We have relationships, but we still feel lonely.
We’re in touch constantly, but we still feel lonely.
Feeling lonely is part of being human. It’s a complex feeling informed by our relationships, our environment, and our thoughts. Loneliness also informs our wellbeing. When we’re lonely, we often feel more negative and less energetic. We may feel more anxious, less confident, and less motivated. Some of us may even experience physical symptoms of loneliness like fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
When we feel lonely, it isn’t simply a lack of interactions in our lives. Similarly, when we feel a sense of belonging and bond, it isn’t simply a measure of the number of people in our lives or how often we interact with them. Both loneliness and belonging are a balance between:
As human beings, we all need both of these things, but the ideal balance of connection and interconnection varies from one person to the next. Even within a single person, the ideal balance will vary according to the habits, environments, and endeavours they have in their life.
If they’re particularly engaged in their profession, some folks may be perfectly content only in the company of their work for days at a time. But if their work becomes unappealing, they may start to feel lonely. Some folks prefer to keep only a few close relationships in their lives, and limit their casual interactions throughout the day. But as conditions in their day-to-day life change they may start to crave the company of others.
Regardless of what our particular balance is: we feel lonely when we have an imbalance of connection and interconnection in our lives.
Interconnection, defined simply, is a mutual connection between two or more things. It refers to the state of being connected or linked together by something.
Interconnection is like a web of constant interactions. Folks engage with each other frequently and consistently, yet these engagements lack a deeper significance. If we think of a single connection – our specific interaction with another person or thing – as a thread, then interconnection is all these threads woven together to form a pattern of regular and habitual exchanges. This interweaving of interactions might involve routine chats, updates on everyday events, and casual remarks that maintain a continuous line of communication.
We interconnect with each other often. In a single day, we might send someone a text message to see how their day is going. We might share a meme with that same person, invite them to an event in our Google Calendar, and then stumble across something they shared on LinkedIn. We might even CC them in an email that afternoon.
We’re in touch with each other all day, but we’re not really talking to or about one another. We’re interconnecting all day, but our actual connections are tenuous. The web is vast, but each thread is weak in itself.
Connection, by contrast, is a direct relationship between two people or things.
Whereas interconnection is like a web of constant interactions, connection is the single thread – the interaction between you and another person or thing. Whereas interconnection is built by increasing the number of threads, connection is built by strengthening the individual thread itself. Connection is strengthened by creating compassion, understanding, and empathy in our relationships and then in our interactions. Connection is a measure of depth.
Interconnecting is sending the text message. Connecting is when the text message turns into a conversation.
Both connection and interconnection are vital to a balanced state of wellbeing. Human beings crave community: interconnection. But we also crave relationships: connection.
To feel supported, we need to feel connected to those closest to us and interconnected with those beyond our immediate sphere. We need connection to build meaningful relationships on an individual level. We need interconnection to feel a sense of community and broader belonging. A lack of either one can cause us to feel lonely.
As we’ve moved more of our interactions online, we’ve become more and more interconnected. But we’ve also become less connected. We maintain more relationships than ever before, but the thought and attention we can give to each of those relationships has dwindled.
We’re in a loneliness epidemic.
When the internet was founded, the term “world wide web” was chosen to capture the connections that this new platform would enable. It conveyed the idea of a vast network of interconnected information accessible to people all around the world.
The world wide web was meant to be a place of interconnection.
When social media was first founded, it was conceived as a platform to foster genuine connections and facilitate meaningful interactions among users. The concept was rooted in the idea of creating an online environment that mimicked real-world social interactions, allowing individuals to engage in dialogue, share emotional experiences, and build connections that extended beyond exchanges of information.
Social media was meant to be a place of connection, but it was hosted in a place of interconnection. There was always an incompatibility. Over time, connection has been slowly replaced by engagement.
We have so many modern arenas for interconnecting today. Through social media, we can effortlessly browse through a cascade of videos – we may see familiar faces, favourite accounts and viral moments. We can comment on posts, and exchange likes, creating a constant stream of interactions. We have a tangible sense of being part of a larger community – a whole digital world – where we can sense the presence of other humans.
But we’re not really connecting with each other. We’re connected by the routine of exchanging text messages throughout the day. We’re connected by the funny memes or the TikTok that we share. Connection takes effort. We have relationships with things and people everywhere, but we still feel lonely.
So, where do we connect? Where can we have the conversations that really matter?
The world wide web is a technology of rapid information dissemination, an interconnection of ideas and resources. Social media, a network for people instead of information, is also a technology of interconnection. These technologies are neither good nor bad. Their design simply makes them better at certain things, and worse at others.
For better or worse, technology is part of our lives. Every day, it seems, there are new applications of artificial intelligence impacting our lives and relationships. We don’t need to reject technology. Instead, we can choose to think deeply about what the systems and technology we use everyday are built for. We also need to think deeply about what we, as humans, are built for.
In understanding that relationship, we can bring out the best in technology. Developers and designers can work towards creating platforms that prioritise emotional connection and wellbeing over engagement. But this isn’t just a task for designers and developers. It’s also a task for us. Designers and developers can design technology with an intended experience, but only the end user knows the actual experience:
It’s up to us to understand and be mindful of our relationship to these technologies and how they impact us by:
It’s up to us to bring out the best in the technology we use. When we do, our technology can help bring out the best in us.
We may be living in a loneliness epidemic.
Modern technology may have steered us towards interconnection, and away from connection.
But interconnection isn’t bad. It simply needs to be balanced by connection.
We’re not at the whim of technological innovation. The internet has fostered unprecedented interconnection: this has brought society forward in a lot of important ways. It has also brought some newfound challenges along with it. But this doesn’t mean the future of technology won’t be founded on connection. By better understanding ourselves and the systems and technology we use every day, we can find balance in our lives.
We can build a future where technology supports human wellbeing.
Andrew & UpBeing