The loneliness of the connected

Wednesday, 24 January, 2018

Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as her “minister of loneliness.” A diversion from the Brexit grind? Perhaps, but experts who study the health effects of chronic loneliness have applauded the move because they say that isolation makes people sick and can cause fatal harm. Simply put: Loneliness kills. What’s called “social isolation” is right up there with heart disease and cancer in the hierarchy of modern malaises, but because it’s easier to fight smoking and drinking, which offer more visible targets, loneliness gets less attention and funding.

The British government’s Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness produced a report last year citing the statistic that nine million British adults (some 14 percent of the population) are “often or always lonely”, while 3.6 million people aged 65 and older say television is their main form of company. And the loneliness plague that’s now stalking “always on” teenagers is also affecting workers. In her new book, Fully Connected, Julia Hobsbawm looks at the world of what she calls “marzipan mangers,” who are “stuck below the leadership icing, stuck behind a wall of email, a mountain of paper, jammed somewhere in the middle as if between floors of a skyscraper.” Snippet:

“This group might begin to feel not just stuck but cheated. They have worked hard to get their first and maybe second degrees. The have certainly been questioned in detail in umpteen interviews before they even landed their job. So now, and sooner rather than later, they face a peculiar isolation. They know a lot about their company but not in relation to anyone or anywhere else. The bigger the company or the larger the network, the more technically connected we are, and the higher the risk of being personally more alone.”

Many of the “connected” are living lives of quiet desperation because we humans are social animals, not social media animals. We haven’t evolved enough to deal with chronic isolation. We’re not made to be alone with our devices.


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