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  • Loneliness

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on September 4th, 2019 (All posts by )

    I always feel sorry whenever I hear about anyone who is lonely.  We have all experienced it, sometimes for extended periods. Reading that an entire generation or two might be more likely to feel lonely is discouraging.

    I am always suspicious of statistics about entire age-groups.  Not only are the boundary lines fuzzy, but they always involve trends and percentages, not either-ors. If Boomers check some box 40% of the time and it steadily lessens until Gen Z only checks it 25% of the time, that may be significant and worth looking at,  but it means you shouldn’t be drawing a conclusion about any individual you are meeting fresh, nor even about the generation as a whole.  Some key word in the question might have a different meaning. The difference may reflect their current age more than their generation.  That is, those same Gen Z’ers might also check that box 40% of the time forty years from now.

    I found it interesting that “transparency” was considered an important value.  That word would not have been used in a survey forty years ago, and “authenticity,” which I suspect is related, would have been less likely as well. Do they mean “candor?”  Are they used here as opposite words to what people are really thinking, signifying “not a fake, not a hypocrite?” Both could also serve as excuses for people who want to tell others off, or do whatever they want and not be criticised, like the NBA player who said he was a Christian because “No one but God can judge me.” Is openly being a jerk transparency or authenticity?

    The article ties it to social media, and few of us doubt that has some effects on personality at this point.  At my son’s 40th birthday party I was admiring my brother across the room, watching him talk to others, just enjoying that before going over to greet him. I mentioned softly to another son how much I enjoyed “just watching him.”  He mentioned after a minute or so that I could not have said that five years ago.  It’s true, and part of that has been going off Facebook, so I don’t see his comments anymore.  We can get over things that annoy us more easily when new annoyances are not added to them.  Decades ago a friend shook his head when talking about difficulties with a tenant, “It’s easier to forgive people if they stop sinning against you.”

    Are the effects permanent? Once they are part of our development, are we changed forever?The internet in general has made discourse less formal. Blogging and personal websites have increased the number of people sharing their opinions to a group.  I was 52 when I started blogging, already well into middle-age, and had commented and participated on other sites before that.  I find differences in myself related to frequent expression of my opinions and interests since that time.  I can’t be the only one, and it is hard to see how such self-expression would have less effect on those a generation or two younger. We guess at what the changes are among those who grew up with their own camera phones in their hand, but I don’t think there is much solid evidence yet.

    Think for a moment about the different lives of the past, of children who grew up on the prairie, or in a London slum, or in a peasant village.  Those are hard enough to get our heads around, never mind the remoter lives of hunter-gatherers, nomads, or slaves. Some of those had constant human interaction, some had very little.


    12 Responses to “Loneliness”

    1. Anonymous Says:

      Very stimulating thoughts.



    2. David Foster Says:

      The effect of social media (and I’m thinking here specifically Facebook) is to take interactions that were once private and make them semi-public…in some cases fully public.

    3. Brian Says:

      Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote columns for local newspapers and magazines before she got famous. Some of them have been published in a collection. In one of them she writes about how those sorts of publications are able to bring news of the world to rural people who previously had no connection to the wider world, and would therefore greatly improve their lives and keep people on the farm and stop them from feeling the pull of the big city. And yet even (especially?) now kids from small towns say “there’s nothing to do here” and plan to leave as soon as they can.

    4. David Foster Says:

      “In one of them she writes about how those sorts of publications are able to bring news of the world to rural people who previously had no connection to the wider world, and would therefore greatly improve their lives and keep people on the farm and stop them from feeling the pull of the big city.”

      I would think it would likely have the opposite effect: “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff happening out in the world. Maybe I should go there.”

    5. Brian Says:

      “I would think it would likely have the opposite effect”
      I think it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what life was like for settlers of the Midwest and West in the late 19th century. You might as well have lived on the moon, in many cases, for all you were connected to the rest of humanity.
      I think her thinking was that the farm life was actually pretty good (although she did not romanticize it–there’s some chilling stuff in her books), but was just missing news of the outside world. From our perspective, that life seems really devoid of a lot of stuff we think of as valuable, so we might react as you did, but I don’t think they were coming from there at all.
      But basically it was always a very transient and tenuous existence, the depopulation started almost immediately, and no one’s ever figured out how to make it stop.

    6. Bill Brandt Says:

      The effect of social media (and I’m thinking here specifically Facebook) is to take interactions that were once private and make them semi-public…in some cases fully public.

      The only reason this occurs isn’t because of the medium; it’s because people want to reveal this stuff.

      I have found it odd that some people want everyone to know of their latest medical malady (some with pictures!)

      Or their personal lives.

    7. David Foster Says:

      Bill…”The only reason this occurs isn’t because of the medium; it’s because people want to reveal this stuff.”

      There are a lot of people over-sharing, true, but what I had in mind is something a little different. Pre-FB, someone tells a friend, “I can’t stand Trump”, or “Liberals are mostly idiots,” and that was as far as the communication went, the direct communication at least. Now, they say it on FB, and everyone on their Friends list sees it…and maybe a lot more people, depending on how their profile is set up.

    8. Grurray Says:

      I’m skeptical of transparency and authenticity. I don’t believe it’s possible to know enough about yourself let alone project it to the outside world. You can’t consciously attempt to ‘just be yourself’. Rather, what you’re really doing is not thinking too much about yourself.

      Blaise Pascal, my go-to philosopher when I’m feeling suspicious and cynical, wrote, “know then, proud man, how great a paradox thou art to thyself. Bow down thyself, weak reason; be silent, thou foolish nature; learn that man is altogether incomprehensible by man, and learn from your master your true condition which you ignore. Hear God.”

      Instead of being authentic, it’s better to be ‘on-point’.

      A great story comes to mind about Ben Franklin when he was ambassador to France during the Revolutionary War. During that time he had to lobby the intellectuals and aristocrats in the salons of Paris. He knew because of the cultural divide that he would never be able to relate to them the importance of his mission, so instead of a direct approach he assumed the role of a backwoods frontiersman. I believe he even went around wearing a coonskin cap. Franklin was from the major city of Philadelphia. He knew as much about living off the land as any of those pompous courtiers, which was hardly anything, but he felt that emulating a pastoral archetype that everyone already agreed on was better than searching for some supposed true self. And he was dead right. It worked.

      So that’s my nickel advice, young people out there. The truth within you can’t come out unless it connects with truth outside of you. Be your idealized self, and don’t stop until you yourself can’t even tell the difference.

    9. Christopher B Says:

      Well put, Grurray.

      What shows up on social media is the curated version of the poster’s life. Even the bad stuff is selected for how other people will react to it.

    10. Bilwick Says:

      I’m God’s lonely man.

    11. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      Grurray – two great examples.

    12. PenGun Says:

      “Hell is other people” Jean-Paul nailed it but got the reason wrong. ;)

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