This evening the family and I needed an escape from the over-cluttered house. We went on a glorious family outing consisting of stopping at the local Fish Place, and then going to the local food co-op for dinner.  When I was younger, I would look at people my age now, and think –  I don’t want to be like that.  And now I am like that.  But at least I was there at the co-op having a dinner with my family.  There were more solo diners there than there were groups or families.  And not many of them looked very happy.  Several were sitting around at 6-person tables by themselves with their faces immersed in their laptops, at 7 PM on a Saturday night.  I think there’s something wrong with this picture.

It ties into something I realized when I was out mountain biking earlier today.  We have a 2 mile trail maintained by our neighborhood that is used for hiking and mountain biking.  Back when I moved here 7 years ago, the neighborhood would always come together to maintain the trail.  There was a actually a trail committee, and whenever a big tree came down across it, folks would soon go through and clean it up.  I used to participate in that.  But now I’m super busy between being a parent, being a professor, and trying to get a business off the ground.  So I haven’t helped out.

But the thing I noticed is that nobody seems to be working on the trail these days.  Everyone seems hyper busy.  I occasionally run into a neighbor of mine who used to do a lot of trail maintenance, and recently he, too seems busy.  Everyone seems busy.

Yet I thought we were in the midst of some kind of economic tragicomedy.  I thought unemployment was at a high point since the Great Depression.  I thought people were supposed to be slowing down, doing more things in neighborhoods.  It may be true some places, but not here in this college town.  Life is busier than ever.  And people seem more isolated than ever.

Earlier this year I traveled to my old stomping grounds in Utah.  I got together with an old friend there.  I asked her how some other mutual acquaintances were doing, and she said she didn’t really know – she didn’t get out much at all.  She spends most of her time in front of the computer. I see her on Facebook all the time.  We are more connected digitally than in person.

Is this really the way it should be?  Many of us are working harder than ever, and many others unemployed, and fewer of us are actually talking to each other face to face.  We’re all so busy and immersed in the digital world that we don’t sit down and make human connections.  At least that’s true for me.

I like blogs – both writing my own and reading others.  But is it really a substitute for face-to-face interaction?  I think our communities and world are becoming increasingly fractured by the lack of real interaction.  We may still interact with people on a casual basis – at the grocery store or at work.  But where are the deep, meaningful interactions?  I find them lacking.  And I’m not the only one.

There’s a friend of mine who lives about 40 miles away.  I used to see her regularly.  Now I don’t.  For a while, I thought it was just me and my busyness.  But it is not.  She is hyper busy too.  Last time I saw her, she said she rarely goes out to do things with other people anymore.  She doesn’t have time.  And she doesn’t have kids yet.

What is going on? I don’t think this situation of having large numbers of people living in relatively close proximity, none of whom have any kind of real bonding going on, is a good thing.  It is a recipe for problems.  And sure enough, the USA doesn’t appear on any of the top-10 lists of the world’s happiest people.  One commenter on that site said this was because the US is busy “defending” the world.  I call BS on that one.  It has nothing to do with defending anything.  It has everything to do with how we’ve chosen to structure our lives and our society.

Economic problems like what we’ve experienced aren’t a good thing.  But I had hopes that one good thing would come out of it: more and better connection between neighbors and families.  I’m not feeling that happening.  How about you?  Have you experienced no change, improvement, or decline in your feeling of connection to people over the last year or two?  Leave a comment with your story.

    3 replies to "the loneliness epidemic"

    • Brian

      I never take a computer with me on vacation for just this reason (though, yes, the iPhone does come along). I don’t want the time that I have to enjoy with my family and with the world around me to be absorbed in those pixels.

      I feel like people are stunting themselves by their constant digital immersion: Jogging with your iPod, texting while you wait for the bus… this is noise during the times when your mind can do some real exploration and discovery.

    • Molly

      I don’t know anyone like that!! 😉

      However, when you said you see people at 6-top tables by themselves and feel bad for them, I tend to call those people “brave”.

    • Miriam

      Morgan, you are right on. I’ve noticed this trend too. It’s considered admirable to be “hyperbusy” and multitasking, which leaves little time for developing meaningful relationships. I recommend 2 books that I’ve read recently on this topic: Distracted, by Maggie Jackson, and The Lonely American, by Jaqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz.

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