What came first: the chicken or the egg?
This seems to be the question that comes to my mind when I think about loneliness and the use of media. I don’t believe that all who use media in their homes as a means of connection, entertainment, or knowledge of the world will wind up lonely as a result.
So instead of writing philosophically on the topic, allow me tell you my story.
As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated with people. Relationships, conversation, behavior – all of it. And one thing TV shows provide is a pretend window into the lives of other people. It allows for a type of role play. In all of my free time, I would choose to engage in any television show in order to curb my appetite for understanding humanity. Constantly pushing the boundaries that my parents put on me, I wanted to watch shows too mature for my age.
At a young age, in elementary, I started practicing the scripts. Setting my mind to learn the dance of dialog, I would practice these speeches with any listening ear. With some I became popular, but with most I was just plain weird. I didn’t have many true friends. I didn’t have many interests or hobbies outside of watching TV. My life was full of people, but empty of life.
I was bored. I tuned in with hopes of filling up that need to do something, and it only robbed me of my time. The more I watched, the more the emptiness inside grew. As the emptiness grew, so did my loneliness, and the need to fill this gap was demanding. I could only quiet the demand with another show. (Also, the commercials were feeding another demand. The discontent I felt with my emotional life was nothing compared to the discontent I felt about my physical life.)
What I didn’t realize until my late teens was that scripts aren’t real life. I prided myself on how well I knew all the characters in all the shows, I even idolized the people on “reality shows” because I thought they had somehow made their fascination with television reality and found the secret door into the other side of the screen.
Even talking about shows with “friends” at school fooled me into thinking I wasn’t harming myself in any way. But what we had was really just fan clubs, not true companionship.
And that’s the need. Loneliness is being in a state of aloneness that lacks companionship or support.
The TV had lured me in with its people, characters, exotic places, and luxuries, promising to fill my need for purpose and connection. I’ve always been an introvert so this felt like a win, win. But in the end, I felt disconnected and depressed. These negative feelings steam rolled into my twenties and as I grew in responsibility, my ravenous need for companionship and support grew but the ability for shows and characters to provide diminished.
Finally, God intervened. I was alone for what felt like the millionth time, watching a game show that I could not have cared less about, filling my evening with nonsense, and He spoke to me. “Get rid of it.”
I turned it off, and sat in the silence. I was a little afraid of what the cost of “getting rid of it” would be. Not only to me, but for my 2 children. They were 3- and 1.5-years old at the time. Using Praise Baby or Dora to take a shower was classified as a NEED in my life.
But I obeyed. I unplugged the beast and put it in a closet.
In the silence, I found the peace and companionship I was longing for. I felt satisfied for the first time in my life.
I thought about the friendships in my life and the little effort I had put into them. The ones I had were mostly because of convenience to me. I could see lots of effort on their part, and the realization became clear that from the earliest age I hadn’t been taught to “make friends.”
It’s never too late to learn, I thought. It’s time to make up for what was lost.
And so I began investing in relationships starting with the ones closest to me. Little by little, I began to see growth in the amount of love that came from within me. It wasn’t by my design. I know the One who is to credit for my freedom and healing.
My story concludes on a happy note, but what about all the kids growing up in this digital generation? Are they going to be taught how to make friends in the real world? Are their connections with friends more like a fan club with the only exchange between them words about the video game levels or what the hero accomplished in the episode this week?
Can they handle their emotions when everything is silent? Can I?
I want to answer these questions and address the part of my story that includes facebook and loneliness in the future post on coping mechanisms and destructive relationships. Stay tuned.