Social Isolation: A Growing Problem
Not all countries bother to work out statistics on loneliness and isolation. The United States is one of the few that does, and the latest results are disconcerting: the amount of people who report being lonely has doubled in the past 3 decades, from 20% to 40%.
These numbers seem to coincide with what happens in many other countries. More and more people are choosing to stay single. The number of people over 65 living in isolation keeps growing, due to the indifference and disinterest of their relatives. Neighbors talk less with each other. Even children spend time alone more than ever before.
“Isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition, and emotional manipulation are all brainwashing techniques.”
Put together, all of these phenomena are the price of individualism. We design societies that overvalue independence, autonomy, and individuality. Many people care more about being different from others than finding the similarities they share. Feeding the ego is a priority for many people.
The effects of social isolation
We can’t just accept that social isolation is simply a way of life. There are studies all over the world that have arrived at the same conclusion: people who are or feel alone are more likely to get sick and die prematurely.
One study in particular from the University of Chicago indicates that children who grow up in solitude have a higher risk of suffering from severe health problems 20 years later. Another study suggests that people who live in isolation have a 30% higher chance of dying in the next 7 years.
It’s also been shown that people who live in isolation start to experience sleep deprivation. They also suffer from reduced immune system functioning, have a higher risk of heart attack, and have higher stress hormone levels.
The groups most affected by isolation
Social isolation is seen in both sexes, although it’s slightly more common in men. The most concerning thing is that it’s also seen across all ages and social classes. All they know is that people with college degrees tend to isolate themselves less.
It’s more pronounced in specific groups of people, almost all of which involve people who are vulnerable in some way. The people who are most at risk of isolating themselves are only children, adults over 65, and people who suffer from some kind of illness or physical limitation.
The most serious part is that in almost all cases, there’s a barrier that prevents them from talking about their loneliness. It’s a lot harder for them to ask for help. They feel like admitting their isolation will ruin their image and they fear how people will respond.
How to combat social isolation
Even though individualism has been promoted in recent years, a strong trend towards collaboration has also started to emerge. This phenomenon was first seen in the economy: the verb “to have” started to be substituted by words like “to share,” “to rent,” “to borrow,” etc. One common example of this is ride-sharing services.
People have also started sharing their houses (Airbnb), tools, food, and even experiences. In this world of production, a spirit of collaboration and solidarity has also been steadily rising. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation created a platform called linkAges, which offers an inter-generational exchange of services.
In platforms like these, every member makes a post about something they need. For example, they might need someone to teach them how to bake, someone to take the dog out for a walk, or someone to go to the doctor with them. Anyone who is prepared to satisfy that need does so voluntarily. Afterwards, they can receive help with something else, or simply feel good about offering their services.
This seems to be how modern solidarity works: via the internet. While the internet has been a big reason for social isolation, it can also be used to combat it. In this way, it can fix the broken bonds with the world. Initiatives like this give us clues about possible solutions for modern isolation. They’re the light in the middle of a darkness that seems to keep growing while nobody does anything about it.