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I can’t help but notice people around me having their face pushed unto their mobile screen, myself included. Whether we’re waiting for the bus, sitting on the couch, or even studying for an exam, somehow, we reach into our pocket and check every social media platform, so we don’t miss out on any updates. The worst of all is when we are with a group of close friends, our smartphone is always within eyesight and when a notification pops up, attention moves from “face-to-face” to “face-to-screen”.

 

“It takes discipline not to let social media steal your time.” – Alexis Ohanian

 

Social media is great and it’s redesigning how we connect with one another. However, this also means that we have to rethink what we need for us to feel fulfilled in our relationships. It’s a matter of time before we realise that no number of tweets, posts, or status updates is ever going to fill up our emptiness, simply because there’s a profound difference between an online social network and a real one.

 

Correlation Between Social Media And Loneliness

A study in 2014 was conducted by the University of Pittsburgh where 1,787 adults were questioned between the age of 19 and 32 about their usage of the most popular social media platforms at the time – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

The report suggests that if you spend more than two hours a day on social media, your chances of feeling lonely are twice as high. Also, it has been suggested that social media is contributing to the rise in FOMO (fear of missing out), that can cause anxiety over the need to be updated due to fear of becoming unconnected and therefore irrelevant.

However, from this study, it’s not clear whether social media causes loneliness, or that already lonely people are more likely to spend longer on social media. Nonetheless, researchers defended that there is a correlation between social media usage and loneliness, regardless of age differences.

Co-author Elizabeth Miller mentioned that it’s still unknown which came first, the social media use or the perceived loneliness. It’s possible that young adults who initially felt lonely turned to social media, or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feel left out from the real world.

 

Making Real Connections

As I wrote in “Vulnerability, A Hero In Disguise”, it’s in human nature to help each other, and by being vulnerable, we open up to one another. We’re willing to look someone in the eyes, spill our soul and be comfortable with it. We want others to know the authentic us instead of forcing a fake smile every time we enter the public eye.

We can’t make such deep connections through social media. Social media allows us to control what we share, which appeals to our vulnerability. We can pick and choose which photos we share and craftily edit our words to ensure we convey the image we want others to see, often feeding the illusion of friendship in real life.

Digital communication can never replace face-to-face contact in building both personal and professional relationships.

 

Don’t Get Me Wrong

Online technology is not some evil sin, far from it. It’s a great tool for staying in touch with people across distances, time zones and years. We’ve all witnessed its power in rallying people behind noble causes, enable people to plug into resources and information, and provide opportunities to conduct business more efficiently than ever before. But like all tools, we have to learn how to use it well, and not let it use us.

Here are my top three strategies for building a better face-to-face social network.

 

1. Become A Better Listener

Too often, we tend to talk more than listen. It’s so important to learn to listen well and be okay with our verbal blunders. We can’t craftily edit real conversation and we don’t want to. It’s those moments when we hesitate, fall over our words, or find ourselves sitting in silence without any words, that we reveal ourselves to others and connect more deeply. As I’ve mentioned before, we connect with others through our vulnerabilities, not through our intelligence.

 

“Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” – Richard Branson

 

2. Practice Conversation

Practising conversations and meeting people take small steps. Make the most of all chances for social contact, whether it’s speaking to the barista who is making your coffee or someone sitting next to you. For some people, just making eye contact can be difficult. So, it may be that you have to begin with just that.

 

“Conversation takes practice; the more we do it, the better we get, and the more easily we do it.” – Susan RoAne

 

3. Invite People To Have Food Together

This is my favourite one. However, many people are intimidated by the idea of inviting people to have food or even a coffee. Some of the best conversations happen over a coffee or casual meal. Yes, it may be a bit scary, but the real connection will always demand a degree of risk and vulnerability. Then again, what worthwhile effort does not?

 

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

 

  • Do you feel fulfilled in your relationships through social media?
  • Do you miss face-to-face conversations?
  • Have you ever felt lonely in the world of social media?

 

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