Has America turned into a lonely and depressing world? There is a growing observation that it has and has given birth to a new "hidden epidemic," loneliness..
This new kind of epidemic threatens over 40 percent (40%) of America's adult sector, who have voiced and reported that they feel lonely. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that about a third of America’s elderly, in ages ranging between 65 and 85, are living alone. However, a study conducted in 2018 revealed that even the youths are at risk of experiencing the negative effects of loneliness.
Loneliness can heighten stress levels, adversely affect mental and physical health, as well as impact longevity; all of which can drive people to binge eating, excessive drinking and/or drug abuse. That is, if they cannot find the one true remedy that they seek, having a genuine conversation with someone who really cares.
Mobile lifestyles are keeping friends and family farther apart. Despite being virtually connected any time of day, and regardless of the distance between people, reports have it that the number of Americans who have voiced feelings of loneliness has doubled since the 1980s.
Being Alone Together
Sociologist Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, describes this new kind of loneliness as being “alone together”
Holder of a Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology at Harvard University, Professor Turkle has conducted studies that revealed how electronic devices have actually created a distance between people, even as they live together. Virtual connections, cannot replace face-to-face contact, as it allows people to hide from others.
She says that being alone is not the only, or even the most common cause of loneliness. Loneliness can be experienced even when a person is surrounded by people. In most cases, people may be living together, but it is not the lack of relationships that is making them lonely. Professor Turkle explained that it is the lack of depth and meaning in relationships.
People gather in public places, in parks, malls, airports and shopping centers but the environment has become sterile; because more often than not, the people congregating in them are tethered to their mobile device. In many cases, even those who are together do not speak much to each other.
American political scientist and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote in his famous but controversial novel “Bowling Alone” that
”loss of civic involvement is destroying communities even while people live in the middle of it….” “there has been a voluntary withdrawal from community that has left people disoriented and lonely.”
“Bowling Alone” was published in 2000, the dreaded Y2K that saw the beginnings of widespread virtual connections. Professor Putnam actually noted the declining social intercouse between Americans who used to enrich their social lives through civil engagement.
Advancements in technology did not help reverse Professor Putnam's observations, even if it allowed people to engage and interact remotely and virtually. Apparently, the speed and the ease by which people communicate made many less genuinely interested; getting lonelier in seeing proofs of how life seems to be just passing them by.