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Twitter's Lonely Hearts

Feeling Lonely? Turn To Twitter

The paradox of social media is that in its quest to unite and entwine people in the internet age it often renders the individual feeling more disconnected with both their online and offline realities. With the possibility of connecting with 232 million Twitter users, social media in theory offers a therapeutic outlet for the lonely hearts club, but a cry of self-pity is often lost amongst the chaos. The web offers a platform to share our most intimate thoughts with the widest audience, but in this hyper-reality often the overriding outcome is loneliness.

Paul Neave is one of many contemporary artists exploring the synthesis between social media and art – he set up Lonely Tweets a constantly updating stream of abandonment. Traditionally the echelon of the tortured artist, now it seems any old Twitter user can wallow in self-pity and heart ache.

Here’s a couple of choice tweets taken at the time of writing:

“This time of the day is always so lonely” Jacob Weiner · 1m 13s ago

“Dumb bored nobody to talk to “I’m so lonely”” Christian Cannady · 5m 27s ago

“12M people and you feel lonely.” mikhael · 9m 9s ago 

Is this online pining for attention simply an emoji-inspired gimmick or a symptom of modern living that deserves more thorough investigation?

People seek to use social networking as a conduit for self-definition, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so blasé about social media and loneliness. By looking at online behavioural patterns and the differences in personal expression contained within 140 characters, researchers can understand more about this particularly technologically-triggered condition.

According to Understanding Loneliness in Social Awareness Stream, women are far more likely to send out cries for attention on Twitter – nearly seventy per cent of 4,500 lonely tweets were sent by women. Of course this doesn’t attempt to prove that women are lonelier than men, just that it is more commonly expressed online; the chances are that men are more reluctant to use Twitter as an outlet for isolation and vulnerability (despite the fact that more Twitter users are male).

Interestingly though, the study found that whilst women are keen to make their emotions known, they are less willing to elicit sympathy to fellow sufferers than men. Being male increases your chances of receiving a response to your lonely tweet by 27%. Also, people who appeared the loneliest were the least likely to receive support from their social network. We seem prepared to share our isolation with the world, yet rarely receive any interaction back – again, symptomatic of the hyper-real world of seeking connections online in vain. Why are people so reluctant to reach out? Are we apathetic, is loneliness uncool or intimidating? Perhaps social media isn’t the best platform on which to air it; yet so many continue to do so.

Talking of which, the latest from Neave’s Lonely Tweets project:

“I feel so lonely” ゆうこ (๑╹っ╹๑) · Malaysia · 51s ago

Of course, the study and Neave’s project do not represent true expressions of loneliness – there is a public and performative element to Twitter that undoubtedly appeals to the narcissist in us. However they do offer an interesting barometer for analysing differences in the way that men and women call for help online. It seems that it is still up to the online community to ultimately decide whether one's ‘loneliness’ is worthy of response – or at least a retweet.

Katie Rowley

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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Twitter's Lonely Hearts Reviewed by Anonymous on Thursday, July 31, 2014 Rating: 5
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