Super Cities №135 — The Scourge of Isolation

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Loneliness is a serious public-health problem

LONDON, says Tony Dennis, a 62-year-old security guard, is a city of “sociable loners”. Residents want to get to know each other but have few ways to do so.

Hart’s Comment

Human history and intuition tell us that few things are worse for our overall well-being than isolation. There’s a reason that prisons use it as a form of punishment.

Isolation is so bad that a former American surgeon general compared its physical cost to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Unlike tobacco usage, though, it is hard to measure loneliness.

From young to old, we are becoming more isolated in an era of technology platforms that promised to do the exact opposite.

More than one-in-five respondents from the United States and Britain claimed to always or often feel lonely. An earlier study estimated that more than one-third of Americans over 45 were lonely.

For young people, isolation can be a consequence of work. Globalization requires people to relocate physically. This move triggers a significant departure from family, friends, and reliable support structures.

Perhaps we should update an old saying: Go West, young man, but go with others.

This is not only a challenge for young people.

As people live longer, we must deal with an uncomfortable truth: there is a large and growing class of isolated elderly people.

Every year, many of these people become more distant from their natural communities — school, work, faith, civic — and the relationships associated with them.

I suspect that a significant part of the next generation of innovation will focus on wellness: deep connections in a world of shallow technology.

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