"We're more connected than ever if you think of technology and all the ways that we can communicate," she said. But it doesn't always lead to deeper human relationships because it's "this constant checking with their devices, just constant restlessness with it."
The rise of the incels and the sex robot seem to be indications (albeit extreme ones) of another societal problem - we're really, deeply lonely.
The loneliness problem
Recent research has shown that Americans are lonelier than ever, and technology may be the biggest culprit. A 2016 study found a strong correlation between amounts of time spent on social media and depression in young adults - the longer one lingered on sites like Facebook and Instagram, the more depressed they were.
Last year, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy began warning of a loneliness epidemic, a public health crisis he says has gone largely ignored but that nonetheless has detrimental impacts on people's physical and emotional well-being.
Just last month, a survey of Americans conducted by Cigna insurance company also found that people are lonelier than ever - especially the young. At least half of the survey respondents identified themselves as lonely, and the average American scored a 44 on the UCLA-created "loneliness" scale, qualifying them as, well, lonely. The Cigna survey also found that how people used social media mattered - those who used it to reach out and make real connections were less lonely than those who just passively scrolled through feeds.
Cristina Barba is the founder and executive director of The Culture Project, an organization which sends teams of young people to high schools and youth groups to "proclaim the dignity of the human person and the richness of living sexual integrity, inviting our culture to become fully alive."
In their work with young people, Barba said they have found that technology is exacerbating the already-emerging problems of social isolation in American culture to the extreme. Not only are young people more lonely, she said, they often do not know how to make authentic, real-world connections.
"It's a combination of a lot of things," Barba told CNA. "The breakdown of family and marriage, families move far apart from each other, people not even having their parish worship communities like they used to...those are all broader societal issues." "But I think what is most pervasive and most recent is technology," she added. "Technology has just taken this to the next level, much more quickly."
Barba's findings match up with what researcher and psychologist Jean Twenge found among what she calls iGen, the generation after Millennials that grew up never knowing a world without the internet and smartphones.
"Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation," Twenge said in a September 2017 article for The Atlantic. "Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements 'A lot of times I feel lonely,' 'I often feel left out of things,' and 'I often wish I had more good friends.' Teens' feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since," Twenge said.
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The Culture Project itself started out as a community of friends that came together, bonding over the fact that they had tried the culture's path to happiness in various ways and had found it wanting, Barba noted.
Instead of "sitting around and moaning" about it, Barba said that group of friends decided to do something to make a difference. They started living in community, and forming the mission of The Culture Project, which gives talks to teens throughout the country about chastity and living lives of sexual integrity.
But while community has been a "key pillar" for The Culture Project, they've found that technology has made it so that teens today do not know how to form community or even friendships among themselves, let alone romantic relationships.
"We've had parents coming to us and say, ok it's great that you're talking about virtue and dating, but my kids don't even know what it means to have a friend. Can you talk about friendship?"
Today's teens are a generation that has been raised on the internet and social media, Barba said, which means that their idea of friendship equates to that of a follower.
"It's like a show that you're putting on," she said, "it's people that follow you and people that you follow. It's not an interaction, the only interaction is to make others jealous, or to be cooler than or to prove yourself. There isn't actually a meeting of common interests, or someone you do stuff together with, someone you care about. All of those things are lost through social media at a young age."