In a room full of people, you feel like a ghost. The people around you do no good in comforting you. A silent ailment, loneliness only makes itself known by a twist in your gut or a lump in your throat. It has become one of the top mental health issues, afflicting “the world’s loneliest generations,” millennials and Gen Z.
In a survey conducted on Distraction’s Instagram story, 90% of respondents said they at one time experienced feelings of extreme loneliness, even with friends and family around. If you are reading this, you most likely know someone suffering its effects or suffer them yourself.
There are a slew of ways that we communicate in today’s world: cellphones, computers, smart watches and even microchips. But after years of having these ever-evolving technologies, why do we still feel like something or someone is missing?
Juliana Guitelman and Christina Martin, doctoral interns at the University of Miami Counseling Center, said that in recent years, the mechanisms of social interaction have changed. According to an Ofcom study, people are spending twice as much time online compared to 10 years ago. The shift toward digital media has led some to theorize that digital communication has displaced face-to-face interaction.
“Studies have shown that millennials and Gen Z spend less time with their friends and family in-person across various contexts compared to other generations,” said Guitelman. “As a consequence, clinicians often note an increase in loneliness amongst these particular groups.”
For many, even those who answered “no” to Distraction’s Instagram survey, this theory was put into practice in March of 2020 when quarantine replaced hangouts and kickbacks.
“These are unprecedented times that are affecting our ability to connect with other people, both for practical and safety reasons,” said Martin. “Personally, I too have often felt feelings of isolation and have developed a deep yearning for social connections.”
When it comes to the science behind technology being a catalyst for loneliness, the truth is rather nuanced. Guitleman said that while social media has replaced social interactions in the “normal” sense, it does provide a means for individuals to connect in ways that they previously hadn’t—traveling parents can see photos of their children, friends can play online games from different corners of the world and long distance lovers can connect virtually.
Simultaneously, however, these ways of interacting are significantly different than face-to-face encounters. “Data even suggests an association between social media use and increased feelings of depression and loneliness”, said Martin.
With millennials and Gen Z already experiencing the side-effects of digital communication, it is alarming to think of the consequences that generations to come will experience. Only time will tell if the generations that follow will become the new “loneliest generation.”
words_olivia ginsberg. photo_nailah anderson. design_olivia ginsberg.
This article was published in Distraction’s fall 2020 print issue.