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Gee: Is social media making us all more lonely?

(AP)

Ever since the days of Tom and his MySpace idea, when we got the ability to randomly “friend request” people, social media has allowed us to pair with, collect, and partner up with others who we otherwise might not have even known existed.

Facebook offers us a list of “People You May Know” based on who our friends are. It suggests people who know others in our social circles or places we work.

Has the social media process replaced what we used to do — actually meeting and talking with people, then deciding we are friends?

We now also assume that our friends are doing OK, too. Because hey, all we see are photos at the beach, nice cars, or filtered pictures of their already beautiful smiles. The reality is they could be hurting and we don’t even know it.

Ongoing struggle for civility on Twitter

So what do lonely people do online?

I’ve seen some of them make up clever names. They have a lot of critical stuff to say about the things I post, all while hiding behind a profile of a faceless, nameless icon. I appreciate those people, because they inspire me to do my best work. But are those really the people who are going through some rough stuff and this is how they cope?

I’d never know, because all I see is a doom and gloom style screen name, a silhouette for a profile picture, and negative comments to counter my wisdom. I might actually like these people if I knew them. But social media lets us interact, without ever knowing each other.

We all have a few “friends” we’ve added to our social media circles who we really don’t know at all. Some of us even have friends we’ve added that we’ve never met in person. We laugh at their funny memes, we click the sad emoji when we see their loved ones have passed. We may even, from time-to-time, offer them advice or encouragement.

But do we know our Facebook friends?

Once in a while, I have a person in my network for who I am clicking like, after like, after like on their stuff — then bam! They post something so ignorant or hateful that I want to wash my hands and eyes after reading it.

But should I be shocked? Did I really know that person?

Our reliance on fake friends and the approval of others has made an entire generation of people oblivious to basic personal skills — skills which cause us to interact with each other as humans. It could be argued that the less we talk to each other face-to-face, the less that we care about one another as humans. And the less empathetic we are to the experience of another.

Oh, your dad died? Well, let me click a sad face emoji and show you that I care. Seems extreme, right? But is this how heartless we’ve become?

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There are scores of people out there hurting, sad, challenged, frightened, who only show us their best side, their filtered pics, their reposted funny jokes and their cropped images that we never know the truth about. We don’t hear their voices, or see their struggles. We just know they have a cat that does cool stuff and a pretty nice car. They click like on everything I post, so things must be going great for them.

And sometimes our addiction to social media robs us of the moments we share with the people two feet away from us, who love us, and actually spend our lives with us? How often have we stopped a dinner out to take a picture of our plate, only to steal that moment from the person across the table? How many times have we stopped our vacation to post a check-in picture just so our Facebook and Instagram followers can see us having fun? I’m so guilty of this. To Lillian and my kids, I apologize for my selfishness.

I work across multiple professions where social media is a powerful tool to get my message out. It makes sense for me to keep using it, but sometimes, I have to call it what it is. The ugly truth is that social media has replaced that long phone call we enjoyed with a boy or girl as a teenager. It has replaced the postcard. It has replaced, for some of us, spending time with one another enough to know when people need us.

And for all of that, I think social media has made us sad, lonely people.

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