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Last modified: Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lonely Americans and the "iPod effect"

Technology and the Internet help people get exactly what they want -- but you can't go on-line and order a real friend.

"When you're sick, you don't want e-mails, you want someone to hold your hand, someone to say, 'Let me get this for you,'" said Bernardo J. Carducci, a psychology professor at Indiana University Southeast and director of the Shyness Research Institute.

Americans are struggling more today with feelings of loneliness and a lack of good friends. Carducci said many Americans forget or are unaware that making friends takes time and skills -- conversation skills, negotiation skills and empathy.

iPod Effect image

Lonely Americans need to pay attention to the people around them.

Print-Quality Photo

"A real problem with friendships today is that people demand instant intimacy," he said. "I call it the 'iPod effect.' You can get exactly what you want, when you want it. You can have your life on your terms. You can get people to deliver movies to your home. People deliver a pizza in a half hour. You can buy stuff and have them ship it to you overnight. You can go on-line and talk to people who have only your same interests. No more dissenting views. You just delete them --"electronic cleansing" your own world. The solution is getting out of your own world."

Carducci offers the following tips for developing meaningful friendships:

  • "Get out of yourself." Instead of focusing on your lack of friends and loneliness, get more involved in the lives of others.
  • Volunteering is a great way to make friends for several reasons. When you show up time and time again, it gives you and the others volunteering a chance to get to know each other in a non-critical way because you're likely more focused on the volunteer activity than each other. If you choose a volunteer activity that draws from your strengths, you'll be less self-conscious, more confident, and better able to focus on the needs of other individuals; such individuals will appreciate your skills and concern for others. After a while, your volunteer contacts can evolve into social contacts if you suggest going to a movie or getting coffee after the volunteer activities. Carducci said this is a good way to expand your support network because you can get to know the volunteers better and eventually some of their friends and family.
  • Give it some time. It takes time for people to get to know your interests, qualities and how you fit into their lives.
  • Reciprocity -- it's not all about you. "We're so much more in tuned to receiving, 'What can you do for me,'" Carducci said. "The core of friendship is, "'What can I do for you.'"
  • Take an interest in people around you. "We're more interested in the lives of celebrities than we are in the lives of our neighbors," Carducci said.
  • Practice making small talk to build conversation skills. "People have this need to be with others but they don't know how to do it," Carducci said. "They go to Starbucks with their laptops and ipods but expect other people to come to them and get them to log off. We make it really hard."

To learn more about the Shyness Research Institute, visit http://www.ius.edu/shyness.