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Loneliness, social media and friendship
Some results from the BBC survey –
A year ago, we encouraged everybody to take part in the BBC Loneliness Experiment. The BBC reported back in January, and you can listen to the results as a podcast at …
- Health Check Loneliness Part 1
“How does social media and friendship influence the development of loneliness? Claudia Hammond analyses the results of the BBC Loneliness Experiment.”
- Health Check Loneliness Part 2
“In the last special programme about loneliness, Claudia Hammond looks at the role of health, society and culture and finds out about England’s new strategy for tackling it.”
If you can’t log in to the podcast, you can listen to the downloads on our computers at Whitmore Community Centre. If you are in a hurry, you can read our partial transcript below.
Part 1 touches briefly on something that is very relevant to the IT drop-in — the role of social media. The experiment and the report are journalism, not research — but the conclusions support our own observations that social media …
- are most beneficial for people who have a functioning social network in the real world
- can be addictive and damaging for people who are socially isolated
This is a transcript of a 6 minute excerpt from Part 1 (27 minutes)
Now when people hear that some young people feel lonely, the next thing they say to me is “it must be social media”. Those I’ve interviewed for this series from the ages of 14 to 96 have all been using technology to communicate. But the relationship between social media and loneliness isn’t straightforward.
I’m a drama teacher and I became a carer because my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was thirty-six. It was a complete shock. I’m probably not the epitome of what you would think of when you think of loneliness – mid thirties, active social life. But there were times at the worst moments of his treatment when I was alone. And it was very difficult. I couldn’t really explain to people. We used social media – we use Facebook – to update people on what is happening, mostly because it was just a very quick and easy way — you just say it once and it’s out there, and everybody knows.
The response that we got back from people – hundreds, literally hundreds of messages – it did make us laugh, and it did make us as positive about it as possible, just knowing that people were there and knew what was happening— was really helpful. I think it’s a bit of a double edged sword – the sense that it has its positives, through blogging and stuff like that, people have been in touch. And that’s great but I do think when I’m feeling at my lowest, going on social media – Instagram in particular – and seeing people seemingly having these amazing lives and enjoying themselves – and it does make me feel – why can’t I have that?
We did ask questions about Facebook usage in our study and I asked Rebecca Nowland – research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, who has done extensive research into social media – what she made of our data.
Loneliness was associated with using this kind of negative self-disclosure and also being motivated to use social media to make friends – in contrast to non-lonely people who aren’t really feeling the need to use social media to do that. If you’re using online sources as the only mechanism for making contact with people, that’s not going to give you the quality and the intimacy, or even the touch that you get when you’re with somebody. That’s actually quite important to make a difference from the mental health and how you feel about yourself and your own self-worth.
But don’t some people make really good friends online and say that this is the place that they can find someone who really understands what life is like for them, and they may be living somewhere relatively isolated where they are not going to find someone and find some of the things in common.
You’re absolutely right, and there’s an awful lot of literature out there to show that having a blog helps you connect with people and social media helps you to connect with people. But when we are talking about people that are lonely, and their social media use, you are talking about people that are unhappy with their current situation in relation to how connected they feel with other people.
I see what you mean. So what it suggests is they may be looking for friends online, but not finding those relationships, those meaningful relationships and connections that they want to have that would alleviate the loneliness.
It’s more how you use it, not the using, that’s the problem. So for some people if they feel lonely – and it might be because their family lives far away – to communicate with them online would actually reduce the loneliness.
You mentioned at one of the things that people who expressed higher loneliness in the survey do is to use more negative evaluation.
What that really means is that people put negative things that are happening to them on social media. That type of behaviour we find in people are quite high in loneliness – that when they do interact with people, they tend to say things that are quite negative. And that then makes people less likely to connect with them. Again this is very general.
It’s a shame it might make it harder to connect.
I think there might be an unfortunate thing of human nature. There are two ways of looking at the data. There’s an association there – so if you use social media in a way that is very positive – use it more to get information rather than try to connect with other people, it would reduce loneliness. It’s all about how you use it. So you see here, we get the relationship between loneliness and entertainment, and the people that are not as lonely are using it more for information – so they’re going online to check what’s happening, having a look around and maybe find out what’s going on with people.
Whereas people using it probably to distract themselves from the feeling of loneliness – so using social media a lot because it’s something I can do that makes me for temporarily connected to people.
I was really struck by the findings on whether people’s friends overlapped on Facebook and in real life. So can you explain what we were looking at and what we found?
Basically you’re asking people to say – how many of your friends that you have online are people that you actually know in real life – and lonely people had fewer overlapping friends. So they had fewer friends offline than they did online.
And is that surprising?
It’s not surprising in a sense that has been shown before, but not in such large scale surveys covering such a vast age group. It shows that this is really a consistent thing.
And what does that tell us about people’s lives, do you think?
It tells us that when we use social media in a way that we have less people that we know in real life on Facebook, then it’s associated with loneliness. So really, to utilise social media in the best way, we need to use it to keep in contact with the people we already know, and contact with people that we would like to meet in real life – and have friendships that way. If we end up in a virtual world where a lot of our friends are, we not really connecting with them in an intimate way and that’s associated with loneliness.
Photo by Bernard Hermant
Inspiring talks about things that matter
TEDx video talks in the library – Thursdays in March
TEDx Hackney Libraries is a wonderful opportunity for local residents to get together to listen to experts talk about subjects that matter to us all. These events aren’t just about listening; the open discussion at each session encourages conversation about how these topics affect our everyday lives, inspire us to see things from a different perspective and could even spark change!
The 7 March TEDx videos
TEDx Hackney Libraries has returned with a series of Thursday evening events that we think everybody should go to. The next event (7 March) is especially interesting, as three of the four video talks are directly relevant to what we do at the Friday afternoon drop-in and the Monday afternoon podcast.
Of course, you could watch them now — but that would miss the point completely. The conversation after the talks is the most important part, and you can’t do that on your own.
Where and when
- Stoke Newington Library, 182 Stoke Newington Church St, N16 0JL (map: goo.gl/maps/7YAjt6JGPTm)
Thursday 7 March, 6 to 8 pm
We’re building a building a dystopia just to make people click on ads
We’re building an artificial intelligence-powered dystopia, one click at a time, says techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. In an eye-opening talk, she details how the same algorithms companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon use to get you to click on ads are also used to organize your access to political and social information. And the machines aren’t even the real threat. What we need to understand is how the powerful might use AI to control us — and what we can do in response.
How we need to remake the Internet
In the early days of digital culture, Jaron Lanier helped craft a vision for the internet as public commons where humanity could share its knowledge — but even then, this vision was haunted by the dark side of how it could turn out: with personal devices that control our lives, monitor our data and feed us stimuli. (Sound familiar?) In this visionary talk, Lanier reflects on a “globally tragic, astoundingly ridiculous mistake” companies like Google and Facebook made at the foundation of digital culture — and how we can undo it. “We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them,” he says.
How to tame your wandering mind
Amishi Jha studies how we pay attention: the process by which our brain decides what’s important out of the constant stream of information it receives. Both external distractions (like stress) and internal ones (like mind-wandering) diminish our attention’s power, Jha says — but some simple techniques can boost it. “Pay attention to your attention,” Jha says.
Why you should talk to strangers
“When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life — and theirs,” says Kio Stark. In this delightful talk, Stark explores the overlooked benefits of pushing past our default discomfort when it comes to strangers and embracing those fleeting but profoundly beautiful moments of genuine connection.
Celebrate survival — one more year
Friday afternoon, 2 pm, 21 December, at Whitmore Community Centre
What sort of party?
Look at some of the party videos on page Blasts from the Past — they just happened naturally — so that is what we have in mind at the moment. Music delivery by Haggerston DJ Sister Teresa.
Who is invited?
- You and everybody else — past, present and future droppers-in, podcasters, volunteers, helpers, friends, family 🙂
Is party booze allowed?
- WCC management say: “Yes – but don’t make a mess, and please take your bottles away with you”.
On the day that Tracey Crouch announces the UK government strategy to combat loneliness, Hackney elders discuss their own understanding and experiences of loneliness and isolation.
The voices belong to: Andreas, Marylin, Mimi and Sallie.
Recorded 15 October 2018 in the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, London E8 3DF.
An experiment in online gatherings and workshops
Saturday 20 Oct, 2 to 4 pm
An online drop-in?
This is something we have been thinking about for several years. We don’t like the fact that our inclusive drop-in sessions do not include some of the people who most need it – people who are housebound, always or occasionally, for any reason.
What can we do about that?
Can we create an online drop-in that is tied to the real drop-in, so that everybody feels that they belong, everybody feels more connected, and everybody gets help and support if they want it?
Online gatherings with video and sound are not new. Businesses have been doing it for at least 20 years. The technology already works well. It’s available to anyone who has an Internet connection (at home or anywhere else) and a device with a video camera and a microphone. That’s a lot of people. The challenge is learning how to make it work for everybody who visits the IT drop-in, and everybody who cannot.
Right now, it’s not obvious how we could include housebound IT beginners. That’s a goal we should work towards, from where we are now – a plausible starting point, which we think could be Hangouts Meet.
Piloting Hangouts Meet
Learners on our recent mini-course G Suite apps helped to test Hangouts Meet, which we can offer as a free resource for chat, information and learning. Of course, we couldn’t test it fully because we were all in the same room! But it seems to have everything we need: business-level privacy, designed for regular scheduled sessions at which everyone can get to know everyone else, good sound quality over wifi (reasonable video too), the ability to break out to smaller group chats, participants can create their own sessions if they want to, and even the possibility of running online workshops.
So the next step is to pilot it — schedule a date and time for an open online session in which nearly everybody will be somewhere else, probably at home. We hope you can find time next Saturday to join an experimental session. Details below …
Help us test an online drop-in
Sat 20 October, 2 to 4 pm(it’s a drop-in, so start and finish as you please).
- It should work on most smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.
- If you have an account at gmail.com, seniors.org.uk or bold.org.uk – sign in to that first.
- Then follow this link:
If you would like more information about this idea, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like help with your equipment, or maybe even try a dummy run, please come to one of our four drop-in sessions this week.
Miss Kakande brings her talk show to Whitmore Community Centre.
The voices belong to: Andreas, Irene, Janette, Mark, Maralyn, Megan, Mimi, Miss Kakande, Sallie.
Recorded 29 June 2018. 65 minutes.
Paula Yassine, manager of St. Mary’s Secret Garden, leads a conversation about gardening and wellbeing.
The voices belong to: Dane, Megan, Paula, Rick, Sallie. Six other people were part of the discussion, but are not heard on this episode.
Recorded 1 June 2018. 38 minutes.