John Cheever’s ‘The Swimmers’ Portrayal Of Alienation

Marx defines the workers as the socio-economic class forced to sell their labor for a wage in order to survive. Cheever replaces this familiar image of the industrial laborer with an upper-middle class, white-collar worker as the blue-collar subject of the story and makes full use of Marx’s definition and simply substitutes one laborer for another. With the substitution of a middle class worker, Cheever suggests the working class is not the only class demoralized by capitalism. Even though the middle class has some leisure time and does not spend all of their waking hours attempting to secure food for the family, they are no less free of the economic obligations forced by capitalism.

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Neddy Merrill’s work gained him at least mild financial success; however, work was forced from him by the need to support himself and his family. The first mention of Neddy’s separation from the mode of production, his work, is the unfolding of the story’s events on a Sunday. Sunday, the Sabbath, is a day of no work in the Christian world. However, even on the Sabbath, the city, the world of work, lingers in the distance. Beginning with “a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance,” Cheever suggests the swimmer’s inability to escape the power of the economy (find quote – Cheever ??). Merrill’s inability to escape the alienating world of labor is further evident with the approach of the storm: “the stand of cumulus cloud – that city – had risen and darkened” (find quote – Cheever ??). Casting a shadow usually represents the approach of something ominous or sinister, in this case, the work and working conditions associated with Monday and the city. Also of note is the inclusion, in the same paragraph, of the whistle sounding and Neddy’s wondering about the time: “he wondered what time it had gotten to be. Four? Five?” (find quote – Cheever ??). Five o’clock in the evening is the almost universal time at which work concludes for the day. Had Neddy been so conditioned by a lifetime of laboring that the whistle signaled the time at which he was allowed to return home?
The journey from the Westerhazy’s pool home could parallel Neddy Merrill’s understanding in his chosen profession. The initial description of swimming describes the limitations within which the sport must now exist: “The domestication of swimming had saddled the sport with some customs” (find quote – Cheever ??). The restrictions forced on the sport of swimming are much the same as the regulations governing the business world. In spite of the “customs,” Neddy begins his adventure light hearted and happy, as one might start any new job. The entrepreneurial spirit fills him; his heroism and drive will lead to great things: “He was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure” (find quote – Cheever ??).
The first few pools he swims are of the highest quality, including “the sapphire-colored waters” of the Bunker’s (find quote – Cheever ??). His initial exertions are rewarded by the simple joy he receives from casting his body into the pools. His disdain for those not giving their full effort is evidenced by his “inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools” (find quote – Cheever ??). Neddy Merrill appears as a competitive businessman; he believes that his willingness to go the distance is his greatest advantage. However, the prospects of his continued happiness and success are not so secure; both the storm and the glaring reminder of “PRIVATE PROPERTY” foreshadow the economic condition which causes his fall. Of further note, at the beginning of Neddy’s adventure, he envisions his destiny: the hope of advancement and recognition like a modern pilgrim or explorer. Much like the concept of the American Dream, Neddy believes that hard work bestows success. However, as both time and distance pass, Neddy begins to feel the burden of his toil. He also realizes that nothing in the world of economics and business is guaranteed. The water becomes increasingly colder, the length of a pool becomes harder to swim, and exhaustion sets in. Cheever’s descriptions of Neddy’s condition toward the conclusion of the story resonate with the common perception of how a worker would feel after a career in a dead-end job: “He had [n]ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered” (find quote – Cheever ??). The end of the journey leaves Neddy feeling beaten down by life, much the same as the end of an unfulfilling career.
As a worker alienated from his life’s work, he is not only alienated from the form of production but from the product of his labor also. Cheever never directly states what profession Neddy Merrill holds. However, in the brief description of his economic downfall, there is a suggestion of financial risk and the mention of an income: “They went for broke overnight – nothing left but income” (find quote – Cheever ??). Neddy’s failure to acknowledge his work suggests distaste for it: “Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?” (find quote – Cheever ??). Had he been so terrorized by the monotony or the drudgery of the products he produced to have had to banish any thought of them from his mind? Cheever suggests that indeed he had. Further, the story suggests the products of Neddy’s labor, while he had work, had taken on a form so entirely independent from him as to have absolutely no connection to him. Cheever writes, “had his gift for concealing painful facts let him forget that he had sold his house, that his children were in trouble?” (find quote – Cheever ??). In light of modern working conditions, another possibility exists to describe the alienation Neddy experienced. As a white-collar worker in America, little time is spent actually producing a physical object for sale, more time is spent in organization and paperwork. Merrill’s alienation could be a result of not having produced anything tangible.
In the Marxist view of capitalist society, the best worker thinks the least. The lack of thought and dire economic conditions prevent the worker from achieving his or her full potential. Neddy Merrill suffers from an inability to remember events he does not like. He trained himself to suppress the unpleasant in order to live a more carefree life. Yet, by creating an artificial reality, he deludes himself and he removes himself further and further from his ultimate potential. Neddy represents the problem posed by possessing a will to act without similarly effective, guiding ideals or theories. Marx supports revolutionary action in combination with sound theory in order to produce a better life. Neddy, however, lacks the guiding theory to produce the greatest effect from his action in his quest for freedom. Instead of following the guidance of a successful theory, Neddy, on a whim, plunges into the first pool of his odyssey without having a clear goal in mind except to swim home. Ironically, the action forces Neddy to realize the conditions in which he is living, bringing him one step closer to realizing true freedom.
The ultimate physical freedom of nudity is poignantly captured by the elderly Hallorans lounging by their pool. In contrast to the Hallorans, Neddy Merrill appears to be a troubled individual, whom the oppressive powers of society are seeking to smother. The Hallorans are not accidentally suspected of being communists. They are included as the antithesis of Neddy. Their openness, symbolized and exemplified by their preference for a natural condition, represents the communist idea of individuals existing together in harmony and without the coercive effects of labor. The Hallorans appear happy with their state of being, a condition Neddy does not reach. Instead of attempting to hide from the world their suspected political affiliation, they bask in the suspicion. The Halloran’s flout their differences. They are also the only characters of the story to openly speak of Neddy’s problem(s). Furthermore, Mrs. Halloran is the only character to express sympathy for the condition of Neddy’s life. Speaking on her husband’s behalf, “We’ve been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortunes” (Cheever 288). The Hallorans, the communists, the naked bathers, pull aside the superficial veil through which the rest of Neddy’s social group, capitalist bulwarks, has been considering his plight.
Finally, the ultimate tragedy of capitalist society is the estrangement of man from man. “The Swimmer” is not a story characterized by dialogue. The closest Neddy gets to a full conversation is with the suspected communist Mrs. Halloran. However, even the interaction with the Hallorans lacks the depth of a true relationship. Neddy’s estrangement from his fellow man is further emphasized by Mrs. Biswanger’s less than pleasant reception at the Biswangers’ party: “Why, this party has everything…including a gate crasher” (Cheever 289). The possibility exists of Mrs. Biswanger’s reception being based on class. The Biswangers and Merrills could have been, at one point, of the same social class (even though Neddy denies this in the story), yet when the Merrills fell, Mrs. Biswanger could finally seize the opportunity to emphasize the difference she had recognized before. Also, Neddy’s reference to the “stupid cook or the stupid maid” suggests his equal disdain for those of different status (Cheever 291). Nowhere does the story portray individuals interacting on an equal social level; all is biased by money and status, including Neddy’s original competitiveness demonstrated by his distaste for those who did not throw themselves into pools. His own biases would immediately color any social interaction in which he participated.
The scene in which Neddy crosses Route 424 further exemplifies the degree to which Neddy, as a representative worker, and humans in general are disconnected from each other. Because of Neddy’s condition, “close to naked, standing on the shoulders of Route 424, waiting for a chance to cross,” someone would have ideally offered a helping hand or at least stopped their car (Cheever 286). Rather, Neddy encounters nothing but jeering and scorn. Cheever continues: “confronted with lines of traffic…he found himself unprepared. He was laughed at, jeered at, a beer can was thrown at him, and he had no dignity or humor to bring to the situation” (Cheever 286). Through his adventure, his attempt to be different and to do something he wanted to do, Neddy was exposed to the harsh attitudes of society. His originality was punished by a society emphasizing the need to fit in with the crowd. The highway is Cheever’s example of the “herd”, the mass of people who without question conform to society’s standards. The need to conform, to accept the need to work in order to subsist, is beaten into Neddy as he crosses Route 424.
John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” is based in suburban America and extols the emotional plight of the working class. Neddy, a recent addition to the worker status, gradually realizes the conditions of his social position in comparison to those he was forced to leave behind. The finest example of alienation and hardship that came with this reduction in class might be Neddy’s experience at the public swimming hole. The scene at the public pool describes the bustle, the noise, the impersonal character, and the stench of a factory. Demonstrating disdain for this new condition, Neddy simply swims from one end of the pool to the other and leaves, curiously like a worker floating through a day of work including the reprimands from the supervisors. Even the identification disks required of the swimmers at the public pool echo the identification tags required of workers at major industrial plants.
“The Swimmer’s” portrayal of alienation as it applies to the modern common man cries out to all those who fear the forty hour work week. Neddy’s return home is no less ominous than many of the difficulties encountered on his journey. Instead of bright lights and welcoming arms, he finds his house deserted, dilapidated, and very dark. Rather than being rewarded for his toil, Neddy must deal with the bleakness of reality; he wasted the summer of his life only to return to an abandoned house, suggesting, perhaps, an alternative ending to the American dream, emptiness.

Alienation in the Metamorphosis

  Franz Kafka’s is often said to be of the “major German-language writers of the 20th century.  He was a middle-class Jew based in Prague” (pg. 2) He had a unique style and writing most which remained incomplete or were published after his death. Franz Kafka’s  most popular and best-known book The Metamorphosis has readers hooked from the beginning “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.”(pg. 3)

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            In The Metamorphosis it is hard to distinguish between dream and reality as everything seems so distant and apart. It appears as the four walls are caving in, and Gregor lays helplessly in confusion. Throughout The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka is uncovering potential dangers of social rejection. Essentially, this metamorphosis leads Gregor to experience separation from his family and his everyday life. The theme of alienation plays a huge role is The Metamorphosis. Alienation can be defined as the state or experience of being isolated from particle things. Whether that be a group or some type of activity if one is alienated they are not welcomed to such a thing. “According to Franz Kafka, alienation is, exemplified in the itemized regard for the agreement of work of the Land Surveyor, in The Castle: ‘It was not a steady letter, to some degree it managed him as a liberated person whose freedom was perceived, the method of location, and the reference to his wishes”( Zeeshan 2). Gregor Samsa is alienated from his body, family, and humanity altogether. 

            Gregor removal from humanity goes beyond from his private dynamic into the public realm by impacting his experience and life of social interaction. Having awakened as a bug, Gregor looks about his room and recognizes it to be the same. “Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of sample cloth goods was spread out—Samsa was a traveling salesman—hung the picture which he had cut out of an illustrated magazine a little while ago and set in a pretty gilt frame. It was a picture of a woman with a fur hat and a fur boa. She sat erect there, lifting up in the direction of the viewer a solid fur muff into which her entire forearm had disappeared.” (3) As a means of creating a social balance in his world, the women act as a companion in Gregor’s alienation from the public realm. The appearance of the women in this picture has a great significance to the story. In the picture, the women seem to be wearing some type of fur material; which figuratively represents an animal. Gregor seems to relate to this symbolism because all of his life his family ever treated him the way they should have, no they treated him in a way a person would treat an unwanted animal. The only one in his family that remotely treats him as a human being is his sister Grete. During the first two weeks of his transformation, Gregor parents do not even dare to visit him because they do not know how to handle this situation the Gregor is currently in. The women arm missing from the photo also plays a significance to Gregor’s alienation. The arm missing from the picture represents a missing part of Gregor’s life. Gregor is no longer considered being an importance to his family. Since he can no longer provide for his family and help them out finically, they just act like he does not exist any longer. “His initial alienation is extreme, it becomes more and more radical as the plot develops. There is in Gregor, first of all, a gradual awareness of the reality of his new condition and situation, accompanied by increasing resignation to his fate and felling of hopelessness”(Mendoza).

            Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week all Gregor focuses on is his family and his job. If they are going to have enough money to pay the bills, if they are going to have enough money to put food and the table, if he goes to have a job when he goes into work all he thinks about are those things. His first thought’s when he wakes up as a monstrous verminous bug is that he is going to be late and then a sense of determination overtakes him. “Before it strikes a quarter past seven, whatever happens, I must be completely out of bed. Besides, by then someone from the office will arrive to inquire about me because the office will open before seven o’clock.” “His biggest worry was the loud crash he would not be able to help to make, which would probably cause anxiety, if not terror, behind all the doors. Still, he must take the risk” (7). Gregor’s tone is calm but persistent. Despite that, he has been turned into a bug, Gregor still has his mind focused pm everything that he still has to do for his family. Gregor must get out of bed and in the process falls and causes himself pain. If he had stayed in bed and not decided to have gotten up he would feel emotional pain because he did not get up and start getting ready to head out to work to provide for his family. This is the point in the story where Gregor finally seems to come to the conclusion that he has alienated himself from his family and from society.  

            “By the initial fact of his metamorphosis into a monstrous insect Gregor is placed in a condition of total alienation from his family, from human society, and what seems even from human nature, yes it is true that Gregor still has human sensibility, human feelings, and human senses but they are invisible to all that is around him. This is precisely what makes Gregor’s condition so pathetic and his isolation so total” (Mendoza 136). His aspiration is to help his family move forward after the catastrophe of his fathers failed business and from all the money that his father owes people.

            Gregor tries to reach out to the outside world, but his appearance is no longer acceptable to the human eye. If one would see him, they would freak out and probably run away. Take, for instance when Gregor comes out of his room to socialize and his father angrily sends him back to his room and slams the door shut. Gregor doesn’t only feel alienated and rejected by his physical appearance, he also feels emotionally disconnected from his family. Essentially, all the connections between Gregor’s family members are cut off by disappointment, fear, and anger. During certain crisis families are supposed to connect, bond and be there for each other. It is the element of the social body, the unbreakable cell. Gregor’s family does not. Perhaps, Franz Kafka reflects back on the past, before Gregor’s transformation into a giant bug, and makes Gregor realize that in reality that he was only a source for income for his family. He was only there to help support the Samsa family lifestyle and nothing more.

            Gregor experiences absolute alienation when his sister denies his existence. When Grete starts playing the violin Gregor decides to venture out of his room and into the living room to hear her play because he loves how she sounds. He knows how his family feels about him and his appearance, but he does not care. “Covered in dust Gregor makes his way into the living room into the living room so he can see and hear his sister more clearly”(40). He hopes not to get caught, but of course, he does. “The borders that are in the living room go crazy and Mr. Samsa rushes over to them to shield them from Gregor and comfort all of them”(41). Grete finally has enough after that and tell her family that it is time for them to get rid of Gregor because he is no longer a human being and they cannot go living like this anymore. “My dear parents,” said the sister banging her hand on the table by way of an introduction, “things cannot go on any longer in this way. Maybe if you don’t understand that, well, I do. I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster, and thus I say only that we must try to get rid of it. We have tried what is humanly possible to take care of it and to be patient. I believe that no one can criticize us in the slightest”(43). At this moment Gregor realizes that he is no longer a brother, a son, a human being, he is not referred to as an “It” he has no place in this world, he is just an insect, he is nothing.

            It seems that throughout Gregor’s life he has always been imprisoned by his family. He finds himself stuck within the walls of his prison, only accompanied by the discomfort of silence, the sound of isolation and alienation. When his family starts to ignore his existence Gregor feelings for others start to change and he begins to put his own needs, desires and wishes before anyone else’s. like when to sneak out of his room to listen to the lovely music that is playing in the living room, his sister is playing the violin. This is where he finally figures out that this is what he probably should have been doing along, but didn’t because he felt that he needed to do everything for his family, just so that he could earn their love and respect, but unfortunately for him he never got it. Gregor alienation came to an end after his sister decides that it is time to get rid of him, he slowly turns and goes back to his room and for all in total purposes dies.  The cleaning lady finds him the next day at first she thinks he is just lying there and then “she quickly realized the true state of affairs, her eyes grew large, she whistled to herself. However, she didn’t restrain herself for long. She pulled open the door of the bedroom and yelled in a loud voice into the darkness, “Come and look. It’s kicked the bucket. It’s lying there, totally snuffed” (45)!

            The death of Gregor Samsa is self-imposed in the literal sense that it occurs only after the consent of the “hero” Gregor carries out the death sentence on himself that his sister, as the representative of the family and of life, has pronounced against him. “He executes it by virtue of what can only be considered psychic power. He kills himself simply by his will. His will is to obey the “law” which has chosen him for sacrifice so that his family can live free and the formulation of this will is immediately followed by its fulfillment Gregor’s death. (Sokel). 

            “Traditionally, critics of The Metamorphosis have underplayed the fact that the story is about not only Gregor’s metamorphosis but also his family” (Straus). His parent’s first thoughts that enter their minds after Gregor’s death are that they have a desire to walk. This emphasizes that they are feeling a sense of relief and disregard. This is the part of the story that the Samsa family dehumanizes Gregor to the point that he is no longer their son. “The spirit of Gregor Samsa turns into a progressive character, demonstrating that, through writing, minorities can express their reality view. The psyche of a human inside the assortment of an animal is typical of the degree of the offense inside of entrepreneur work misuse. Kafka’s stories figure out how to “skip through the openings and the stories they told” and rise above customary and prevailing talks by demonstrating their imperfections and consequences for human mind” (Zeeshan 7)

            Gregor’s metamorphosis and transition seem to reflect the psychological dying process. There seem to be three different parts of his dying process. The first stage seems to be isolation. He is isolated by his family, himself, and his work by the pressures that society places upon his shoulders, especially within his family. He feels alienated like he has no place in this world. The second stage seems to be his progression of anger and depression. Even though it never mentions that Gregor was angry throughout the short story, readers can interpret some type of angry within in Gregor. Gregor metamorphosis is that he was turned into a nasty terrifying bug, but it was also that he started becoming aware of his isolation and alienation. He finally figures out that the way his family treats him is no normal that he is basically only there make the money. This leads him to become very aware of everything having to do with his family. This outrage is exposed when he realizes that his family has been neglecting him for all this time that they do not even love or care about him. After Gregor finishes the anger part of stage two, he seems to slowly move into a stage of deep depression. He has to watch his family give more consideration to others while he is given not a consideration at all. They just ignore him, act like he is not even there. How would you feel if you were in Gregor’s Shoes?  The third and final stage of Gregor’s metamorphosis can be seen as acceptance. The final stage becomes the final part of his life. He just gives up, he has nothing to live for anymore, he just does not want to keep moving on. His family hates him, he cannot go outside and be a part of society because people will freak out if they see him. He just remains confined to his room for 24 hours a day and even if he tries to come out, he gets yelled and ordered back into his room because no one in his family wants to see him or be around him. He finally gets some peace with his final breath of life. Gregor’s death seems to mean that he is ready to move on from this life and have his family move on with their lives. His death finally gives him the freedom that he has always deserved but just did not know it. His death also finally always Gregor the freedom from the alienation that had held him prisoner for so long. He is finally free and will never have to feel alienated or unloved ever again.

              Franz Kafka does an amazing job in this essay showing his readers what it feels and looks like being alienated from something. He goes deep into Gregor’s life and showing his defining moment on when he truly figured out his alienation. Turning Gregor into a bug was interesting to say at the least but it thinks it got the point across that Kafka wanted his readers to see. Turning Gregor into a bug really allowed readers to see and feel the alienation that he does, it allows us to sympathize with Gregor. 

Work Cited

Kafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis.” Http://, Feedbooks, 1912,

Mendoza, Ramón G. “The Human Vermin: Kafka’s Metaphor for Extreme Alienation.” Critical Insights: The Metamorphosis (2011): 133-165. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web 20Nov. 2018

Sokel, Walter H. “From Marx to Myth: The Structure and Function of Self-Alienation in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” Critical Insights: The Metamorphosis (2011): 215-230 Web 20 Nov. 2018

Straus, Nina. “Transforming Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” JSTOR. The University of Chicago Press, 1 Jan. 199. Web. 20 Nov. 2018

Zeeshan, Malik Shahrukh. “Alienation, Franz Kafka Metamorphosis.”


Increased Alienation and Loneliness from Social Media Overuse

Adverse Effects of Computing Technology and Their Mitigation: Increased Alienation and Loneliness from Social Media Overuse
Humans have commonly been identified as a social species that rely on cooperative interactions to survive and thrive (Nature Human Behaviour, 2018). Innovations in modern technology and social media have risen through human collaboration. However, as social media platforms (SMPs) become increasingly prevalent, their associated consequences have also been on the rise. Mark Twain once said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” His quote rings true even today as research has shown that social media overuse has a direct correlation with alienation and loneliness.

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The official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Depression and Anxiety, published a study in 2016 that concluded “Young adults with high SMU (or social media use) seem to feel more socially isolated than their counterparts with lower SMU” (Lin et al., 2016). In addition, research has shown that frequent Facebook use has relations to lower life satisfaction.
Although the original purpose of SMPs was to increase social interactions through technology and easily forge connections with people internationally, people who heavily use SMPs are now substituting off-line connections with technological connections. This substitution has consequently resulted in increased feelings of loneliness and inadequacy (Amatenstein, 2019). However, there may be ways to mitigate the adverse effects of social media overuse.
In a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, undergraduate students were randomly assigned to limit their use of SMPs. A correlation was found between limited social media use and lower levels of loneliness and depression (Hunt, Marx, Lipson, & Young, 2018). In addition, research has proven that individuals who have more virtues are less likely to feel alienated, contributing to both decreased smartphone addiction and a potential decrease in social media usage.
In the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, one article states that through research they have concluded: “Individuals high in the interpersonal virtue[s] are less likely to feel alienated and to overuse smartphones to alleviate negative emotional experiences” (Lian, 2017). Lian’s research has opened a possibility that although social media overuse can increase alienation and loneliness, different factors can be targeted to ameliorate the negative effects of social media overuse. Overall, although the adverse effects of social media overuse are copious, there are still ways to mitigate them and use social media to an advantage.
Social media has slowly begun to consume the lives of many people. According to a news report from CNN and a study done by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media, teens have been reported to spend nine hours a day using social media for leisure (Wallace, 2015). Even the average user still allocates 30% of their online time to social media interactions, amounting to roughly two hours a day (Wallace, 2015).
Although one of the most common reasons for using social networks is to pass spare time, all demographics are now devoting a substantial portion of their daily lives to networking, messaging, and updating people on SMPs (Young, 2018).
As social media usage increases, more studies are researching these adverse effects. A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that people who use social media frequently are also more likely to feel socially isolated (Primack, 2017). In a nationally representative sample of young adults, this increase in social media usage was strongly and independently associated with an increased perceived social isolation because of the influences of negativity bias. As SMPs continue to evolve to encourage more and more usage, the effects of negativity bias have become more and more prominent (Primack, 2017).
One study, from the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s “Association Between Social Media Use and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults” studies almost two thousand adults from ages 19 to 32. These participants completed an online survey measuring their depression using the PatientReported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS).
From the results, 44.5% of the responses were placed in the low depression category, 29.2% placed in medium, and 26.3% placed in high (Lin et al., 2016).
Then, participants were asked to estimate the total time per day that they spent on the 11 most widely used SMPs for personal pleasure during leisure time.
Finally, other factors such as age, race, and education level were taken into account for a more holistic viewpoint of all covariates.
Ultimately, the study found a significantly positive linear relationship between social media use and depression. It should be noted that some previous studies have not found as clear of an association; however, the findings do agree with prior research on the relationship between social media use and mood dysregulation. (Lin et al., 2016).
One limitation of the study is that the directionality of the association between social media use and mood dysregulation was unclear. The research describes why individuals who had depression were more likely and more frequent to use social media: those with depression had a diminishing sense of selfworth which resulted in these individuals trying to fill their self-worth and validation through social media-based interactions.
Consequently, individuals began to suffer in a cycle of continuous guilt due to their extensive internet usage, resulting in even more internet usage to feel more validation. Subsequently, this fed into the cycle because with low values in personal abilities and negative feelings of self-worth, people were more likely to increase their feelings of depression (Lin et al., 2016).
Furthermore, multiple studies have found associations between social media use with declines in someone’s mood, feelings of well-being, and how satisfied they are with life. According to Lin, passive consumption of social media can decrease feelings of bonding and someone’s social capital, therefore increasing feelings of loneliness. An explanation of this phenomenon is that passive consumption of social media results in more exposure to “highly idealized representations” of other people and leads consumers to believe that others lead better and happier lives, which evokes emotions such as jealousy and envy. Inevitably, these feelings and emotions could then lead to people experiencing low life-satisfaction, negative feelings of self-worth, and depression (Lin et al., 2016).
Regardless of the directionality of the association, evidence still suggests that even if social media usage is not the root cause of mood dysregulation, social media interactions result in mood dysregulation furthering the cycle of low self-efficacy and negative selfappraisal. Although depression is not equivalent to social isolation or alienation, more studies have shown that social media overuse does result in a decrease in life satisfaction (Kross et al., 2013), self-reported physical health, and self-reported mental health (Shakya & Christakis, 2017). A new research-based focus on social isolation is just recently arising as more people are becoming aware of the adverse effects of social media overuse.
Sherry Turkle, the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other describes the effects of social media overuse and isolation in a TED Talk. She begins by describing the changes that technology has made in human expression. In her presentation, she narrates the differences in the way that people share their thoughts and feelings previously versus currently. Previously, if any emotions or feelings arose, people would feel an urge to make a call and describe it to others. Currently, the urge has transformed to a form of instantaneous gratification through text messages.
Since previously calls would take up multiple minutes and were very expensive, people treasured these moments that they had with others. However now, because of how instantaneous information sharing is, people can share their thoughts and feelings immediately as they are experiencing them. The problem is, this results in a regime that Turkle describes as “I share therefore I am” which results in people feeling out of touch with themselves if they do not have a connection with other people. Therefore, to compensate people attempt to connect more and more with others which results in a trap of more isolation.
According to Turkle, people become more isolated because they become unable to live in solitude, or in her words “[y]ou end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself” (Turkle, 2012).
People are now unable to understand themselves internally and are relying on other people to form real attachments and feel more alive. Other people then just become tools to support our internal emotions and are not properly or fully appreciated anymore. However, these false connections built with others has become the foundation of isolation because the desperation of connections cause people to build fake unstable relationships.
By building these fake relationships, people become unable to fathom the idea of being alone because of the quantity of relationships they receive and therefore put themselves even more at risk of feeling lonely.
Turkle’s presentation demonstrates the clear cycle produced from an overuse of social media . When people do not feel connected off-line, people tend to attempt to create such a connection through social media and ultimately end up feeling more isolated because the connections are still not available. Researchers have found that participants who visit SMPs 50 or more times a week have three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who went online less than nine times a week (Primack et al., 2017).
This perceived social isolation is likely to have sprouted from the desire to build relationships that frequent social media users have. However, the connections that they are attempting to create online are not the deep and meaningful forms of relationships most desire to have.
Ironically, the original intent of social media was to make people feel less lonely and more connected. In a recent survey conducted by The Cigna Health Insurance Company, 46% of respondents reported feeling some variation of loneliness. In the report, it was stated that when people use social media in moderation to keep in touch with friends and build off-line relationships, vitality and life satisfaction increase. However, spending multiple hours every day using social media can increase the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, especially in young adults (Amatenstein, 2019). However, despite the negative results from the research on social media overuse, there are some benefits to controlled and reasonable social media usage.
Researchers Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe at the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University have discovered that Facebook, a popular online social networking platform, has helped the formation and maintenance of social capital by bridging and bonding people together. Facebook is currently used as a method of communication between people in an online environment. Methods of communication such as Facebook Messenger, Groups, and Facebook Events have simplified many interactions allowing people to continue to build relationships and partake in experiences at a faster and wider pace. Through Facebook, people are frequently updated on the lives of their inner circles and other people of interest. Most importantly, Facebook usage was found to influence psychological wellbeing.
This suggests that, in moderation, Facebook has the potential to provide greater benefits for its users who are experiencing feelings of low life satisfaction and self-esteem (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Research concluded that the relationship between intensity of Facebook use and bridging or bonding social capital stems from the degree of a person’s self-esteem and satisfaction with life (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007).
In this study, people who did not interact frequently on Facebook and reported low satisfaction with life also reported having lower bridging social capital compared to Facebook users who used Facebook for maintaining former relationships. Ultimately, Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe (2007) came to the conclusion that Facebook does have benefits and helps people maintain relationships as they move from one environment, such as high school, to another, such as college. These relationships built on a foundation of commonality in real life help people feel more connected to the community that they are leaving as they attempt to keep in touch through emails and Facebook.
In addition, the medical field has also concluded that as social media has become an integrated component of human interactions, the balance between encouraging positive use of social media and redirecting the problematic use is very important (Lin et al., 2016). Current public health practitioners use social media to their advantage by filtering out and detecting self-disclosures of depression on social media to promote awareness regarding maladaptive use and its association with mood disorders (Lin et al., 2016).
An example is seen through the decrease of stress in women when using social media. Researchers at Rutgers University and the Pew Research Center, found that women were 21 percent less stressed if they frequently used email, text, and social media compared to women who do not use these technologies (Hampton et al. 2015).
Although using SMPs have resulted in some positive relationships, the ultimate discussion of this paper is the adverse effects of overuse in social media and how to mitigate the feelings of alienation and isolation. Many research papers target Facebook as their primary SMP for research because of the sheer number of users that Facebook has; 85% of the internet users worldwide have a Facebook account (Ahmad, 2019), excluding China, therefore classifying Facebook as the most widespread social media platform (Tromholt, 2016).
In 2016, the journal, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, published a study that concluded that quitting Facebook leads to higher levels of wellbeing. The study had participants take a week-long break from Facebook and compared the levels of life satisfaction and emotional life. According to the study, there is causal evidence that not using Facebook leads to a higher level of cognitive well-being, life satisfaction, and emotional life.
The study also concluded that the way that people use Facebook could also impact their well-being. In the study, the findings indicate that instead of quitting Facebook altogether, people could also adjust their behavior on Facebook. The research indicates that adjustments to behavior are based on one’s feelings when using Facebook. For example, if someone uses Facebook frequently for personal use, then decreasing Facebook usage is likely to increase well-being.
Furthermore, if feelings of envy arise from using Facebook, then the recommendation shifts to avoiding the places on Facebook that are causing these feelings to arise. However, if it is ultimately too difficult to change the behavior and usage methods of Facebook, then the best recommendation from this study is to consider quitting Facebook altogether so that any temptation is mitigated (Tromholt, 2016).
Consequences of extensive social media usage and its adverse effects are even more prominent in children now as there is an indirect correlation between the hours of daily screen time and psychological well-being (Twenge & Campbell, 2018). The study states that children in the age range of 14 to 17 years old were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety if they had a daily screen time of above 4 hours a day.
The increase in screen time also results in the possibility of addiction to the internet, gaming for an excess number of hours, or unhealthy amounts of social media use, all of which have been linked to low well-being (Satici & Uysal, 2015). In addition, spending more time online is strongly correlated with low well-being compared to watching TV or videos (Rosen et al., 2014), lending further credence to the idea of limiting their daily use of SMPs to increase one’ well-being.
Furthermore, research has shown that having negative experiences on social media does have a correlation with higher levels of social isolation (Primack, 2019). However, this does not translate to people’s positive experiences on social media, as there are no findings of lower levels of social isolation.
These results are consistent with the concept of negativity bias, which suggests that people have a tendency to place a greater weight on negative experiences compared to positive ones. Therefore, if people overuse SMPs and are consistently exposing themselves to social media, there is a possibility that people will experience more of both positive and negative experiences but only have real lasting impressions of the negative experiences leading to an increase in social isolation. This may result in feeling more socially isolated. Therefore, the more experiences that are acquired through social media usage, the more likely that feelings of social isolation will appear and magnify.
In addition to SMPs, feelings of alienation and social isolation might also stem from other issues such as smartphone addiction.
In 2017, the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction published a research paper by Ling Lian from the Institute of Psychology at Xi’an Polytechnic University. Lian’s research asserted that smartphone addiction is a new pressing mental health problem because of its association with sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and pathological symptoms (Lian, 2017).
This has a strong correlation with social isolation and alienation as researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found. On a popular social media platform, Twitter, the posts which included the words “lonely” or “alone” were often found to be associated with linguistic markers of anger, depression and anxiety (Guntuku, 2019), which are all consequences of smartphone addiction. However, Lian’s research encourages the idea that if people can develop the right virtues, this negative impact of smartphone addictions could be minimized.
Virtues are defined in Lian’s research as a property of the whole person and the life that person leads (Peterson and Seligman 2004, p. 87). Since virtues are heavily influenced by culture, Lian’s research focused on China where there are 96 different virtues. Three virtues, interpersonal, vitality and conscientiousness, were the chosen ones of focus in this research. Lian defines these virtues as:
[i]nterpersonal includes positive cognitions, emotions and behaviors associated with social interaction (e.g. teamwork, love, gratitude). Vitality reflects positive qualities associated with the world or society (e.g. curiosity, zest, hope). Finally, conscientiousness is intrapersonal and incorporates high willpower and self-control (e.g. prudence, self-regulation, perseverance).
It is important to understand the relationship between smartphone addiction and virtues because virtues produce and encourage positive personality traits in social interactions, satisfaction in life, and personal willpower. This, as a result, could also promote healthier relationships with smartphones. Alienation is defined as a negative sense of social estrangement and absence of a social support network or meaningful social connections with other people.
In Lian’s research, the relationship between specific virtues and smartphone addiction would be influenced by alienation. Lian suggests that highly alienated individuals are more likely to have a negative correlation with the virtues of interpersonal, vitality, and conscientiousness. These individuals would also be more likely to express negative feelings, thereby being more susceptive to smartphone addiction.
Lian’s research showed that the interpersonal virtue significantly and negatively predicted alienation, while conscientiousness significantly and negatively predicted smartphone addiction (Lian, 2017). This meant that as these two virtues increased, the negative effects decreased dramatically. The relevance of Lian’s research in mitigating the effects of isolation and alienation in social media is through the possible connection between smartphone addiction and social media.
Addiction, regardless of the addictive substance, is difficult to combat. Addiction was formerly considered to be a form of dependence on a substance that would cause people to have urges to take the addicted substance and lose the ability to control how frequently they intake the substance (Koob, Arends, Moal 2014 page vii).
People who are addicted to certain substances have different social patterns, but some frequent ones are high social isolation, emotional distress, and a deficit of self-care which results in an inability to display and absorb emotions or recognize the consequences of lack of self-care (Koob, Arends, Moal 2014 page 11). These symptoms are very similar to the patterns that people addicted to their smartphones may exhibit.
Unlike smartphone addiction, these symptoms primarily appear with withdrawals. However, unlike other addictions, smartphone addiction’s form of withdrawal is similar to the fear of missing out, fear that arises when they are not up to date with the events happening in their inner circles.
This can help us solidify the belief that some methods of rehabilitation that are effective in treating other forms of addiction may also be helpful for smartphone addiction. Scientists and psychologists have researched the mechanisms behind addiction and methods of combating it for years and for many different substances.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, some recommendations to decrease the effects of addiction is to be honest about the problem and accept that there is an addiction present (Melemis, 2015). Other recommendations are to develop coping skills for dealing with cravings and practice self-care by saying no. In addition, understanding that the discomfort is a part of the recovery process is integral in developing a healthier relationship internally so that stronger interpersonal values can arise and foster a healthier lifestyle. Furthermore, although these are general tips to help with recovery from addiction, ultimately it appears that focusing on reevaluating one’s lifestyle and priorities will help the most with smartphone addiction.
Individuals who have exceptionally low interpersonal virtues could potentially have difficulty establishing meaningful social connections, which could then end up resulting in higher alienation. To decrease negative emotions, smartphones and possibly social media can be used to increase feelings of belonging (van Deursen et al., 2015), but they also increase the risk of overuse. The basic functions of smartphones are to create opportunities to communicate with people in different locations and to compensate for real-life helplessness or loneliness by conversing with people while being physically apart (Lim and Shim, 2016). However, these basic functions could potentially be abused as this study strongly suggests that interpersonal and conscientiousness virtues play important roles in smartphone addiction by acting as positive psychological resources that prevent smartphone addiction.
These findings may be partially accounted for by problem-behavior theory (Jessor 1987), which asserts that character strengths and virtues affect interpersonal relationships, self-regulation, and behaviors. Specifically, individuals that presumably have high virtues also have increased interpersonal relationship quality and acquired high self-control; however, users with smartphone addiction lack social support and self-control (Marder et al. 2016).
From this study, we can see that virtues have a strong impact on alienation and smartphone addiction. Therefore, a possible way to mitigate the adverse effects of social media overuse could come from increasing people’s interpersonal, vitality, and conscientiousness virtues by making sure that they participate in activities that give them experiences in gratitude, teamwork, curiosity, hope, self-regulation, and perseverance with enough support that these virtues can grow in each person.
An increase in virtues is difficult to facilitate at an older age. If older adults are uninterested in limiting their use of social network sites, another option that they have to decrease their feelings of alienation and loneliness is by changing the people that they interact with on SMPs.
The journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior published a paper on the relationship between internet use and loneliness in older adults. Researchers Shima Sum, Mark Mathews, Ian Hughes, and Andrew Campbell conducted an analysis to understand how Australians over the age of 55 years of age use the internet and how this affects their feelings of social loneliness. In their research, they concluded that there is a possible correlation between people feeling lonely and the amount of time they had spent on the internet. Furthermore, the purpose of their time online also had more potential relationships.
Their research showed that people who used the internet and SMPs to communicate with people in their inner circles, such as relatives and friends, were associated with significantly lower levels of social loneliness (Sum et al., 2008, p. 210). By contrast, if the participants used the internet to interact with new people, they were more likely to feel greater levels of loneliness (Sum et al., 2008, p. 210). Therefore, to mitigate the adverse effects of social media overuse, it is highly recommended for older adults, or even younger adults, to use social media as a method to keep in contact with relatives and close friends to decrease alienation and loneliness.
Another recommendation to mitigate isolation and alienation is to be mindful about and self-monitor one’s time on social media. Jeremy Nobel, the founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing and the UnLonely Project, started an initiative to address the uprising of a potential mental health epidemic of loneliness and isolation affecting people nationally. Nobel is a believer of self-monitoring social media time due to its various benefits. By self-monitoring social media time, researchers have found that students have significantly less anxiety and fear of social exclusion. This could be from the lack of pressure that students feel once they decrease their social media usage.
It could also be due to the new goals that they are now able to focus on. As one study participant put it, “I ended up using [social media] less and felt happier… I could focus on school and not [be as] interested in what everyone is up to.” The results from this research suggest that people should be more mindful of how they are using social media and the roles that social media has on people’s lives. It is fine to do a quick check on what other people are doing or to keep track of social events to attend. However, it is significantly less healthy to use social media as a monitor for what individuals might possibly be missing out on.
As a social species, humans rely on cooperation and communication to survive and thrive. The thirst for interactions resulted in the creation of modern technology and thereafter social media. However, research has shown that social media overuse can result in adverse effects such as increased alienation and loneliness.
Through research, studies have shown that high social media use can result in people feeling more socially isolated compared to people who do not use social media often. In addition, other studies have shown that using specific social network platforms frequently was associated with a lower life satisfaction, which can then result in more feelings of loneliness.
Currently, people are now substituting their physical connections with technological connections, unfortunately resulting in increasing feelings of dissatisfaction and loneliness. However, there may be ways to decrease the emotions that have arisen as adverse effects. For example, research has shown that simply limiting the amount of social media usage leads to immediate benefits in life satisfaction while simultaneously lowering social isolation. In addition, encouraging people to participate in activities that revolve around the virtues of interpersonal, vitality, and conscientiousness can also increase someone’s sense of belonging and decrease alienation.
Although there was no clear distinction on the directionality of social media overuse and feelings of isolation and alienation, studies did conclude that any directionality would result in a cycle of increased social media usage and increased feelings of depression, low satisfaction with life, loneliness, or isolation. Therefore, to break this cycle different studies have suggested multiple methods to reduce negative feelings after the overuse of social media or technology in general.
Even though using social media in moderation does have some benefits, we cannot state that overuse of social media has any benefits. Therefore, to mitigate the consequences of overuse of social media and reap the benefits of using social media, one recommended method was to quit using social media networks for a period of time.
By quitting SMPs, like Facebook, users can potentially experience a higher level of cognitive well-being, life satisfaction, and emotional life. If people are not interested in quitting social media networks altogether, studies have also shown that adjusting one’s behavior on SMPs can have comparable effects. Furthermore, studies have also found that simply limiting the hours of daily screen time may prevent lower psychological well-being.
This phenomenon could potentially be because of negativity bias and the increase in frequency of negative experiences on social media if more time is spent. The last, and most progressive, method of decreasing feelings of alienation and social isolation may arise from people’s values and virtues. Increased opportunities for social interaction can increase an individual’s interpersonal virtues. This would encourage them to have more willpower and perseverance, ideals that align with the virtues of conscientiousness. Over time, people might be able to overcome their feelings of alienation because they are now less reliant on validation from social media.
If this is too difficult, then another recommendation is to focus on using social media to maintain relationships with relatives and friends instead of creating new connections with new people. Lastly, if all else fails, simply being aware and mindful of social media’s role in our lives is enough to demonstrate a small but significant change in mitigating the feelings of alienation and loneliness that can affect anyone around the world.
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