The Politics of Loneliness
There’s a role for policy in making things less lonely
Today’s Americans should be the least lonely in our nation’s history: More of us than ever before live in densely populated parts of the country, and technology offers us more ways than ever before to connect to friends, family and communities with similar interests. But evidence from psychology and sociology show rising levels of aloneness (having fewer social contacts) in recent decades, and high levels of loneliness (feelings of isolation) as well, with disturbing spikes in the last few years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can we feel lonelier in a world where connection to other human beings now requires only a click of a button? How can we feel isolated when linkage to the outside world is delivered via nonstop handheld stimulus? Connection is everywhere, and yet loneliness persists—and in certain subsets of the population grows worse, leading some observers to call the problem an “epidemic.” They are right to do so: It is an epidemic. The true cost of American loneliness is both hidden and insidious, and it’s time policymakers started taking this problem seriously.
There is a complicated array of explanations for the increasing isolation of Americans—many of them exacerbated by the pandemic—but two factors stand out as demanding the attention of political and policy leaders. They would come as a dispiriting surprise to those who built the modern neoliberal American order of the last fifty-plus years and hoped that it would create an interconnected, interdependent culture driven by advances in technology and ever-expanding global markets.
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