Recently, a radio program caught my attention. CBC was interviewing, George Monbiot, about “the age of loneliness.” Mobiot worried that our competitive culture is driving us apart. He argued that we’re designed to be deeply social and that loneliness is dangerous.
“It’s true,” said Girl one as I turned off the ignition. “We really are living in the age of loneliness.” And off we went to wherever it was we were going.
Having heard the first part of the interview, I found myself turning to my own thoughts about loneliness. Not as much around how much we compete with each other as much as how much we ignore each other. I hesitate to discuss my significant and deep concerns about social media, smart phones. I worry about sounding like someone who makes you want to change the channel. But all those virtual “friends,” aren’t helping. We’re getting too distracted to listen. Or think about what we’re doing.
I am profoundly troubled by parents unable to put aside internet access to focus on their children, by children and adults more taken with the world you can see than the world you can touch. We fail to recognize real people because we cannot separate ourselves from technology that preys on our insecurities, feeds our addictions, and lulls us into levels of shallowness and disconnection that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.
Surely the rising levels of speech impairment in children bear a connection to an adult world too otherwise absorbed to stop, make eye contact, and speak to them. In full sentences. One after another. Without interruption. Watching a father with his daughters grunt pleasantly from his phone I wondered if even the angle of his head tilted toward the phone was resulting in a distorted view of his lips moving to make the few distracted words available for observation.
An older friend has a basket by her front door. Not unlike the guns of the wild west, grandchildren are required to leave their phones at the door. It took extra courage, she said, to require the same of her son-in-law. But what is the point, she asked, of coming to visit me if you can’t just talk to me?
In October, Monbiot published an article in The Guardian about the ravages of loneliness. If disconnection is a matter of life and death, why are we disconnecting? Addictive behaviors aside, what are we medicating for? If loneliness kills, why are we running away from each other? Why are the imperfections of strangers easier to bear than the habits of the person next to us?
If we could prove that the world was dying of loneliness and we were given the strength for one courageous act to benefit humanity, perhaps it should be to look at the person beside us, smile, and not look away. If we survive this, we might try again. And again, until we know each other. Someday then we might wake up to find ourselves embraced in all our failures by equally imperfect people. We’ll realize that we’re not alone, we never were, we just got a little mixed up for a while.