Recent from the Blog

April 2024

As a proud member of Generation X, I derive much pleasure from avoiding anything to do with pop culture. As soon as something becomes mainstream, I want nothing to do with it. But, alas, we all have our guilty pleasures. For me, I enjoy football. The Lions were so fun to watch and cheer for this year. In watching the NFL in 2023, it would have been hard to ignore the presence of Taylor Swift. Her appearances led to a discussion with a friend about her televised reactions and behaviors during the games. To me, when she was shown in the luxury boxes, there seemed to be a fakeness about her – meaning that her on-camera persona was rehearsed. To me, this was done as a way to garner and cultivate her brand and, as an extension, her social media footprint. I concede that my conclusion is debatable and totally biased based on my generational experiences. But this discussion, and my self-assured opinions, did lead to the inspiration for this blog. I became curious if people would rather have one million followers or one true connection?

A fundamental shift in how people interact with each other began around 2010. At this time, the iPhone and social media were being unleashed onto the world. Virtual connections replaced live ones and the mental health outcomes have been disastrous. Likes and follows became favored over hanging out, which has led to sharp increases in depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. Yet, this new world order seems to be just how things are done now, so the very thing that is causing the harm is also a necessary part of everyday life.

Having one million followers would certainly have its upside. Who doesn’t want fame, fortune, and the feeling of being adored? But, maybe all that glitters is not gold. In a 2023 study by the NIH, Associations Between Social Media Use and Loneliness in a Cross-National Population: Do Motives for Social Media Use Matter?, it was concluded that, “people who use social media for the motive of maintaining their relationships feel lonelier than those who spend the same amount of time on social media for other reasons. While social media may facilitate social contact to a degree, they may not facilitate the type of contact sought by those who use social media primarily for this reason.”

In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, published an Advisory Report on the Epidemic of Loneliness. The report noted that loneliness is experienced throughout a person’s lifespan and it can spiral as a result of trauma, illness, and the effects of aging. It can also be exacerbated by technology taking the place of human interaction, which helps explain why young people report the highest rates of loneliness. To circle back to Swift, she seems to profit from a system that creates this perceived connection, while many of her fans experience abject loneliness and other difficult mental health concerns.

If you know me, you’ve certainly heard your fair share of stories, bad jokes, and crazy ideas. One of my favorites to tell is the idea of another 1960s style revolution. But instead of burning bras and draft cards, people deactivate their social media accounts. How glorious would that be? This is not nostalgia for the past, but rather hope for the future. The best way to garner and cultivate hope is through meaningful, in-real-life connections with other human beings. The internet, our various screens, and social media give the illusion of hyper-connectivity, all the while producing actual loneliness. Throughout my years, I have spent too much time in shadows and silos. Isolation in any form is bad. Opting for one million followers over one true connection is just the latest iteration of isolation.

The issues related to technology, isolation, and loneliness can feel overwhelming. With these big, complex issues, I like to fall back on things I know to be certain. For example, we as humans are hard-wired to connect with each other. When we lack connection, it triggers the same survival instincts as if we are lacking air, food, or water. To prioritize isolation over connection is to prioritize something that goes against our very biology. The thing that would cause us to prioritize something that threatens our survival must be very powerful. I believe that screens and social media are that powerful.

I also believe that we are not destined for isolation and loneliness. There is a movement now to put in some guardrails. In Jonathan Heidt’s new book, The Anxious Generation, he suggests that kids not have phones until high school, no social media until age 16, all schools should not allow phones, and that kids should be given the chance to play (meaning having parents be less hovering). These are common sense ideas that can lead to positive outcomes. Furthermore, these suggestions would help to illuminate the benefits of one true connection over one million fake ones.

Until this happens, we all still live in this reality. To cope now, we have to be persistent and intentional. A couple years ago, I started a therapy group for people to get social interaction. We met at a local golf course, played 9 holes together, and then sat down for dinner. This has been such a big success and people have credited this group with helping them so much. I am proud to be able to offer people such opportunities, as well as individual counseling services through Lyon Counseling Center. From my own journey, I have come to know and believe that even though people can be a real pain, we need each other. Having true, real connection is life affirming in a way that one million followers on social media could never be. If these are issues that you are struggling with, please use Lyon Counseling Center as a resource to help navigate your journey. We are all in this together.