You've Got Tons Of Facebook Friends. So Why Are You Lonely?

A fresh and subtly soul-wrenching visualization adds to the whole is-social-media-antisocial debate.

It’s nothing we haven’t heard before: the modern human presented as a slave to Facebook likeage, afraid of being seen sans-Instagram filter, preferring "poking" (or WeinerPic-tweeting) to actual touching but, look, he has 5,000 friends. The debate rages on over whether social media makes us lonelier and more self-absorbed than ever, with the verdict usually being that it does.

Regardless, social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This visualization by graphic designer Shimi Cohen, based in Tel Aviv, is a fresh and subtly soul-wrenching reminder of the way our screens can become cells of solitary confinement. It drives the point home with a carefully parsed narration that might make you consider, for a second, throwing your computer out the window and starting a Luddite Revolution (but how would you recruit members without Twitter?).

The animation was Cohen’s senior project at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. Based in part on MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together and Yair Amichai-Hamburger’s article "The Invention of Being Lonely," inspiration also came from a personal place. "Like many others," Cohen tells Co.Design, "I became addicted to socializing through my phone and social media. This started to bother me and intrigue me at the same time."

After three weeks of sketching out various ways to translate each idea in the script into a visual, he created the 2-D animation in Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D. He avoided using faces and complicated forms, sticking instead to four colors and geometric shapes to keep it as "minimized and focused" as possible. "There’s something about simplicity, I think, that makes the message stronger," says Cohen.

"We collect friends like stamps," he says in the video narration, "sacrificing quality for quantity." But despite this commentary, he wants to make clear that he’s not a raging Facebook-basher: "I am not against social media." To the contrary, he says, "I think it has many beneficial aspects and is a huge step toward creating a more global community. But—and here’s the thing—because all of those benefits, we tend to forget or ignore some of the downfalls of this media, which in fact hurt us as along the way."

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  • Anthony Reardon

    An eloquent presentation.

    I have long advocated qualitative engagement in social media, but I also recognize there is a prevailing sense of apathy and animosity on the web.

    Now this is particularly important for companies that want to realize the true potential of online marketing. Traditional models of doing business are based on economies of scale. Even contemporary models for advertisement are based on quantitative impressions. Web developers increasingly focus their efforts on discrete interactions as minimal as viewing or clicking and call that social. Device makers promulgate this further by encouraging micro-interactions.

    It takes a lot of work to get to this point, but that does not mean these things are heading in the right direction. It will take just as much work if not more to get it going in the right direction, but you have to adapt technology around the way people (and monkeys) are wired eventually, and for the earlier adopters the opportunity is on the table.

    BTW, I found both comments thus far to be noteworthy. Thanks!

    Best, Anthony

  • dean

    A cool animation and monologue.  I'm sure many people are caught in that trap.  However, it assumes that no one is using social media responsibly.  It is not very difficult to use it as simply another tool to maintain close connections with the people you actually care about.

  • vf3rr3r

    Definitely an interesting project that calls to mind the lacking conversations our society now seems to have - less of substance and quality and more of terse practicality. Our interconnectedness makes it so easy and quick to share information, and our addiction to instant gratification make well-contemplated analyses few and far between. So much so, that when we do come across such work, it's picked up and pushed to the forefront of news and opinion, only to be shot down or critiqued by those paltry few with extra time to delve deeper.