Move Over, Richard Cory: A Lonely Life

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Anyone who has been listening beyond the ping and vibration tones of his smartphone the last few years has heard that the use of this technology is increasing loneliness in its users. Of course, technology has increased our awareness of others and activities of our families and friends, as well. We know more; we want to know more; we crave such knowledge, and yet, the double-edged sword of information and loneliness is apparent.

Every study highlights this sad consideration. From San Francisco [CA] State University, this report from April last year: “Digital addiction increases loneliness, anxiety and depression.” The author of the report, Lisa Owens Viani, cites: “New study published in NeuroRegulation, San Francisco State University Professor of Health Education Erik Peper and Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey argue that overuse of smart phones is just like any other type of substance abuse.” The report also noted:

In a survey of 135 San Francisco State students, Peper and Harvey found that students who used their phones the most reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed and anxious. They believe the loneliness is partly a consequence of replacing face-to-face interaction with a form of communication where body language and other signals cannot be interpreted. (Original article source)

Emarketing published a report in 2017: “The report also looks at internet usage and concludes that in 2017, there will be almost 3.5bn internet users worldwide, representing 46.8 per cent of the global population. By the end of 2019, eMarketer predicts that more than half of the global population will use the internet, either through a PC or mobile device.”

In a study from the University of Chicago published in 2015, under the title “The Neuroendocrinology of Social Isolation” this abstract is found:

Social isolation (loneliness) has been recognized as a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality in humans for more than a quarter of a century. Although the focus of research has been on objective social roles and health behavior, the brain is the key organ for forming, monitoring, maintaining, repairing, and replacing salutary connections with others. Accordingly, population-based longitudinal research indicates that perceived social isolation is a risk factor for morbidity and mortality independent of objective social isolation and health behavior. Human and animal investigations of neuroendocrine stress mechanisms that may be involved suggest that (a) chronic social isolation increases the activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical axis, and (b) these effects are more dependent on the disruption of a social bond between a significant pair than objective isolation per se. The relational factors and neuroendocrine, neurobiological, and genetic mechanisms that may contribute to the association between perceived isolation and mortality are reviewed. (Original article source)

In other words, isolation as is evident in smartphone usage, causes the brain to function or malfunction in such a way to lead to mortality. Smartphone usage is killing us!

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In a similar study of university students in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2016, published in the name, “Smartphone addiction and its relationship with social anxiety and loneliness”, this summary is found: “The results of this study indicate that social phobia was associated with the risk for smartphone addiction in young people. Younger individuals who primarily use their smartphones to access social networking sites also have an excessive pattern of smartphone use.” (Original article source)

Here in Australia last year, the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University produced “The Australian Loneliness Report,” based on a national survey of adults. This examined the prevalence of loneliness and how it affects the physical and mental health of Australians. It is the most comprehensive study of loneliness completed in Australia.

Here is the full report.

What did the report show?

  • One in four Australians feel lonely.

  • Many Australians – especially younger Australians – report anxiety about socialising.

  • Thirty per cent don’t feel part of a group of friends.

  • Lonely Australians have worse physical and mental health, and are more likely to be depressed.

Who can fix this?

Robert Putnam wrote the seminal book Bowling Alone, which I read some years ago. He said, “American attendance at club meetings went down by 58 percent. Family dinners declined by 33 percent. Inviting friends to one’s home decreased by 45 percent. The sidebar supplements those findings by posting two other claims: A ten-minute commute slashes social capital (‘features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit’) by 10 percent, but joining a group reduces by half the odds that one will die next year.” For Putnam, it’s all about belonging, whether to a club, an association, or some personal grouping.

Back in San Francisco, some students are making a change in their behaviour to counter the morbid technology/lonely continuum.

Two of Peper’s students say they have taken proactive measures to change their patterns of technology use. Recreation, Parks and Tourism major Khari McKendell closed all of his social media accounts about six months ago because he wanted to make stronger face-to-face connections with people. “I still call and text people but I want to make sure that a majority of the time I’m talking to my friends in person,” he said.

Senior Sierra Hinkle, a Holistic Health minor, says she has stopped using headphones while out walking in order to be more aware of her surroundings. When she’s out with friends, they all put their phones in the center of the table, and the first one to touch theirs buys the drinks. “We have to become creative and approach technology in a different way that still incorporates the skills we need but doesn’t take away from real-life experience,” said Hinkle.

My conclusion: In the beginning of recorded time, found in the record of Holy Scripture, God gave Adam a helpmate, Eve. The animals were abundant, but he saw Adam as alone and His conclusion was that this condition was “not good.” Eve and Adam had children and the social animal, man, began to populate and fill the earth. Gathering into communities, some in cities, and some in countryside, the sense of belonging grew as people found the same interests and the same activities. They gathered together in situations which either were good for them all, or which caused them to fall together. But together is what mattered.

Amos the prophet said, “Can two walk together unless they be in agreement?” (3:3), and the psalmist had declared earlier, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (133:1). Things seem to be better when folks walk or bowl or play pickleball together. Teams matter; your social capital matters; your life matters. And being with people who sing the same song as you, dance in the same rhythm, bowl on the same lane… it all adds up to health.

Life is not about how many “likes” you received to your latest Instagram photo; it’s about relationships with real people who really know you, and whom you really know.