Social Networks and Loneliness

Hi Ghazal, my Dear,

Hope you are well up, although I have not heard from you for a while. I”m afraid I might have written something confusing or unintentionally something that you felt as assaulting. We had a very emotional argument today in the institute about the value of social networks and whether each of us or even the entire institute should be present in Facebook. Some believe it is essential, to stay visible to others (but to be honest, there are science-specific social networks a lot, like PubMed or LAbome, Wikigenes and others. They are probably most efficient to meet and stay in contact with other scientist). But I agree, to be visible to the general public there is perhaps no way around Facebook. Using this, we might soon be contacted by celebrities who want to use our Cre-Lox gene targeting method to correct the shape of their nose or to get rid of their double-chin. We might also be asked by anxious people about the risk coming from all the atoms in their body. I”m seeing forward to discuss issues like those with them.
The general attitude among the people here in the lab towards facebook was pretty ambigious. IVG was absolutely in favor of it, praising its cabability to stay in contact with friends worldwide. BSB and myself were very proud to be social and very communicative folks without having long lists of Facebook friends. And there were even some, like ZB and OH who claimed that they are post-Facebook generation, i.e. they had a Facebook account but were unsatisfied with it and deleted their accounts.

I very much see a misconception of long lists of so-called “Friends” at the social networks and the value of some long-lasting and solid personal relations, some that are not just for the sunny days but on which you can also rely if you need help. Sometimes I got the impression that the social networks are weak networks, they seem to be devoid of any personal responsibility. The possibility to opt-out of a Friendship just by clicking a button makes it so much easier to avoid any commitment to people you know. I”m convinced that one should accept also difficulties in a relation, and not just choose an easy way-out. I recently heard a paraphrase by german actress, who after some personal tragedies still manages to make a very happy appearance. She said “If life gives you a box of lemons, you better ask to have salt and tequilla with it.
Of course for you, Ghazal, I hope there will very rarely be lemons, but a lot of apples, sumac berries and oranges, not just for Norooz but the whole year through.

TAke CAre



hi michael,
the three fruits you mentioned at the end of your letter are only a small selection of what is typical for persian new year. I”m going to send you my kucha-pecha presentation that I gave last year at the schneeferner-house to the other MSc students.
Facebook becomes very important if you are away from home, from your family and friends, or if you have to change home frequently. I therefore understand IVG a lot, because like myself she travelled a lot when she was student, master-student, PhD. Like her, I also used facebook a lot when I lived in London one year and last year in munich. But for me, the real relations in life where you meet people face by face are of course superior. I also found that such relationships are much more solid, and you can rely on somebody if you need help. I think you have to have a real exchange of thoughts between two persons, and a track of giving and taking to realy feel bound to somebody. In contrast, one might collect endless lists of “friends” in facebook and still be completely lonely.
I recently read an interesting study in the journal Science about Loneliness and general Health. The full paper is here.
What I found very clear, the author states that “Some people are socially isolated but they are not lonely. By contrast, some people are lonely even if they have a lot of social contacts.”
And the authors found very interesting correlations between loneliness and the risk for several diseases, including stroke, dementia and metabolic disorders. The long lasting assumption, however, that loneliness can cause cancer has been disproven in this study.
Maybe it would be an funny project to investigate, if the number of “Facebook Friends” that people have on their accounts is linked to the frequency of various diseases. Than maybe in the near future you might see a prescription from your doctor saying: “Diagnose: You have got migraine. Suggested therapy: Reduce the number of “Friends” by 50%” or “Jouvenile Diabetes type 2: Stop using the internet at all and ride the bike for 1 hour every day”.

Oh boy, so much things to care about. And we are still trying to see the minuscle effects of irradiation.

Hope you are okay, take care (but don”t take the study about loneliness too personally)


Hi Ghzal my Dear,

Why you think I might take the study by John Cacioppo et al from Chicago about the health effects of loneliness personally ? I don”t feel lonely, not at all. If I say that I miss you, it does not mean I”m lonely. I manage very well to keep myself busy, here at the institute, at home with my family and house and the dog and playing music and reading books. But none of these activities take away the feeling that I lost something very precious when you left.
With the study design I have to check the original paper by Cacioppo et al. I would like to see how the study was done. I guess, like people always design the epidemiologic studies it was a case-control study. The problem therein is that the correlations found (as in this case between loneliness and mental illness) only shows a link between two independent observables. How one can exclude that loneliness is just coming from a gradual loss of mental fitness, and this can be a very early step of dementia. So it might equally be that the pathogenesis of dementia includes as one of the earliest symptoms loneliness.

I hope, of course, that neither you nor me and any of your friends and your family has to worry about this. It is really a very frustrating disease, since absolutely no working therapies against it (just some to reduce the symptoms).

Take Care , my Dear


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