Our time has been called the ‘age of loneliness.’
The age of loneliness? Really?
It was just a couple of years ago that I was researching supporting material for our new documentary The Great Disconnect and came across a Huffington post article that opened with the phrase, “Our time has been called the age of loneliness.”
This may seem hard to believe. We live in a time of instant connection via social media and technology. Most of us live close to people in tightly knit subdivisions, apartments and condos, and we’re constantly around people when we’re at work. And yet, people feel really lonely. In fact, half of Americans, 1 in 3 Australians, 1 in 4 Canadians, and half a million Japanese people report feeling the effects of social isolation and loneliness. As a result, many experts are calling this a global epidemic plaguing us in the modern world.
So what’s causing loneliness and social isolation? Here are a few research-based reasons:
- Tanzil Shafique a PhD researcher in urban design at the University of Melbourne writes that it’s “the way we build and organize our cities can help or hinder social connection”
- Dan Schawbel, author of the book Back to Human, suggests that “addiction to technology is removing us from the human interactions and relationships we need to function as members of society and employees in our workplaces.”
- In our documentary, The Great Disconnect, many experts allude to the fact that we’re overworked and too busy to hang out with friends, let alone our families. Our research showed that getting together to eat and socialize has become an anomaly – as I narrate in the documentary “…families are having 60 percent fewer family picnics and 40 percent fewer family dinners than just a few decades ago. In the late 70’s, the average American entertained friends at home about 14 times a year; now it’s half that.”
The potential solutions to solving this loneliness epidemic are vast. Here are a few thoughts and ideas:
- No phones or iPads at the diner table. Dinner time is quality conversation time.
- No TV’s in each individual bedroom. If the family wants to watch TV, have one communal TV for everyone. Schedule shows to watch and discuss together.
- Don’t view an elevator ride as a short term prison sentence. Look up from your phone and start a conversation.
- Get a dog. It’s actually proven to be one of the best ways to connect with people, especially if you live alone.
- Join a book club or a meet up group that can connect you with a variety of different people.
- Volunteer for a cause you care about.
- Invite friends and neighbors for a coffee, for a drink or for dinner a little more often.
- Consider Co-housing. It may be the thing for you. More on co-housing by Doug Tindal here.
Loneliness and social isolation does not have part of our reality. The first step for all of us is to acknowledge that this exists and that it is a serious public health issue that we must act on. Interestingly, on Jan. 17, Britain named a Minister of Loneliness to tackle the problem (to be honest, I think the title should be Minister of Community). Our governments have a role to play, but as individuals in this society, so do we.