We millennials have more friends than ever. It may seem ludicrous that a generation that grew up in the “social” world, with a rolling feed of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, would struggle with loneliness.
I was trapped in this bubble in my late teens. I spent 90 per cent of me-time on Instagram, posting multiple selfies in a week and liking all the posts on my feed. That earned me “likes” and some 200 followers, and the constant notification pings fed my increasing appetite for attention. I had sold my soul to Instagram.
Liking and commenting on each other’s pictures became the new way to display friendships. I craved that superficial interaction when my first selfie hit 100 likes. It gave me a high – the sort of feeling when a geek-girl gets the attention of the popular boy in school. But alas, that was as far as it got me.
Truth is, I never felt so alone, knowing that 90 per cent of my friends were, well, digits. I didn’t know their favourite food, books and movies, and vice versa.
Japanese author Haruki Murakami observes the effect of self-induced loneliness in his novel Sputnik Sweetheart, where he writes: “Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves.” Simply put: Our reliance on others to find meaning in life is the root of our own isolation.
We need to see the limits of social media. While technology has transformed our lives, and mostly for the better, it’s not a panacea.
Loneliness can be hard to address because no one wants to admit that they’re lonely. It’s a taboo, especially for those with a friend-count that’s ostensibly in the thousands. This is the problem: Social media exploits users’ weaknesses to keep them glued to their screens, despite all its virtues.
Millennials have been especially vulnerable to it, often creating an illusory impression of connection on these platforms.
When I went to university, I “broke up” with Instagram to fly “solo”. Eventually, I weaned myself off my unhealthy social media addiction. I made organic friendships through classroom discussions, taking the first step to introduce myself. Being alone (without a digital safety net) made me more confident. I was able to function independently.
While I haven’t renounced social media entirely, I’ve come to accept that there are moments when the mind is silent. I’d check in online whenever I feel the occasional FOMO (fear of missing out). Otherwise, I’d lie back and enjoy the lull of solitude. Being in the comfort of my own thoughts is a privilege, because it means that I’ve found a safe space to be 100 per cent me, in a time of social conformity.
This story was first published on Her World’s April 2020 issue.