Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Is loneliness a health epidemic?

Two recent bits of writing on loneliness:

Klinenberg suggests that the 'loneliness epidemic' that has been promoted by numerous recent articles (Britain has appointed its first "minister for loneliness") is an illusion. Loneliness exists as a feature of modern societies, but the best data do not show increase in either loneliness or social isolation between ~1950 and the present.

Pinker, in Figure 18-2 of his new book actually shows data tracking the subjective loneliness of college and high school students over the period 1978-2012, and showing that a small decrease reported loneliness has occurred. His summary comment:
Modern life, then, has not crushed our minds and bodies, turned us into atomized machines suffering from toxic levels of emptiness and isolation, or set us drifting apart without human contact or emotion. How did this hysterical misconception arise? Partly it came out of the social critic’s standard formula for sowing panic: Here’s an anecdote, therefore it’s a trend, therefore it’s a crisis. But partly it came from genuine changes in how people interact. People see each other less in traditional venues like clubs, churches, unions, fraternal organizations, and dinner parties, and more in informal gatherings and via digital media. They confide in fewer distant cousins but in more co-workers. They are less likely to have a large number of friends but also less likely to want a large number of friends.51 But just because social life looks different today from the way it looked in the 1950s, it does not mean that humans, that quintessentially social species, have become any less social.

1 comment:

  1. https://aeon.co/essays/in-the-1950s-everybody-cool-was-a-little-alienated-what-changed

    "The fear of ‘alienation’ from a perceived state of harmony has a long and winding history. Western culture is replete with stories of expulsion from paradise and a yearning to return, from Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden of Eden to the epic journey of Odysseus back to Ithaca. In the modern era, ‘alienation’ really came into its own as a talismanic term in the 1950s and ’60s. At the time, the United States was becoming increasingly affluent, and earlier markers of oppression – poverty, inequality, social immobility, religious persecution – appeared to be on the wane. Commentators and intellectuals needed a new way to characterise and explain discontent..."