It’s a safe bet there aren’t any Amish women on Facebook. Besides that whole electricity thing, how would they have time for it?
O, Facebook—how did I ever live without you? I discovered it’s beautiful blue logo during a season when I was working from home. I was lonely and bored and I craved being with people. Facebook became my virtual break room, a place to have a conversation and catch up with my friends.
It’s also a safe bet that I wasn’t the only lonely woman in my neighborhood. In the 1950’s, when many of the homes in my neighborhood were built, less than 10% of them contained only one person. By 2010, this number has increased 250% so that today one in four of the homes on our street is occupied by one person living alone. An AARP study found that 35% of all adults over 45 are chronically lonely—a 225% increase in ten years.
Loneliness is an epidemic in our neighborhoods, and its effects are real and painful. People who are lonely are 19% more likely to die early; in fact, loneliness impacts early death more than poverty or obesity. Research shows that being lonely and feeling isolated can lead to an increase in blood pressure, cause a less restorative and restful sleep, hike up the feeling of depression, cause an increase of stress hormone cortisol in the mornings and decrease the overall sense of living a life of meaning. Lonely people are also more likely to be obese and experience memory loss, dementia, inflammation and heart conditions.
I was lonely, and my Facebook fanaticism was a symptom of my need for relationships. But it was not the solution.
The average online American spends 2 hours a day social networking from a computer, tablet and/or mobile phone. Seriously? Do the math: 2 hours a day x 365 days a year = 30 days a year with our faces buried in a screen. What wouldn’t you give to have a month with your girlfriends—at the beach, in a coffee shop, on your sofa? How would your family be different if you looked into each other’s eyes for 730 hours a year?
Facebook was virtually boring me to death, until I began using it to literally connect with my friends. My real friends—the ones who don’t need a status update to know what’s up. I created a group for my neighborhood where we planned a block party and a community yard sale. When I see someone struggling, I call them for a real chat. I invite girlfriends to meet up for coffee (and I don’t tag pictures of us while we’re out!).
Social media can be a useless distraction that drives a wedge between us and the real, live people sitting right in front of us. Or, it can also be a useful tool used to arrange real life encounters with the people we love.