Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

Check out this excellent article in The Atlantic entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”  Some eye-popping statistics and quotes from the article include:

  • In 1950 less than 10 percent of American households contained only one person.  By 2010, nearly 27 percent had just one person.
  • A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely as opposed to 20 percent a decade earlier.
  • Roughly 20 percent of Americans — about 60 million people — are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.
  • “Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly about an epidemic of loneliness.”

The rise in loneliness has led to an explosion in the number of paid confidants.  A 2010 Hoover Institute paper stated in 1950 the U.S. had a combined 33,000 paid confidants including clinical psychologists, social workers and therapists.  By 2010 that number reached an estimated 1,091,00 paid confidants which includes new categories such as mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and life coaches.

Clearly, Facebook and other assorted addictions to media are not the only contributors to the epidemic of loneliness. The geographic spread of families, increased time spent working/commuting to work, and the decline of relationships in the workplace are also responsible.  Regarding relationships in the workplace, the push for productivity has contributed to a rise of cultures that label people who take time to build relationships as slackers.   Today, having lunch alone in your office is the norm.  Unfortunately, productivity and innovation take a toll when workers burn out from a lack of human connection.  They learn to play “face time” games that make it look like they’re working, when in reality they’re not.  Creating Connection Cultures in organizations to achieve “relationship excellence” is wise.  We most recently made the case for Connection Cultures in an article entitled,”The Science of Engagement,” that appeared in the Spring edition of  Training Industry Quarterly.

In addition to the The Atlantic article on Facebook making us lonely, here are two other readings I recommend.

The first is a post from entitled “Alone in the Classroom: Why Teachers are Too Isolated.”   The post reports that a recent Scholastic and Gates Foundation report found that teachers spend only 3 percent of their time collaborating with colleagues.   It goes on to express concern that merit pay may increase competitiveness among teachers so they are less likely to collaborate which will further increase teacher isolation and loneliness.

The second reading is a speech entitled “The Inner Ring” given by C.S. Lewis, the brilliant Cambridge professor.  In the speech, Lewis addresses the motivation to be accepted by a group that has status, power and control.  Lewis spoke from experience.  Last weekend I attended a retreat on C.S. Lewis led by Earl Palmer and held at the Laity Lodge in the Texas Hill Country.  While there, I learned that Lewis spent years as a tutor at Oxford and was never offered a professorship (most likely because of his religious views and popularity following a series of lectures he gave on Christianity that were broadcast on the BBC during the Battle of Britain).  Lewis’s advice to those who feel “social pain,” as we now refer to it, is to focus on producing excellent work and spending time with genuine friends rather than trying to influence and gain acceptance from members of an Inner Ring.  Wise advice, don’t you think?    C.S. Lewis went on to become a professor at Cambridge University and one of the most influential writers over the last century.  If you’re not familiar with Lewis, I recommend reading his clever and entertaining book, The Screwtape Letters.  The book is about a senior devil who mentors a young devil.  Also, it’s well worth watching Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Lewis in director Richard Attenborough’s movie Shadowlands.


In the coming weeks I’ll be completing two articles.  The first article is based on interviews I recently did of Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox who led the company’s miraculous turnaround.  The second article is on Connection Cultures in schools that features examples from three schools: Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, Greenwich High School in Greenwich, CT, and Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, TX.

From May 6-9, I’ll be in Denver to speak at the American Society for Training and Development’s (ASTD) annual conference where 8,500 organizational training professionals from around the world will gather.  The topic of my presentation is “Do Leaders Need to Make Employees Happy?”  I’ll also be participating in a panel of leadership authors, doing a book signing and exhibiting at the conference.  If you plan to be there, please stop by our booth and say hello.

Finally, check out our new 2-page E Pluribus Partners brochure.



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