Comment: The internet doesn’t break social ties, it can make them stronger

People busy on social media. Pic: Fauxels

It is often claimed that young people are losing the ability to connect with others – but a new generation of networking apps shows that this is nonsense

I came of age during the birth of social media. At 10, I had a Bebo account. At 13, Facebook’s claw gripped me. My inane thoughts have been posted on Twitter since I was 15 – for nearly a decade. I was 16 when my sister convinced me to join Instagram. I do have memories of life without the internet, but only just: it has formed the way my generation and I communicate. The dopamine hit when I get a wee red notification can lead to hours lost in scrolling.

It’s not just me, of course: 30% of Londoners polled agreed they spend too much time communicating with family and friends online when they should see them in person. Olivia Field, lead at the Red Cross said that it’s definitely more complicated than the internet simply being a negative influence – the “issue is when face-to-face contact is replaced by online contact.”

Social media apps Pic: Pixabay

A group that is particularly vulnerable to this is young people, as a 2019 House of Commons report found (and as anyone with eyes can see). 

The negative effects burn. Being bombarded with images of people having fun without you – people you don’t care about, people you might even think are incredibly boring – is not good for you. It instills this fear into you that there is something wrong with you. You fester in bed, alone on a Saturday night. This is despite telling yourself that you went on Tuesday night. You had a good time, without needing to broadcast it. This is maturity; you know that. You know a full social media presence does not mean a full life, and yet …

Phone notifications Pic: Cristian Dina

Despite all this, social media can also be a force for social good. Olivia Field, a loneliness expert at the Red Cross found that it can be great for facilitating connections – it can provide a medium to find and connect with people who share your hobbies and interests, for example.

The app Meetup has been connecting people since 2014. They focus exclusively on social meetings. “We are talking about social media apps that work better than Facebook and Instagram in terms of meeting new people and doing activities”, said Laura Bottacini, 32, who was pleasantly surprised when she tried the app for the first time. “While with Instagram and Facebook you are presented with a crowd of people, with Meetup you can already see readymade events. It creates a more spontaneous way of joining in a group because of the interest in living that same experience.”

Chris Ryves is an organiser of a Croydon-based Meetup group. When he moved to the area after university, he did not know anyone locally. His parents were local, but he had been to boarding school so none of his school friends were nearby. He didn’t want to fester alone forever, so he took to the internet and found himself a group online.

Chris Ryves and his wife Kathryn at a MeetUp event in Croydon. Pic: Clara Hill

“People are genuinely warm and friendly, and ultimately everyone who’s come to this event tonight are all here for the same reason: to meet people.”

Chris has found the move to using Meetup a success on more than one front. He even met his wife Kathryn at these events.

So I put away my phone and went to his event, in a cosy pub on Croydon High Street. There was a definite cosy and intimate ambience. Everyone was friendly and had nothing but lovely things to say about their experience of finding community online. Some were in more than one group, focused on different interests. No one here believed that London was inherently a lonely city. For them, the vastness of cyberspace has shrunk the capital, making it easier for them to make their way to one another.

This is day three of four in Eastlondonlines’ #IsLondonLonely? series. Read the rest of the series here

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