404 Connection not found: technology and isolation

Evolutionary psychology teaches that many of the things we crave are from instincts that have been passed down through our biology from days when we lived in hunter-gatherer societies. We crave high-calorie, sugary foods because when found in nature those foods used to be essential to our survival.

In today’s society, the brain still releases dopamine and opioids when we eat sugary, high calorie food, except the modern human is consuming junk food instead of fruit. We eat junk food because we crave it, because our bodies believe things that taste like this should be good for us, when in reality it is devoid of nutrients.

In much the same way, technology and social media can act as a junk food for the social parts of your brain. Humans are a social species; we crave interaction and belonging the same way we crave sugar.

Technology, whether it’s texting, Facebook or Twitter, can act as a kind of social sustenance, satisfying the social needs of the brain conveniently without giving any actual nourishment or growth. But just like reading the nutrition label, many students find that monitoring the ways you use technology can make it a beneficial treat instead of a harmful addiction.

“…for those born in the new millenium, these convenient devices may be too easy to communicate with, while more traditional measures seem cumbersome and restrictive”

Many researchers believe the rise in usage of social technology is leading to an increasingly isolated and lonely society, where the things that keep us together also keep us from ever being truly close.

“It seems that along with blessed technological advancements there is increased social alienation and disconnection,” says Ami Rokach, a professor and lecturer at York University who has been studying the field for over three decades. “Some termed it a social problem of epidemic proportion, and I support that way of perceiving it.”

Research has shown that loneliness is not only a social problem, but also an impending health crisis.

Rokach says that research has linked loneliness to ill health, a weaker immune system, depression, anxiety, hopelessness and learned helplessness.

Many of today’s students lived before the internet, when you had to wait around the house to get a phone call. But for those born in the new millenium, these convenient devices may be too easy to communicate with, while more traditional measures seem cumbersome and restrictive.

“Technological innovations have been shown to limit the need of youngsters to interact face-to-face with others. Texting and Facebook have made it redundant to learn basic social skills, and the art of befriending others,” says Rokach.

But technology is a tool, and for many students it is how they use technology that defines whether it is a detrimental to their social life.

“Part of the reason I’m so in favor of using technology to stay in touch is because I have social anxieties,” says Adam Whyte, a 25-year-old former student of Algonquin.

“I have difficulty adapting to social situations. Online you can take your time with a reply, think things over.”

Whyte has made lasting relationships online through forums and games. He’s even celebrating his one-year anniversary with his girlfriend who he met online 10 years ago.

“For me personally, technology has done a lot more in keeping me connected than the alternative,” Whyte says.

Heavy use of technology does not immediately equate to loneliness. Loneliness can mean different things depending on the person and their own social needs.

“I’ve always viewed loneliness as just a manifestation of existential emptiness that doesn’t always have to be filled with social interactions,” says Tristan Graham, 25, who works in software development and spends eight to 12 hours a day on a computer.

He credits his lack of loneliness to being raised an only child and having an absurd amount of hobbies.

For others, it isn’t technology itself, but its ripple effects that affect them socially. We do not have the same time to devote to new attachments, but have greater capabilities to maintain old connections, no matter how far we are separated geographically.

“I don’t feel like I need new friends,” says Marie-Josee Pronovost, a psychology student at the University of Ottawa. “The friends I do have I really like and they’re pretty much all I have time for. I don’t know how to have more friends than that. It’s mostly a time factor not necessarily technology.”

So technology does not always lead to loneliness, but as it becomes ever more convenient to type instead of talk, Dr. Rokach believes society has to help alleviate the conditions.

“It should start in kindergarten, by teaching toddlers that individualism, as hailed by the Western culture, does not mean separation, disconnection, and aloneness. We, as a society, need to take it upon ourselves to teach and learn to value togetherness, social support, and inclusion,” he says.


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