The real issue, it seems to me, is not whether Facebook makes us lonely, but whether Facebook is reconfiguring our notions of loneliness, sociability, and relationships. These are after all not exactly static concepts. Here is where I think Marche raises some substantial concerns that are unfortunately lost when the debate goes down the path of determining causality.
What Facebook offers is the dream of managing the social and curating the self, and we seem to obsessively take to the task. The asynchronicity of Facebook is rather safe, after all, when compared to the messy and risky dynamics of face-to-face interactions and we naturally gravitate toward this sort of safety. I suspect this is in part also why we would sometimes rather text than call and, if we do call, why we hope to get sent to voicemail. It seems reasonable to ask whether we will be tempted to take the efficiency and smoothness of our social media interactions as the norm for all forms of social interaction.
— Facebook and Loneliness: The Better Question « The Frailest Thing
"In one experiment, Cacioppo looked for a connection between the loneliness of subjects and the relative frequency of their interactions via Facebook, chat rooms, online games, dating sites, and face-to-face contact. The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy."
— Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?
"One who will not allow any occurrence whatever to deprive him of his responsibility for the course of history—because he knows that it has been laid on him by God—will thereafter achieve a more fruitful relation to the events of history than that of barren criticism and equally barren opportunism. To talk of going down fighting like heroes in the face of certain defeat is not really heroic at all, but merely a refusal to face the future. The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live. It is only from this question, with its responsibility towards history, that fruitful solutions can come, even if for the time being they are very humiliating."
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years” (1943)
The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”
It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.
— Clay Shirky (via Nick Carr )
Researchers at Wellesley College and the University of Kansas investigated friendships at that 25,000-student institution and at four smaller colleges in the state. “People would expect in bigger and more diverse places you’d come into contact with a bigger and more diverse set of people,” says lead researcher Angela Bahns, a social psychologist at Wellesley. “But you find the exact opposite.”
The researchers gave pairs of friends separate questionnaires on their lifestyles (how often they drank, exercised, etc.) and opinions (on topics such as abortion) and found that the bigger the school, the more similar friends were to one another. In follow-up research, not yet published, Ms. Bahns and her team found similar results comparing big cities like New York and Chicago to smaller ones like Iowa City and Lawrence, Kan.
How can more people and more diversity lead to less diverse friendships? It’s simple, really: We like people who are like us. Social scientists call it the “similarity-attraction effect,” and it influences everything from whom we date and hire to where we choose to live. The bigger the pond, the more likely we are—consciously or not—to swim around until we find a group of like and like-minded people.
— How Big Cities Can Lead to Small Thoughts
"My dear Francesco, I have lately kept praising the age in which we live, because of the great, indeed divine gift of the new kind of writing which was recently brought to us from Germany. In fact, I saw a single man printing in a single month as much as could be written by hand by several persons in a year… . It was for this reason that I was led to hope that within a short time we should have such a large quantity of books that there wouldn’t be a single work which could not be procured because of lack of means or scarcity… . Yet — oh false and all too human thoughts — I see that things turned out quite differently from what I had hoped. Because now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books. And even when they write something worthwhile they twist it and corrupt it to the point where it would be much better to do without such books, rather than having a thousand copies spreading falsehoods over the whole world."
— Niccolò Perotti, 1471 (as quoted by Robert Darnton in The Case for Books)
"The growth of sociable robotics is one thing that changed my mind. People are so vulnerable and so willing to accept substitutes for human companionship in very intimate ways. I hadn’t seen that coming, and it really concerns me that we’re willing to give up something that I think defines our humanness: our ability to empathize and be with each other and talk to each other and understand each other. And I report to you with great sadness that the more I continued to interview people about this, the more I realized the extent to which people are willing to put machines in this role. People feel that they are not being heard, that no one is listening. They have a fantasy that finally, in a machine, they will have a nonjudgmental companion."
— A Conversation with Sherry Turkle
"Our period is not so unlike the age of Augustine: the planned society, caesarism of thugs or bureaucracies, paideia, scientia, religious persecution, are all with us. Nor is there even lacking the possibility of a new Constantinism; letters have already begun to appear in the press, recommending religious instruction in schools as a cure for juvenile delinquency; Mr. Cochrane’s terrifying description of the “Christian” empire under Theodosius should discourage such hopes of using Christianity as a spiritual benzedrine for the earthly city."
— Auden’s review of Charles Norris Cochrane’s Christianity and Classical Culture, first printed in The New Republic in 1944.