The millennial generation has been called many things over the past decade—smartest, richest, most adaptable, most entitled, laziest…the list goes on. Sure, there are both good and bad things on the list. But perhaps the most disturbing superlative used to describe the generation is this—loneliest. A recent study conducted by Cigna, an American worldwide health services organisation, dubs millennials (individuals who are currently between 23 and 37 years of age) the loneliest generation yet. This comes as a shock. Everyone knows that a majority of this generation grew up with the internet, social media and all the cool communication tools they invented—tools that previous generations could only dream of.
Whether at home or out in public, it’s hard to spot a millennial who is not plugged into one gadget or another. The gadget in turn opens the world of social media apps that urge them to share everything from thoughts and ideas to details about their latest meal for the world to see. If they aren’t typing rapidly on their WhatsApp, they are seen idly scrolling down their Facebook feed or clicking a picture of their roadside snack for Instagram. How could a generation of people who are tuned into each other’s lives so much of the time still be lonely?
It seems, far from helping millennials form better relationships, the internet is actually making them lonelier than ever. This finding comes from a study conducted by the City University of Hong Kong, which has revealed a “worrisome vicious cycle between loneliness and internet addiction”. Excessive and unhealthy internet use would increase feelings of loneliness over time, says the study, and online social contacts with friends and family are not an effective alternative for offline social interactions in reducing feelings of loneliness.
An average person’s social media feed tends to contain an endless chain of pictures, ‘check-ins’, and updates of people having fun. Scrolling through the feed, one might find that everyone in one’s circle is partying, going on dinner dates and having long vacations at picturesque destinations. This might lead to a phenomenon that this study terms ‘Facebook envy’. A millennial who scrolls through their feed several times a day might feel that their life is not as happening as that of their peers. This might lead them to feel left out or lonely.
Of course, there’s the fact that people tend to go public about their good moments more than their bad ones. But in our attempt to present the best parts of lives on social media, we end up hiding the parts of ourselves that are real and relatable. And deep connections, as we know, are formed only when people are able to relate to each other.
“Real human relationships are rich and messy and demanding. But they are also quite necessary. Without the warmth of such relationships, we cannot lead healthy, happy lives.”