In the May issue, Stephen Marche reported that despite all the connectivity of the social-media age, people have never been lonelier.
What distinguishes Americans is not that we are more isolated, but that we spend more time and energy worrying about whether we are.
The fact that Americans are neither more lonely nor more detached than ever makes it difficult for Marche to prove that Facebook is responsible for turning us into a nation of lonesome narcissists. But this thesis wouldn’t hold up even if rates of loneliness and isolation had reached unprecedented levels. As [John] Cacioppo and the other experts Marche interviews tell him, people who feel lonely in their lives offline are likely to bring that loneliness to Facebook, whereas those who feel more connected are not …
Marche concedes that “loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook or Twitter or any of the lesser forms of social media is doing to us.” He accepts the psychologists’ insight: “We are doing it to ourselves.” For a moment, at least, Marche appears to answer his article’s inflammatory question—“Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”—with a definitive no.
But instead Marche concludes by arguing that Facebook is in fact doing something far more harmful … Facebook, he claims, has produced a “new isolation,” one that demands constant attention to the Internet and precludes any genuine retreat from the world. Facebook, he charges, “denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect.”