This just in: Internet not actually full of sad, lonely rejects

Personally, I'm about to sprain something from rolling my eyes so hard at all the hand-wringing news stories about how the Internet is disconnecting us from other people and making us more lonely. So it's gratifying to read this piece in the Boston Review that points two key problems with that thesis (besides being fracking obnoxious): First, the evidence doesn't support it; second, humans have apparently been worrying about increasing levels of loneliness since the 1700s.


  1. “We shop at home, we surf the Web… at the same time, we feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history”
    If Matthew McConaughey says it, it must be true.

  2. I keep trying to tell my husband this.  We are NOT holing ourselves up in our houses to the detriment of contact with other human beings.  If anything, the internet has been a tool for a lot of people to have even MORE contact with the people they connect with.  And, with new people they never would have even had contact with, had it not been for the internet.  We’re not less social . . . we’re social differently. 

    Face it — humans are social creatures.  It’s simply not in our nature to avoid social contact.*  If we’re in a situation where our normal social avenues are blocked or otherwise “out of order,” we’ll figure out another way to be social.  

    *Disclaimer:  that statement was meant as a generality, not as an indictment of people for whom social contact is difficult or fearful.

    1. And for those of us for whom “real” social contact is difficult, the Internet has stopped some of us from retreating into complete isolation…
      (But yes, I think this particular argument is merely a slightly different version of “the world is going to hell in a handcart” or “kids today, eh?!”)

      1. i can’t drive. I live rural to help with family that has health issues and starting to physically wear down. We don’t see eye to eye on lots of things. i don’t share common interests. If it weren’t for the internet i probably would have had a psychotic break by now.

        1. Same here. I was born disabled, can’t drive, communicate (speech and hearing impediments), everyone is busy to see me due to their family, work, etc. Internet and BBS saved me to social more online. And people wonder why I spend so much online. DUH!

    2. It also free us up to be more social with those that really matter, as we no longer have to spend time after work hopping between stores and establishments getting hold of various items and information.

    1. It’s not hard to identify the sad, lonely rejects on the internet – they’re the ones who make several comments a day on their favorite websites…

      For me real social contact is quite difficult and I’m currently exiled in my home town where everyone I once knew has moved away (as did I before being forced to come back when I couldn’t find a job after grad school). So I make stupid comments on BoingBoing. Sometimes I even read what people say in reply to my comments. That’s about all the social interaction I have these days (sadly?) and it wouldn’t be possible without the internet.

      But – I do wonder what I would do with myself if the internet weren’t here. Would I be a recluse whose most frequent social interaction was with the librarian? Probably, so I must support Maggie’s view that this entire thesis is obnoxious and ridiculous on its face because while I may be a sad and lonely reject who is on the internet, I would be much worse without it.

    2.  If you live in shouting distance of Boston I should buy you a beverage of your choosing, I’d probably be the better for it.

      1. San Francisco, but thanks. Truthfully I really can’t blame the internet, it’s just that two jobs and a pair of toddlers at home don’t leave much time for socializin’.

  3. You mean, ever since we stopped sleeping 5 to a bed (with maybe some farm animals)? Whodda thunk it!

  4. Seems pretty plain to me that what’s been atomising folks for centuries is the structure imposed on society by the industrial revolution. If you take a particularly cynical view, perhaps it could be said that in recent decades, the elite have actively been suppressing anything that would mitigate the loss of community; unions for example.

    And I also find it quite obvious that the internet is the first thing to come along that does anything meaningful to reverse this trend; probably a waste of effort preaching that to the BB choir. It’s plain as day.

    However, having become acquainted with Dan Siegel’s ideas about interpersonal neurobiology, I can appreciate the argument that it’s certainly no substitute for real contact. 30fps video chat with a minimal delay would allow some of the benefits Siegel speaks of to occur, but it’s still an impoverished version of face time, and the minimum delay achievable might break half the mechanisms at work anyway. Not to mention the fact it’s not how people generally use the net…

  5. Possibly people writing journalism about increasing trends in loneliness has to do with the increased availability of journalistic outlets for lonely people. Do non-lonely people write articles about loneliness? I can’t picture that.

  6. And sometimes, when the only significant social event of the week is the Dallas Republican Ladies Luncheon where it’s a sure bet to hear applause for the new dumb thing said by Perry/Bachmann/Santorum, loneliness is a better option. (sigh)

Comments are closed.