constantly on their iPhones.’
Dr Ruth also argues that the rise of social media is also putting a considerable strain on relationships, expressing her sadness at watching couples glued to their phones instead of partaking in a conversation with each other.
I personally experienced the artificial and superficial side of social media, and honestly did experience loneliness during my initial few weeks of university. Yet, was this caused by social media, or is loneliness simply another human trait that we all share?
Despite attending university thirty years before me, my mum still maintained that people of course still experienced loneliness; ‘surprise, surprise, the lonely were always there’.
Therefore, similar to that of mental health statistics, are levels of loneliness simply growing because more attention is being given to children, teenagers and young adults who are experiencing it everyday?
Despite this, it is undeniable that social media is indeed capable of exacerbating these feelings of isolation.
During university, when loneliness did hit, it was incredibly easy to feel even more isolated when everyone around me was glued to their phones, even a trip on the bus would consist of the majority of people staring downwards in silence.
However, I do rely heavily on social media and technology, even putting my headphones in when I am out and about on my own, which does raise the argument that although social media can be isolating, it can also be a comfort.
In light of all of this, by far the most alarming aspect is definitely the effect on the very young.
According to Sky News, 4,636 counselling sessions were undertaken last year alone for teenagers and young adults, all of which were completely devoted to the concept of loneliness- the youngest to receive therapy was just ten years old.
Indeed, whilst social media is a blessing in terms of keeping in touch with loved ones, I was definitely able to dampen down the flames of my feelings of loneliness with a quick call home, it does appear that we are experiencing an over exposure to social media in our everyday lives, one that is now even causing us to become unhappy and troubled with what we have or have not achieved in life.
Sky News have also reported that young people and students often experience sadness from social media due to viewing their friends on days and nights out without inviting them, according to Childline, they often receive calls from young people stating that they are in a depressive mood due to feelings of loneliness and ultimate isolation caused by what they are viewing online.
Ultimately, whilst social media is a brilliant thing, friendships can now be maintained in different countries and people are now more up to date and informed on current events due to the rise of online news and reports, a strong part of me does understand how social media could be the cause of depressive thoughts and isolation.
Whilst my mum states that social media is indeed highlighting the lonely to ensure that they are recognised, a point I do strongly agree with, there is no doubting that my modern experience with online media is of course heavily tainted and influenced by the pressures of being online and this apparet drive for perfection.
With so many people now submerged in social media in their personal and also their work time, is it time to ultimately recognise it’s dangers?