Socially lonely in the digital age

Socially lonely in the digital age

The Vancouver Foundation recently released the results of a detailed survey on social relationships in the City of Vancouver. The result showed that a significant number of people of all ages reported difficulty in establishing social networks on arrival. Even people who had been residents for four or five years suggested that they could not identify themselves as part of a specific “circle of friends”. Many reasons were given for this seeming inability to meet new people including geography, weather and the inability or reluctance of people to socialize outside their own racial group.

I’d like to offer another plausible reason and that is the significant influence of cellphones and social media on our lives. It is, quite frankly, easier to meet and “friend” someone on Facebook than it is to physically go and talk to your neighbour or someone else walking in the same park. When you have a “relationship” with someone as a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter user, you control the relationship on your terms. This avoids the socially accepted necessity of getting off the couch, shaving and getting dressed. Why go through all of that on a Friday night when you can stay home, surrounded by “friends” on your cellphone. Surely, the things going on in Shanghai, Beijing or Goonwallabang Australia must be more interesting than going out and physically socializing with the people in your own town?

At a recent doctor’s appointment, I noticed that out the 20 plus people in the waiting room, 18 were engrossed in staring at their handheld device. Even the small children were plucking away at a keyboard, and as a result, the room was eerily quiet. I must admit, staring at your phone was certainly preferable to thumbing through 10 -year old copies of “Yachting Monthly” or reading about Oprah’s cousins plum pudding recipe, there is still something to be said about engaging in conversation with someone you may not have met before. Granted, that conversation may only be about the weather (at least you don’t have to shovel rain, eh!) or housing prices (getting like Vancouver innit!) but it is still an opportunity to open up and possibly learn something new.

Cellphones and social media make it possible to ignore the world outside our window and create one for ourselves and on our own terms. People post things without thinking, “facts” without research and memes that may or may not be based in fact. The term “slacktivist” was coined for people who become engaged or outraged over an issue but confine their commitment or involvement to reposting a meme or resharing a news article. Their guilt and outrage assuaged by this act, they can tell themselves that they have somehow affected change in the world.

When I moved to another community for work some years ago, the first thing I did was to look to get involved in the local hockey community. Through meeting new people, I became part of a curling league, even though I hadn’t curled before, became a Kinsman and made a difference in that community and ended up serving on my first board. I became part of a community rather than living in a town of strangers. Many communities are suffering for lack of volunteers and this is one way to get to meet new people.

While social media certainly has its benefits and it has the power to expand our knowledge of other people, there are few substitutes for loneliness better than putting your phone down, getting off the couch, and starting a conversation with someone you don’t know or renewing a relationship with someone you do.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Nisga’a Valley Health Authority reported an isolated cluster of COVID-19 cases among non-direct care staff at the New Aiyansh Health Centre. (Gary Fiegehen/Nisga’a Lisims Government)
New Aiyansh Health Centre experiencing COVID-19 cluster among non-direct care staff

Nisga’a Valley Health Authority asking residents to cancel appointments outside the Nass Valley

A photo of the CervixCheck at-home test kit, developed by Eve Medical. (Submitted Photo/Katina Pollard, Métis Nation British Columbia)
Pilot project puts cancer screening into the hands of northwest B.C. women

Métis women experience barriers to cervical cancer screening

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

The Nisga’a Lisims Government has extended its state of local emergency. (File photo)
Nisga’a state of local emergency extended, vaccines delayed

There are 21 active COVID-19 cases in the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

Most Read