Is Twitter making you feel less lonely?

Research suggests that Americans are more lonely than perhaps at any time in their history. Might inventions such as Twitter serve to fill this painful psychological vacuum?

You sleep with your boss' lover. You steal a stranger's dog. Or you win the lottery. Who is the first person you tell? And who is the second?

I ask only because I came across this utterly depressing conclusion about humanity from John Cacioppo, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago: Americans have fewer people to confide in now than they did 20 years previously.

Apparently, it's down to two from three.

In 2004, 25 percent of people claimed that they had not been able to confide in anyone for six months. Twenty years previously, that figure had only been 7 percent.

For some people, this might explain at least one of the attractions of Twitter--or any other social-networking contraption. You feel you have to tell someone. So you tell, well, everyone. Or at least everyone that you can friend, name, follow, stalk, or badger into accepting your offer of association.

Jacqueline Olds, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, suggests that loneliness somehow doesn't sit comfortably with American ideals such as independence and striving and extremely large burgers. (I may have come up with that last one.)

Yet if you can get a bunch of neuroscientists into one McDonald's, most will agree that vital parts of our brains became so developed precisely because they had to deal with all of the social stimuli and coding that swirl around us.

This photograph is entitled: "its such a lonely day and i can see the sky coming to kill me." Wonder if he's twittered that. CC Not So Good Photography

So might Twitter be a pathetic cry of comfort for those who truly feel the need for something even vaguely approaching human intimacy and understanding? An intimacy and understanding most people believe that they can't demand any more because everyone else is busy, successful, stressed, or simply fabulously self-centered?

There is something inherently poignant about people feeling good about bothering others with their tweets, while being entirely reluctant to bother them with real and justified needs.

Professor Cacioppo seems to see hope in, of all things, the economic recession. You might almost believe that he was praying for a great and lasting depression when the San Francisco Chronicle quoted him as saying, "People can't go out, and they have to be home together. It's nice to be able to depend on one another."

Twitter as a form of virtual human interdependence? Now there's a concept to which some enterprising college can dedicate research funds.

 

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