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If You’re Feeling Alone, You’ve Got Company…

October 9, 2009 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Feeling a little lonely these days? Or how about isolated?

Do you spend long stretches alone or in the company of folks making superficial chit chat?

Well, you are not alone, at least according to a survey conducted by the General Social Survey. The Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades survey says we are growing into a culture that is far more socially isolated today than we were twenty years ago.

As a writer I spend a considerable amount of solitary time, sitting perpendicular before my laptop. It’s a lonely endeavor, being isolated from signs of life for hours and hours at time.

Sometimes the isolation makes me stir-crazy, because I am a social archetype by design and I love being around people. However, the intermittent phone calls I receive from family and close friends while working are welcome interruptions. They pierce the solitude that wraps me like a cocoon.

But that’s not the isolation the survey speaks about.

Unlike the situational isolation that I experience from week to week, the survey found that what Americans are experiencing is chronic, social isolation, unlike never before.

In fact according to the survey, nearly 50% of the American population is grappling with the pang of social isolation from what researchers believe is a progressive decline in close, consistent and meaningful relationships with kin folk as well a non-kin folk.

But why is this happening?

My non-scientific conclusion is because of technology. It has certainly contributed to my state of isolation and disconnectedness professionally as well as socially. In the old days, reporters would hand carry their copy to their editors and discuss their rewrites face to face. Now most of the communication is by email without a single personal or phone conversation.

Instead of sending hand written notes or invitations to family or friends, I’ve fallen into the ease of electronic missives and e-vites. While technology allows us to reach out and touch more folks in cyber space, it does little to strengthen social relationships. In fact it does quite the opposite, eclipsing human contact with the press of a button.

However the survey says that the main culprits of our isolation are the frenetic demands of our work schedules and our longer commute times. And in the past 20 years both have increased, exponentially, while decreasing the meaningful time we spend with family, friends and social organizations exponentially, too.

Social relationships that took the biggest hit, according to the survey, were those involving contact with neighbors, religious groups and volunteer organizations, which – by the way — have traditionally been the maintained by women that is until they began entering the workforce in record numbers.

After putting in a 9 to 10 hour work day, enduring a brutal commute – and rustling up dinner and handling home work – there’s not much time, interest or energy in nurturing social relationships outside the home.

But there’s more.

The most surprising finding of the survey was this: the number of people who said they don’t have a close confidant nearly tripled in 20 years. The survey revealed one in every four Americans says they have no one in their lives that they talk with about things that are important to them, such as their most inner struggles, challenges and hurts. And as the survey underscored, these relationships support us the same way beams support the structure of a building. Without these kinds of relationships, we collapse literally and figuratively in a number of ways.

So when times get tough, it seems most Americans suffer in silence. Or it is really silence when diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are at an all time high. And my non-scientific conclusion is that the decline in close, consistent and meaningful relationships is the catalyst that ignites a host of stress and lifestyle related ailments.

Does the survey offer any solutions to ameliorate our pervasive isolation?

Nope. It wasn’t the focus of the survey. But we know what they are. Doing something about it is a different topic altogether. Perhaps that will be the subject of a subsequent article.

So, if you’re feeling alone and isolated these days, you’ve got company.

Written By Veronica Hendrix

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