Saturday, June 24, 2006

Feeling Lonely? You're Not Alone

A new study shows that people in the United States are feeling more socially isolated than ever. We have more ways to connect with one another than ever before, but the connections we do make are not as deep as we sometimes need them to be. I've already talked about how even the most innocent, otherwise beneficial technology can negatively affect human social interaction. We need the casual, unplanned interaction that comes naturally in the physical space to build connections with our family, friends, and neighbors. When you run into someone in the hall or at the grocery store, a simple "hello" can reinforce an existing connection and make it stronger. This takes relatively little effort. Most technological communication requires you to conjure the memory of a person without the external visual cue of their appearance and requires that you have a certain level of knowledge about that person, thus reducing the chances that you'll make a connection with someone you don't already have a relatively strong connection to (I don't have that guy's number. I don't even know his last name! Connection lost...) Those little things build up over time. Little connections become bigger connections and sometimes deeper connections. Those little things are small enough that we don't know to miss them, but we miss the connections that could have been.

Another thing affecting how we make connections is the distance between work and home. Yes, more commute time means less time for other things. But it also pulls you out of the community. Is your doctor's office near work, near home, or somewhere in between? Do you grab dinner after work near work, near home, or somewhere in between? If everything were close together, you might start to see the same people all of those places after a while, reinforcing those connections. But if you live in Maryland, work in VA, and dine in D.C. after work, what are the chances you'll run into the same groups of people in each of those locations? Not that moving beyond your comfort zone to do new things and meet new people isn't good, but having a comfort zone where people really know you is kind of nice.

Related post: Community and Communication


Anonymous John said...

Yes, I see what you mean. But your observation may be relevant only to places like Southern Megalopolis, a.k.a. BalWash, the 5th most populous metropolitan area in the U.S.A. Most people can only handle so many people, more or less. So, I must proffer for your consideration that perhaps it's all those people jammed into a little bit of geography that is the cause of this disconnect.

For example, having someone like Cosmo Kramer for a neighbor, come into your apartment, uninvited, head for your fridge, and then plop down on the sofa, grab the remote and start flipping channels, and when you protest, he says, "That's a stupid show. I can't believe you were watching it", [ excuse me, I have to go back and reread this to see where I was in the flow I had going ... OK ... yeah ... OK ... ah, yes ] may be entertaining for millions, and since you'd be Jerry Seinfeld, you'd also be worth millions, still, there may come a time when you'd naturally prefer that loneliness.

Also, on the outside chance I didn't have enough comma's in here, here's a few more for you to distrubute as you see fit - ,,,,,,, .

- John

6/24/2006 5:26 PM  

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