Social Media Is Not to Blame: Loneliness in the Digital Age


Social media has its issues. Whether it is setting impossible standards or its addictive nature, these factors are often considered social media’s hamartia, which impacts our well-being. On the other hand, it has also undoubtedly elevated social relationships. Social media has given us new opportunities for friendships and has brought people closer together than ever… right?

The loneliness epidemic has been at the forefront of public attention for a while. It has been over a year since the WHO declared loneliness a “global public health concern”, the usual culprits of course – social media and the Covid-19 pandemic. The media loves to indulge itself in blaming the pandemic for all of our loneliness. The rise of social media is framed as a by-product of the pandemic and is often blamed for the lingering effects of loneliness in the West after Covid-19, with media outlets such as Forbes claiming we suffer from social media-induced loneliness.

Many studies suggest that online interactions lack the non-verbal, physical presence we get from face-to-face interactions. However, suggesting social media is to blame for loneliness would imply that by eliminating social media we can eliminate the problem. As someone who has had the experience of (mostly) giving up social media for over a year now, I argue that neither the pandemic nor social media are at fault for the loneliness pandemic, although, they are definitely contributors – what is really to be blamed is the comfort of our modern culture and the individualism that comes with it.

The pandemic undoubtedly had some effect on exacerbating the loneliness in our culture, people were locked indoors, binging Netflix shows and ordering takeout every day. However, surely the pandemic can’t be solely blamed, as more people are reported to be feeling even lonelier after the pandemic ended. What the pandemic did instead, was accelerate the direction our society was already heading towards. We have become more dependent on technology than ever before, and the big issue is that it’s a comfortable and welcoming change. It is a tremendously easy task to spend the entire day without leaving your house in 2024. A lot of people nowadays work from home, order their food online and entertain themselves by sitting in front of a TV. These habits, introduced by the pandemic’s lock-downs, have lingered and taken over the way businesses sell products and mould our standards of living (for example, facilitating switching from in-person work meetings to online, improving streaming services, adding ‘reels’ to every app imaginable). None of this has to involve any social media or ‘fake’ interactions and conversations. The addictive nature of laziness and doing nothing outside of the screen is sufficient to captivate us and allow loneliness to come creeping in. And just like how it’s easy to spend a day without leaving your house, it is equally as easy to spend a week without leaving it, or even a month (if you can cope with the mental toll of it all).

Every aspect of what we need has been automated and perfected to the point where human intervention in the process is practically arbitrary. From the way we get our food to the way we get our salary, everything has a flat-screen doing the work for us. This comes at the cost of face-to-face interactions. We don’t need to interact with others by going to the market or starting conversations with strangers in a shop; all of the sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes pleasant situations have been automated and made redundant. How often do we choose to self-checkout, to sit in silence in public transport, to entertain ourselves with an isolating device – a phone, or video games? Through these ‘easy’ choices we willingly avoid human interaction. It then becomes clear that it isn’t just social media that replaced human interaction, but the technology and systems we rely on every day.

Social media, then assumes the role of fulfilling our need for these lost physical interactions. However, they can only imitate a fraction of what was lost. We often curate our online environments, creating ‘communities’ and bubbles that simply aren’t representative of real-world communities, which are much more dynamic and different from our idealised online ones. Nevertheless, social media doesn’t necessarily cause loneliness, rather, what causes loneliness is the fact that the alternative to social media (to go out and socialise) is more difficult as the years go by. Many young people aren’t obligated to get into social clubs or societies, despite it being important for socialisation. And either way, social clubs seem to be only a bandage on the much bigger problem of loneliness. People end up only socialising in clubs only inside curated bubbles much like a curated digital community – this causes a sense of disconnect to anyone outside these bubbles, once again causing loneliness.

I personally try to limit my social media as much as possible. I find that constantly messaging friends and family and having unlimited access to “conversation” cheapens it, and we end up taking interactions for granted. However, social media isn’t to blame for loneliness. Its popularity and addictive nature may reflect a necessity we have to interact with others that has been stripped away from us by the ease of modern technology and the culture we live in today. To try to solve loneliness by eliminating social media from your life, especially when everyone else is in a social bubble, may make you feel even more isolated than before.


Writer and content editor for the Wessex Scene.

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