I find it difficult to talk about social isolation but I think my current fundraising challenge and new work at OTR Bristol is a good opportunity to start this topic on my blog. It’s also prompted by a comment I have posted two days ago in response to the new Facebook “WhatWeDoTogether” video served to some of us about the value of Facebook community. (Which is positioned to support your sense of community but really links to setting up new groups – Facebook’s attempt to take over the market of LinkedIn groups).
I am a tech enthusiast and I believe in the power of positive psychology even though many therapists still cringe and dismiss this fairly new field. I agree that our positive outlook on life defines just how easy it is to cope with challenges. I just worry about the automated algorithmic solutions that most of the time get us but now and again simply hurt.
I personally found the Facebook’s community video really painful to watch. Instead of featuring my friends it featured my selfies surrounded by stock photography. It reminded me of my long period of social isolation which I really don’t like to go back too. It triggered the memories of a small conservative town I lived in for ten years with hardly any friends there, and mostly very shallow, artificial friendships. Also a controlling friendship too, which did not help. (I also must add a bit of context: when I saw the comment about the Facebook video I was thinking about grief that day, which made matters worse, I might have overreacted a bit). But the responses and follow up discussion was very meaningful and bonding. Showed just how meaningful and supportive Facebook friend can be. They reminded me that beyond my town I really had a lot of valuable relationships that took me through that dark time, saved my sanity.
But I still worry about social isolation. One can be ever so lonely in a large group of people, in the crowds even. We talk so much about the need to disconnect when what we really need is re-connecting: to ourselves, to each other and to our communities. I moved away from talking about politics but that does not mean that I have no political views anymore. I come from a childhood under Communism and lived a few changes of systems so I see and feel the times when the leading, privileged group of people aim to manipulate and control the “poor folk” (i.e. us) simply by turning us against each other, by making us feel less and weak and lonely. Because in a thriving community we feel empowered to ask, question and demand. Communities increase civic engagement and that’s not exactly what a leading party or any individual country leader would like to see. I just don’t think Facebook is here to solve that, we need to do it offline.
But here’s the thing: social isolation only hurts if you are truly on your own. A fellow blogger posted a response to my comment which was kind, supportive but also firmly reminding me of other aspects of online social networks: by doing that she actually proved me wrong and reminded me about the power of validation. When we hurt and others listen, respond and act – it makes all the difference. We had an interesting training at OTR Bristol this week on why we do what we do and why we are a social movement not just a charity. I think new times are coming because people are getting fed up with being expected to solve all their problems on their own. I think social media contributed to isolation but also the realisation that individualism has its benefits but also pitfalls. We need to have time for ourselves, but we also need strong, supportive groups and communities. We need to thrive and remember about self-care, but we also need to allow others to take a good care of us when we are in need. We cannot and should not live in complete isolation.
This is something that is most painful when you are young, so if you agree with the sentiment please support my 5K walk in support of @OTRBristol who tackle it already. Thank you!