Law in the Internet Society

Always Connected, Yet Still Alone

-- By MatthewSchwartz - 3 Dec 2023

Technology and its Relationship with Human Attention

The proliferation of technology across all aspects of life continues to reduce the attention people allocate towards their everyday human interactions. It has also changed the way in which people spend their time, how they perceive their social identity, and, according to Sherry Turkle in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, the elevated rate at which we multitask. By walking into a modern-day classroom, it is evident that students are distracted, whether browsing the internet or texting their friends. These distractions impair our ability to succeed—personally and as a broader society. According to the Cleveland Clinic, multitasking makes humans less efficient and more prone to errors. In studies looking into screen times and ADHD severity, there is a positive correlation between screen usage and ADHD symptoms.

The internet is no longer just a tool, but also an addiction. As much as 25% of children are addicted to the internet. Children are glued to their phones and spend an average of 4-6 hours per day on screens.


The loss of interpersonal socialization and relationships can have detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing. 37% of Americans do not interact with anyone at least once a week. And according to Turkle, since 2014, people have reported a dramatic decrease in their interest of others.

The minimal time spent with others and a decreased interest in doing so help explain why 34% of Americans feel lonelier than ever before. In 2017, the U.S. Surgeon General said that we are living through a loneliness epidemic. The modern world is an incubator for loneliness as shared experiences and personal connection have been replaced with screentime. The sociological impact of loneliness has led to a host of negative health and social detriments. Being lonely is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And according to the study, "No Employee an Island Workplace Loneliness and Job Performance" loneliness reduces job performance and employee commitment.

Anxiety, Stress, Depression, and Social Skills

Anxiety, stress, and depression have been shown to be significantly positively correlated with internet addiction. There have even been calls to include internet addiction into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, given the strong correlation between high internet usage and anxiety, stress, and depression. In a climate of rising internet addiction, it comes as no surprise that another study found that the prevalence of anxiety disorders and depression worldwide is rising.

The physiological impact of technology could in part be to blame for these mental disorders. Technology usage has led to sleep deregulation due to extended exposure to blue-light radiation, which has been shown to disrupt REM sleep. REM sleep is necessary for brain maintenance, elevating mood, lowering depression and anxiety, and improving social skills.

Technology is also altering our natural communication patterns. Non-verbal cues, like body language, facial expressions, and voice tone are much more challenging to identify without face-to-face interaction. Additionally, engaging primarily via screens may inhibit humans ability to exhibit empathy. Reduced empathy may ultimately affect business deals and negotiations, as it will be increasingly challenging to find commonality with others.

Relationship Simplification Due to Confusion

According to Turkle, technology causes confusion about the proper amount of communication required in an interaction, which has simplified relationships. People are in a constant state of confusion about whether they have communicated enough; in fact, many often try to not engage too much or appear overeager in order to seem cooler. For example, we don’t expect our friends to engage us in deep conversation over text, or for them to reply immediately.

Nevertheless, people are more connected than ever before. Adults under 45 send and receive 85+ texts per day, on average. And social groupings have shifted, as people now have access to communicate with broader networks in a virtual environment. However, our definition of connected has changed. While we claim to be connected, our relationships are shallower and often involve communicating with strangers on virtual platforms. Nevertheless, the magnitude of people we have access to communicate with reduces the attention a person can allocate to any single individual. Relationships in the macro sense are commoditized, as any communication partner is replaceable.

Technology as a Gap-Filler

Technology has become our escape from human relationships altogether. We often spend time interacting with robots and online avatars, which per Turkle, is a way to fill any voids in our life. Our identities have changed, as we now think about ourselves by both our real-world identities and internet personas. We are no longer just our physical selves; we are also judged by how we appear online, whether that be our follower counts or friends on social media.

Turkle mentions she has identified that younger humans are more accepting of falling in love with a robot or using robots to replace human’s roles in particular tasks. It will not be unheard of for humans to marry or befriend robots, instead of a real human. Humans prefer to feel in control of their conversations and relationships, which robots are able to accommodate. Robots accept our feelings, feel safe, and allow us to be 100% in control. This may help explain our preference for texting conversations, where we can determine when to reply and end a chat. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Gen Z is opting to avoid calls.


With the influx of technology, we expect less out of each other and find ourselves feeling more alone. The loneliness epidemic has contributed to a reduction in social skills and workforce performance. Technology and social media are now used as a gap-filler and are seen as part of who we are. How many followers do I have? Anxiety, stress, and depression are at all-time highs. Traditional social circles are being replaced. It is clear that social media and technology have the power to destroy relationships altogether.

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r5 - 12 Jan 2024 - 21:54:15 - MatthewSchwartz
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