How Technology Has Made Us Scared To Be Alone

People my age are constantly stereotyped as being addicted to our phones. I can see where the idea comes from – my phone is basically an extension of me. Even if it’s not in my hand, it’s within arm’s reach, right by my side at all times. If I somehow don’t know where it is, I panic until I find it. But unlike what most people think, I’m not addicted to the phone itself. It’s an addiction to the people I’m talking to. It’s an addiction to a constant sense of connection.

Humans are social creatures by nature. No matter how introverted you may think you are, interaction and connection are vital for our social and mental well-being. The fact that we can carry a device in our pocket that allows us to stay connected in dozens of ways should seem like a great thing. But it’s not. A recent study out of San Francisco State University has shown that people who use their phones the most are also those who report the highest levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation.

But why? The authors of this study suggested that the buzzes, notifications, and alerts on our phone trigger the same “hurry, act now!” response in our brain that we used hundreds of years ago to respond to danger. However, I also believe there’s something else at play. I believe our society has shifted from “connected” to “over-connected.” We’ve come so reliant on always being in touch that we’ve come to think there is something wrong with us if we aren’t. Everyone has experienced the disappointment of being away from your phone for a long time, only to check it and realize you had zero texts/snaps while you were gone. This feeling stems from an underlying expectation that people need to constantly be contacting us, and we’ve attached our self-worth to that expectation. The go-to line of thinking becomes: If people aren’t reaching out, I must not be worthy of their attention. They must not care about me.  

This type of thinking can quickly become dangerous, something I found out first-hand a few years ago. I spent most of my first three years of college in a long-term relationship. Somehow at the beginning of the relationship, it was unconsciously decided that he and I would talk all day, every day. If we weren’t together, we were Snapchatting every few minutes or so. I couldn’t even tell you what we really talked about. It was meaningless conversation – we were just talking to talk.

Over time, this always-connected precedence became dangerous. I was so accustomed to having someone there at all times that I was never really truly alone. Any time any minor inconvenience happened in my life, I’d immediately have an outlet to vent, which led to some seriously unhealthy (aka nonexistent) emotional coping skills. If too much time went by between his responses, I would start to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Was I not good enough? Was I boring to talk to? Was he sick of me?  (Be right back, cringing at my past self).

​When we broke up, the recovery process was made even harder because I’d lost not only a boyfriend, but also that never-ending conversation and sense of connection. My phone felt so dead. I would catch myself checking it every couple of minutes, purely out of habit. 

I spent the next couple of months learning how to be okay being alone, both physically and virtually. I had to retrain my thoughts, reminding myself constantly that just because no one was texting me didn’t mean I was any less valuable or loved. Just because my phone wasn’t “blowing up” didn’t mean my life wasn’t full of great relationships with friends and family that brought me joy.

If you read this and thought “Yikes girl,” you’re right. I was in a dark place mentally. I stayed in a relationship a lot longer than I should have simply because I was scared of being alone, and I think being constantly connected to my ex through my phone was a huge part of that. I’m in a new (and much, much healthier) relationship now. My boyfriend and I only send a few texts a day, usually to coordinate where we’re meeting for lunch or whose place we’re staying at that night. We’re both busy people, and I don’t need to hear from him every five minutes to remind myself that I’m not alone or unworthy. As I type this, I haven’t received a text or Snapchat in the last 45 minutes. And I feel just fine.

 

Photo Credit: Image 1, Image 2