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America's loneliness epidemic: A systemic risk to organizations (smartbrief.com)
300 points by laurex 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 289 comments





We built our cities to isolate us, it's not that strange that we're now isolated. I was born and raised in Europe, came to the US when I got married, lived in California for the most part.

My quality of life has dramatically worsened even as I make more money I've ever made. I attribute that to the lack of casual spaces for aggregation, to free time outside being limited almost exclusively to places where to sit down and eat, shopping or hiking. I don't walk to work, I don't have a neighborhood bar where I can stop after work and see my neighbors and shoot the shit, when my wife and kid left town for a weekend I was extremely lonely and I decided to garden.

When I'm old and will not be able to drive anymore, this will get even worse. This country has built one of the worst lifestyles I've experienced in my life and it's not sustainable. I know it's difficult but the sooner we all realize we have built a bad place to thrive and we tear it down, the sooner we'll be happier.


I grew up in Cali, moved to Poland after uni and have been living here ever since, no regrets. One of the really negative things I remember when growing up was the little cliques that formed at school, you had the popular kids, the nerds, the outcasts, etc. I think a lot of resentment was built up in kids this way, the movie "Mean Girls" portrays the issue well in my opinion. I spent my summers in Poland and saw there was no such divide, you could be a nerd but no one cast you out of some group because of it. Furthermore I never understood why at school during every period I would have different people in my class, and from one year to the next my classmates in single subject would change too, this made it impossible to form strong bonds with classmates. How is that good for anyone? In my opinion it is a terrible system. Thankfully I skateboarded after school, that helped me form strong connections with people over the years that I maintain in touch with to this day. Fix the school system and I think you will fix a lot of social issues as well.

My mother is Italian and I used to live in England which means I spent many summers in Italy as a teenager.

I also noticed that American teenagers seem to be very focused on the "let's make a group to exclude other folks" model. In Italy, however, the idea always seemed to be "let's include as many people as we can in the group!"

Case in point: one summer in Italy, there was a girl that no one really liked but she was always included in any groups activities. It was unthinkable that you would exclude someone just because you didn't like them.

I chalk this up to American "individualism" vs an older European model of "your town is basically an extension of your family". In the American model, what identifies you is what's different between you and someone else whereas in Italy, the group is how you identify yourself.

There are certainly pros and cons to both. E.g. "Going along with the group" can certainly lead to problems. On the flip side, rugged individualism can lead to the type of loneliness described in the article.


Let's be careful with the whole 'Europe' vs 'American' thing. The difference between say Italy and Sweden or Russia is probably larger than the difference between Italy and some US states.

I think changing students in classes is fine, provided there is ample opportunity to socialise outside of that. In the UK, schools are largely given free reign on how they organise their day but I was lucky enough to go to a school that provisioned for two 30 minute breaks, morning and afternoon, and one 90 minute one for lunch. This definitely isn't the case everywhere mind. Our school also confiscated smart-phones at the beginning of the school day, so all we could do was play sports and card games.

Most of my friends now are still those I went to school with, which wasn't strange for me until I went to university and found out that most of my friends there don't talk to any of their friends from school anymore. Out of the 150 people in my year, I still regularly see maybe 40 of them. Within that group everyone has been wildly successful and I put that almost entirely down to the time we got every day to build our social skills. Time spent playing football or rugby on the fields, running around the woods behind our school playing catch and bulldog, trying to find places to wrestle and fight in secret, sitting in classrooms playing card games, or messing around in the music rooms with instruments we couldn't play. They're probably my fondest memories and it baffles me that not only is more time not given to it, but time is spent trying to take that away! It did nothing to stunt our learning, and I'd argue it enhanced it. Most of my friends are in postgraduate education, went to Oxbridge or another Russel group university, and were straight-A children at school. A kid shouldn't be expected to effectively work a 9-5 job (let's not even get started on the ridiculous start times some have to go through, fighting their biological circadian rhythm), with an hour off to rush through lunch before getting thrown back in to classroom. It's no wonder teachers often describe teaching as riot control.

A school shouldn't just be a place to learn academics. That puts way too much onus on parents to provide socialisation themselves; meaning children with bad parents, or those that can't afford to send their kids to extra-curricular clubs and sports teams, get left behind and form cracks in a working society.


That sounds like an amazing experience, I wish my school had been more like that. My high school had a student body of 3000+, we had police stationed at the school, and there were actual riots. I went to one of the better public high school in California by the way, I can not imagine what happens in L.A. or the valley.

It was great in hindsight. Sadly the school is a vastly different place than it was 10 years ago when I went. The new headmaster has traded play time for school time, but it's had the opposite effect he's intended by decimating their grades. We used to come in the top 20 state schools in the country for overall achievement, but now they're barely reaching the top 100. He of course blames too many video games at home for that, and not his changes to the schedule... Sadly the US way is certainly the way UK schools seem to be going.

As much as I hate saying it, I can't imagine sending my child to a state school anymore. I won't be surprised if the class divide widens even more as wealthy parents start sending their children to private schools or home schooling them.


All is not lost, my daughters go to a bog standard Comprehensive in East London (not an Academy or anything) and they are having a great time. Luchtimes are rushed, but you get the impression that the teachers actually like the kids and are interested in them - the atmosphere is really great.

Pretty good grades, and an emphasis on educating the whole child.


You're giving no credit to the teaching aspect. I went to a school that sounds a lot like yours, but the teachers were terrible, and I'm not aware of anyone becoming wildly successful. Some fairly successful. Glad you enjoyed it, but I think you're giving it too much credit.

I'm of the opinion that the teaching there was decisively average. I had a few that were good, and some that were bad, but no outliers for sure. I've had teachers at college (British high-school) for my A-levels that were incredible or awful in comparison, so I do have a somewhat decent frame of reference at least. My secondary school teachers followed the curriculum, worked from the textbooks, and that's about it. We certainly had as many terrible teachers as great ones, if not more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not dismissing that teaching quality as the number one factor - I just think that socialisation time for developing children is vastly understated in its importance.

Apologies for nosing in your LinkedIn profile, but I was curious and you link it in your profile. You went to a selective grammar school with pretty small class sizes, rated good or outstanding by Ofsted the entire time you were there. I feel these are perhaps confounding variables here (but certainly not ones you should feel bad about!)

You and 18 others it seems! I knew putting a link there was a bad idea haha. Yes I certainly was fortunate, but again I don't believe the teaching was especially stellar. From experience working with schools at the moment both grammar and comprehensive, who are mostly in the satisfactory to good Ofsted category, my teachers were no better or worse than those I work with now. Although smaller classroom sizes definitely made a massive difference. I'm still of the opinion though that the social element we were exposed to is what distinguished the school compared to that of similar institutes though.

The US is a huge place, and your experience, though not unique, isn't how everybody here lives.

Before I started working from home full time I had a 15 minute bike commute. There's a friendly coffee shop across the street. I can walk to the grocery store. There's an awesome microbrewery and restaurant across the street.


Nah, he's right. US cities are, on average, really, really bad for walking, for biking, and for public spaces for gathering. Living in Munich now it's like night and day compared to the different parts of the US I lived in.

But you don't have to take my word for it, the numbers bear this out. Walk mode share in Germany's biggest cities are ~4x as high as NYC, which is the US' most walkable major city. That's a bigger gap than the difference in GDP per capita between the US and Portugal.

Compared to Germany, your average US city's walkability is a dumpster that fell off a train wreck, then got set on fire and shot into the sun. It's really that big of a difference.


Funny that you mention Munich. I've lived here my whole life and I've never had a "neighborhood bar" where I'd be inclined to go in, and my standards are not very high. I think the social life is very much targeted around a few neighborhoods where there's a bar or restaurant every 200m and outside of them you maybe have a handful of passable ones. That said, walking in general is no problem, there's just not much interesting (besides parks) in reach. But I've never lived in the city center. It feels like a small town unless I take the bike 10-20min towards the city centre.

Yeah, Munich is like the opposite of a party city. Quiet, functional, stable, boring. If you're looking for fun, it's an awful choice. Literally right as I was typing out a response, a conversation sprouted up in my work area where someone was complaining about the shitty pub scene in Munich compared to Seattle, haha.

> That said, walking in general is no problem, there's just not much interesting (besides parks) in reach.

I'm not thinking of things that are particularly interesting, mostly just errand-type stuff. In most US residential neighborhoods, commercial activity is banned, so the only things within walking distance are parks and schools, maybe a library if you're lucky. Oh, I guess churches too.

In contrast, near the outskirts of Munich in a relatively quiet neighborhood, I'm also within easy walking distance of a few bakeries, a few grocery stores, my local bank branch, my dentist's office, a drug store, a post office, there's a few small fitness centers, a book store, a locksmith, a florist, couple of clothing stores, a shoe store, a few hotels, and a few restaurants. All small examples of their categories, to be sure, but useful nonetheless.

And it's not just the distances and destinations, it's the design. I could go on if anyone's interested, but the street design in Munich (and really Germany as a whole, from what I've seen traveling around) is vastly more walk-friendly than pretty much anywhere in the US.

Like, my parents pointed out that a new shopping center near where they live in Santa Clara, CA (which is steadily becoming more dense and mixed-use, albeit more slowly than I'd like) is technically within walking distance. But, they admitted that they never actually walk there, even though both are into walking for exercise. They likely don't even realize, but there's an obvious reason for the this: the way there just doesn't feel comfortable for walking. I know the route well, and the streets and intersections just don't make it feel good.


What specifically made you land in Munich? Would love to hear more offline. my email is in my profile

Most people. I lived in Ann Arbor, quality of life was a smidge better (horrible food compared to California, bad climate, very high property taxes, horrifying roads...) but jobs for a tech worker were really few and far in between.

Let's face it, if you don't find a remote job (and they are still difficult to find) then your reality is probably a lot more likely to look like mine than yours.

The US is a lot more car dependent than any other place on earth, like it or not.


Even then... I have the full-time remote job. The prospect isn't getting the remote job, it's hanging onto it _for the rest of my career_. I still live in SoCal, despite desperately wanting to leave it behind, almost entirely because I feel compelled to live near a strong tech / job market for the job security that it provides myself and my family.

I would say largely the same, but mostly put the emphasis on housing. Capital isn't regional anymore, meaning housing largely goes for whatever people dare to sign for. This makes it a lot harder to live a more modest life. Disproportionately hurting smaller cities since being cheap is part of what they have/had going for them. Basically if housing was significantly cheaper for a decent quality of life, rather than mostly just somewhat cheaper, job security would be less of a concern.

No argument from me that most of the US is car dependent, but I will contend that it's a personal choice.

I've only been working remote for 5 months - before that I biked to work for 10 years. In fact, I still do all of my errands, shopping, etc. by bike. No doubt it's not as easy as in some European cities, but it's a possibility for people who prioritize it.


I've never lived in a place where going without a car was remotely feasible - at least not in the US. I've lived in Norway for some years, and do not drive.

First and foremost, lets be clear: I lived in small to medium-sized towns in the midwest. Two towns had taxi service, and one had a limited bus service. The town with taxis only... well, those taxis weren't reliable. You couldn't pre-order a taxi to go to work and the waiting time could be anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours. They weren't cheap: Taking a taxi to a minimum wage job would usually cost an hour of work.

Living outside of the small towns was no picnic without a car: You couldn't ride a bike on the shortest route, and it took more time. Biking was often unsafe: You were expected to use the road much like a car. Except lesser.

All of the places had a lack of continuous sidewalks to walk on and drivers that rarely slowed down for you. Pedestrians have the right of way in name only.

Not to mention... distance. In the small town, I tried walking everywhere for a while. I could not buy clothes outside of dollar general. Lots of things weren't possible to find in town. I was lucky enough to have a grocery store: Good thing, too, because there was a 20 minute drive to the towns with larger ones.

IN the larger cities, most residential areas were kept away from the areas with commerce. Wal-mart did not have sidewalks leading to it in one town.

IF you do it despite all of this, you still have to have the right job. Retail is going to expect you to be clean and dry when you get to work. SO will a restaurant. Some of these places have little to zero break room and no safe place to keep a bicycle or your helmet.

Oh, yeah: In almost all of these places, you were expected to only walk during "normal" hours. IF you walked to a 24-hour store at 2am or home after getting off work at 3am, you drew police suspicion, doubly so if you are young, look poor, a minority.

Some jobs won't hire you if you don't have a car or steady transportation. Walking and cycling did not count.

And sure, all this is still technically a choice, but not much of one. You have to reach a level of privilege before you can do this stuff safely and reasonably - at least in the states.


I can so much see my own US experience in this. And it was not some remote rural place, but center of LA - Hollywood. I did some 'work'and'travel' (without that travel part) during summer break on university, worked for Universal studios theme park. They got us accommodation nearby just next to Warner bros studios, straight distance to work was maybe 500m, but since there were only highways/fast roads and nothing for pedestrians, it took me 45 minutes of walk to get to the work. I could cut it to 35 min if I walked on the side of the roads, quite unsafe and asking for some police trouble.

It was not just this - public transport was abysmal, nothing reliable, bus could be easily 1 hour late or just wouldn't show up. Many places simply didn't have a pedestrian path to them. It was 2004 but I don't think major shift happened since.


I have lived in Washington in the mid 2000s and now for 5 years, in Olympia and in Seattle. I have experienced none of these issues and much prefer the attitudes of drivers here toward pedestrians than drivers in my home country, FWIE. I do not know how to drive.

This is why I stated where I lived - I always figured a few communities actually does things better. I'm happy it isn't everywhere, but boy oh boy was it like this in the Midwest (Indiana, to be precise).

Moving to Norway was night and day, though. Busses that run basically on time. Pedestrian paths all over that cut through neighborhoods and are safe. Actual right of way for pedestrians. Bridges or tunnels over busier roads and in my city, they are slowly routing traffic away from congested areas to make them walkable. I can get to other cities using public transportation as well, including the airports. I am not legal to drive here. We own a car (Spouse drives), but we only use it a few times a month.


This is basically "bootstraps" talk applied to transportation. Biking in most of the US feels uncomfortable and dangerous. Bike lanes are scant, protected bike lanes rarer still, where they do exist they tend to pop in and out of existence at random intervals, so it's not exactly a surprise that most avoid it.

There's a reason few people bike for transportation in the US, and that's that biking in the US is mostly really terrible. It can be done, sure, but it sucks enough to where very few want to do it. Saying "well it's still a personal choice" is like looking at the cycle of poverty and saying, "yeah poor people in poor neighborhoods have some serious systemic problems, but if they really tried they could still make it work!"


Bicycling in general is terrible, though. I say this as someone who did bicycle and walk as primary transport for a lot of their life. Bicycling is a lot of fun in good weather and on a gentle route, but really sucks otherwise, and that's often a lot of what happens in areas of the USA. Even if lanes were made and infrastructure was better, it doesn't change the climate, the slope of the roads, the effort expended for a mild speed boost, or the distance between things.

The problem is there's a large, noisy cadre of bicycle enthusiasts who spend tons of money on their hobby and think it's the answer to the world's problems. They tend to dominate conversations like this.


> Bicycling in general is terrible, though.

It's really not. It has its disadvantages, sure, but there's plenty of advantages to it, too. In comparison to cars, it's healthier, kid-friendly, cheaper for the user, cheaper for the government, less noisy, less pollution, less danger generation, better for the community, etc. And it's quite pleasant with the right infrastructure.

You're exaggerating the downsides here. Climate? Tokyo has a high bike mode share with plenty of heat and humidity in the sumnmer, Oulu a high bike mode share even with near-endless winter. Hills? E-bikes are rapidly becoming cheaper and more common. Distance? Well, that's part of the land use/infrastructure problem. America in general has been designed to be hostile to anything that's not a car, and that hurts walking, it hurts transit, and it hurts biking. It needs to be fixed for all those.

Biking doesn't have to cover every person or every trip, but declaring that it's "terrible in general" is just projecting your own preferences onto the world. Reality begs to differ: we can see that places that have the right infrastructure and land use see high bike rates. Period.

Now, maybe you personally would still avoid biking in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but that has little to do with whether it's good general policy.

> The problem is there's a large, noisy cadre of bicycle enthusiasts who spend tons of money on their hobby and think it's the answer to the world's problems. They tend to dominate conversations like this.

This is wrong for a couple reasons:

1. Biking is an excellent option for a variety of reasons. Most Americans are plainly ignorant of how it can work. Not that it's their fault, really: everywhere they've lived, biking is awful, so naturally it must be always be awful, right? Same thing with public transit.

2. The kind of people that would benefit most by things like protected intersections and protected bike lanes is not the lycra-wearing, dentist-bike-riding, "take no prisoners in the war against cars" crowd. The kind of people that benefit from Dutch-style bike infrastructure are ordinary people who do not think of themselves as cyclists, but just people who happen to bike.


One else to your list: no traffic jams when you’re on your bike!

[flagged]


A fine example of Poe's law if I ever saw one.

I don't know where you live but I've never lived in a place where that was possible or safe. Lucky you, but you're the tiniest minority.

I'll agree, living in the suburbs would be soul crushing. That's why you live in a city and ditch the car commute.

Even US cities have abysmally bad walkability. It's a complete joke compared to somewhere like Japan or Germany. If Germany is an NFL team, the US would be the local middle school's backup squad.

Most US cities are designed to force you to drive, and if any walking for transportation does occur, it's a small miracle, because they make it as painful as they can: wide roads, high speed limits, a dearth of pedestrian islands, few if any cut throughs, single use zoning, super low density zoning, moats of asphalt around businesses, etc.

Just look at the data for how much walking for transport actually happens in the US. It's comically small.


Maybe it depends on the city and your age/marital status. I found living in the city (DC) extremely lonely after having kids. Mostly 20-something professionals gunning their careers. Moved out to the suburbs and now actually have neighbors to talk to, ones with kids that’ll come over and have a beer while the kids run around. All the driving isn’t ideal, but I kind of like tooling around the mall.

I agree some of the problems are uniquely American. Having to spend a million dollars on a house to afford to live in a decent urban school district in places like NYC or SF or DC fucks up really messes up important social networks. Even if you can afford it, you’re surrounded entirely and solely by other people who can afford it.


People want to be surrounded by other people like them, consciously or subconsciously. Whether it be under the guise of physical security, security of their house’s sell price, security of their kids education, all of these lead to the same place. Stratification by income/class/job security.

I don’t know if there is a good way to combat this, without restricting people’s rights. People will sort by quality of school district when choosing where to buy a home and live in the one best one they can afford, and that correlates super well with parents’ socioeconomic class.

Reducing the income/wealth gap seems to be the only way on my opinion to overcome this phenomenon.


Not that easy in San Francisco with a family.

I used to live in Manhattan and there were certain parts of the city that would take more time to get to than my current suburban commute.

e.g. I lived on 42nd street and the west side and to get to the 20's on the east side might take me up to an hour walking.


Hey that's why I've built this! http://foxie.cool hope you can find some use in it.

It really is a shit hole here compared to Europe. Can’t wait to save up and move back.

I have been thinking about this recently. Suburbs are spaced out and empty and cities are loud and uncomfortable. I cant think of any public space I can just hang out around other than the library but that is a quiet space. Most public spaces are owned by businesses and they are designed to get you in and out as fast as possible while spending money the whole time. I wish there were indoor public spaces with comfortable seating and tables where you could just spend time at, meet people and meet with friends.

Unfortunately such a space would cost a significant amount and only works if the government funds it entirely. I still think the benefit to society may be worth it.


I've traveled to France a few times. Whenever I walk through the towns, I notice a sense of noncompetition and inclusivity amongst the school-aged children there.

This social system eliminates the temporary high that one gets from their "15 minutes" of being the king of the American hill, while substantially decreasing the amount of depression and anger.


This is one of the main reasons I'm really looking at moving to Europe. The lack of these things is definitely an issue, and even more of one in rural areas.

> When I'm old and will not be able to drive anymore, this will get even worse.

Given you might have good savings, I know lots of old ppl buy condos in the city.


Just as modern technology has given us cheap, convenient fast food that isn't very nourishing, it's also given us cheap, easy "social" interactions that don't provide real connection.

Social media is a nice compliment to, but not a good replacement for real conversations.

"Success" often seems to correlate with cutting yourself off-- having a nice house with a big TV, a car that takes you to and from your job with minimal interaction with other people, and if people do have a few minutes of free time, they are often nose down in their phones, not taking to people around them.

Especially after you have kids, it's easier to pull up Game of Thrones on your phone than head out to meet people. Is it any wonder that many people know more about what's going on in Westeros than in their own community?

A few years ago I started paying more attention to what I eat, which has been great physically. Over the past year or so I've tried to be more intentional about relationships and conversations. As an introvert, it was weird at first, but it's been amazing. I actually look forward to calling people. (I call it my "Reconnection Challenge" and you can start by calling 2 people per day-- outside of your "have to" calls. Try it.)


Just as modern technology has given us cheap, convenient fast food that isn't very nourishing, it's also given us cheap, easy "social" interactions that don't provide real connection.

And just as it is somewhat difficult to get experts to agree what authentically nutritious food would actually be, it is also difficult to sort "shallow" social interactions from deep social interactions.

Back when the Internet was young and I was working as a contract programmer in the mid-West, I met a young woman who was engaged to marry a man she'd met over the net and had not physically seen. In ways, it seemed impressive since it seemed to imply a mental connection rather than a physical.

Today, social networks are universal and universally denigrated in favor of immediate personal relationships. I'm not sure such a simple return is possible or desirable.


I am a big believer in online relationships. Most of my relationships, friendships and otherwise, have been there. I even got engaged to someone I met online (though we did meet in person a couple times first).

However, it's not difficult at all to sort between shallow and deep social interactions. There's a massive difference between social media interactions and the interactions core to a deep relationship. I'll enumerate some examples here:

Social Media:

* Like

* Write short reply

* ...?

Meaningful relationship:

* Long talks (over phone, email, forums, whatever)

* Discussion of intimate topics (not suitable for the public space of social media!)

* Sharing experiences (and not in the "look what I did" sense of social media, but in the actually doing things together sense of, say, a gamer clan)

* Some semblance of shared beliefs or interests (the focus of a forum, perhaps)

So by all means let's continue building relationships online. But let's never confuse the shallow-as-possible interactions of social media with actually connecting to another human on any more than the most superficial level.


Hey! I would love for you to try out this solution I have made! http://foxie.cool

Boo Hoo. This sounds too much like social ludditism and "blaming it on technology".

While, sure, a lot of shallow connections exist in social media, it's the same in "the real world" as well

Societies change, connections change.

People are using social networks as a stepping stone to deeper connections. It's that simple. As in the past the main "social networks" were school, church, hobbies, etc.

Which I think it's even better as I don't need to pretend to worship a deity or do some hobby that's out of my comfort zone.

And calling people sounds ever more like this weird technological stepping stone that's inferior to in person conversations and to texting/social network interactions


Why is there a loneliness epidemic if everything is equal and social media is just as good as real connections ?

> Societies change, connections change.

Change doesn't mean change for the best. Asking questions is totally reasonable when you look at the changes happening in the last decade. How come people, teenagers especially, are feeling more lonely while they're infinitely more connected than 20 years ago ? Why is suicide becoming the leading cause of teenagers' death ? &c.

Looks like a lot of people think change = progress = good, without even questioning it.

> I don't need to pretend to worship a deity

The irony is that technology is becoming a deity. "Don't question tech", "Tech is good, always good", "We must thrive for technological advancement at all cost", "Technical advancement is always progress", &c.

https://www.bbc.com/news/education-43711606

https://www.prb.org/suicide-replaces-homicide-second-leading...


I never said the changes were exclusively for good, every change has good and bad sides, but implying things are bad because they are different is just as naive as saying changes are only for good

> Why is there a loneliness epidemic if everything is equal and social media is just as good as real connections ?

Maybe because of the several other societal changes that happened even before social media was invented? (Not saying it isn't part of the current scenario though)


Perhaps. But I'm not against the technology. I'm for it. I love that I know what my friends' babies look like thanks to FB. I credit email with helping me stay in touch with high school friends. And I'm all for the convenience of technology to facilitate deeper interactions.

My point is that if we are not careful, we can end up eating the junk food to the exclusion of the good stuff, just because it's so convenient, instead of as an appetizer.

This community is very well aware of the market cap dollars at stake through user engagement and controlling attention. ;-)

Agree that calling is inferior to in-person, but it's far better for conversation that asynchronous text-based stuff. Humans don't have a command line-- we're built to appreciate body language, tone, etc.


>junk food to the exclusion of the good stuff, just because it's so convenient, instead of

Then I shall starve by fasting and be able to endure it, just because I am in monk mode and deleted Facebook,ig and all other social media. (I am a strange guy)


No, it sounds like you're skipping the fast food and going straight to the feast. ;-)

What is the inverse of loneliness? Belonging, a sense of community and companionship.

It is my perception that, at least in America and I suspect in many other places, competition pressure centered around places with strong "second place" (Job) opportunities combined with decades of civic mal-planning and treating symptoms (for some) rather than root causes (for all) have combined with a regressive tax/compensation structures to destroy the middle class and upward mobility.

There are not enough "first places" near jobs. The cost of those places and the demands of the jobs combine to sour the time, energy, and opportunity left for "third places" (#1). Areas and activities where idle time is spent when seeking connections to others. Those places, at least for me, also tend to have a high barrier to participation/entry and very poor discover-ability.

I theorize this might be related to the same issue described in another post, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19902782 where "the old Internet" had many small venues, who's main reason for existence was not profit, but the benefit of their "members" (users). They were private, intimate, locations where fans of a given thing could gather and learn more about that thing and themselves; with small local histories that allowed for safer exploration.

A more stable place, where I had a real career I believed in, and a real home that I could start putting equity in to and around; a place where actual roots and structures and friends that would probably stay in the area also existed. That's what I feel we need to actually fight and win the battle against loneliness.

#1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_place


Here is an interesting thought: in UX design and when building a startup we are encouraged to interact with users to learn what they want and need, then we craft the experience and values around that. Does this ever happen in civic planning? Do city planners ever talk to the public, to design experts, to community leaders? I honestly don't know, but I suspect the answer is NO.

When I moved to Japan it was sort of strange to see residences and businesses in the same building. The longer I live here the clearer it becomes that zoning laws have a lot to do with good civic planning. Of course there are side effects to open zoning, communities don't always look as beautiful (but I think the blame also falls on planners / lack of community effort), but overall loose restrictions allow for more useful places. When I lived in Irvine, CA, I had to drive everywhere to do anything. The sad thing is many people choose communities like Irvine precisely because it is structured this way (I did initially). In truth, you can visually tell how depressed everyone is and how hard they try to make themselves feel better. Despite the average income being below 100k for couples, people are driving 50-130k cars, living in places they can barely afford all for the sake of image. I would argue that the image issue stems in large part from loneliness and a feeling of isolation.

In all, I agree that perhaps the issue is not any one factor, but all of them combined. Rise of technology, fall of communities, poor civic planning, increasing income disparity are just the tip of the iceberg.


Yes, planners talk to the general public. You can talk to them at your planning commission if you want by going up to them and well taking to them...

Additionally if you raise a good point during public comment a planning commissioner might even ask the planner to provide a response.

Also locally I know a lot of planners are pretty active on Twitter, so you can talk with them that ways.

Lastly a lot of bad planning is driven by politics (the planners are just staff who have to implement what the mayor and/or council says to do). If you want to change bad urban planning change your city’s politics.


Isn't there a world of difference between UX designers going out to talk to the users themselves as opposed to waiting for the users to come to talk to them? It implies that there's a pretty strong self-selection bias.

Yes. But how do you propose a city planner selects the right people to talk to about urban planning?

The "users" (citizens) would first need to educate themselves on what's being proposed and what impacts it might have. They also might not be representative of the demographic actually being most affected. Maybe they just don't care.

By leaving it to citizens to self-select, you get the people who are motivated and at least marginally more educated on the issue than some random Joe off the street.


I don't see how these same points wouldn't apply to uses of software though. Most users don't know anything about software or good UX design. You also run the risk of surveying a demographic that's not the most impacted by the change. The problems seem to be identical here.

For bigger overhauls they do send people out for community outreach. For example in Oakland, CA they’re rolling out a three year paving plan and bike plan. This involved reaching out to community organizations that deal with underserved groups, setting up booths at various popular events and sending out email and social communications, articles in the local newspapers and informal surveys. That said Oakland has “equity” as a key city-wide goal so they may do more reaching out than many cities.

But why not also talk to a random selection of people in the city? Go door to door in a random selection that was done beforehand. Maybe you'll figure out what the community as a whole has trouble with or cares more about.

As someone who does a lot of political canvassing this isn’t a good use of the city’s resources. From personal experience I’d estimate that less than 5% of residents open their doors. Of the amount that do open maybe about half just want to tell you not to solicit. Further it’s almost impossible to canvass most apartment buildings that have access control.

Does this ever happen in civic planning? Do city planners ever talk to the public, to design experts, to community leaders? I honestly don't know, but I suspect the answer is NO.

They absolutely do, but the problem is that the "user base" is huge and there is never anything even close to a consensus about the 'right' thing to do among those groups.


I thought reason for this is that Japanese are more homogenous than Americans, so it's much easier for them to sympathize with their own.

Third place experiments have a tendency to turn into impromptu homeless shelters.

Im' not saying we don't need shelters, but Pete and Bob from accounting are not like to chill out at one.


> Im' not saying we don't need shelters, but Pete and Bob from accounting are not like to chill out at one.

Yeah, let's flip that. In this situation, Pete and Bob are self-isolating because they belong to a different societal caste than "third place people." It's sad. Pete and Bob are lonely, and very close to friendless -- but homeless people are forced into a community where they end up finding friends and support structures that Pete and Bob can't even imagine. But if Pete and Bob enter a third place, they'll probably shun, and be shunned by, the folks who frequent that place. All of society is harmed by our lack of altruism. Homelessness is everybody's problem.


addressing the root causes of homelessness would probably make sense. This is part of the fundamental mismanagement of america...

"It is my perception that, at least in America and I suspect in many other places, competition pressure centered around places with strong "second place" (Job) opportunities combined with decades of civic mal-planning and treating symptoms (for some) rather than root causes (for all) have combined with a regressive tax/compensation structures to destroy the middle class and upward mobility. "

i literally cannot parse this sentence. i tried - i am a native english speaker but it's just confusing to me what the proposition being made here is. i tried reading it a few times.

it is late but if someone could clarify it would be much appreciated.


I am not a native speaker and not an author, but from my understanding, they mean that we focus on jobs, not on communities (as society), and then try to patch it later (e.g. go to specific clubs, gather in some places, etc). Moreover, it is hard to jump between social classes, therefore hard to change place of living/your surroundings.

So, in a nutshell, making our lives around job makes it hard (for majority) to live a fulfilling life outside of your job.


First place is home, second place is work, third place is communal areas - sometimes the media is referred to as a fourth place.

He's saying that homes are built/valued almost entirely with access to jobs in mind and not communal spaces, and that this has not been helped by zoning laws that enforce this problem, nor by a lack of political will to tackle either this issue or any other deep-seated causes of the problem - things like housing costs for instance, which is part of a wider issue of increasing wealth disparity across the US.

Or perhaps more succinctly, the problem is a focus on fixing the surface problems of an increasingly well-off minority, instead of trying to tackle the underlying structural problems so as to benefit everybody.


Maybe according to OPs perception, the reasons destroying the middle class and upward mobility are a combination of: competition pressure centered around places with strong "second place" (Job) opportunities, decades of civic mal-planning, treating symptoms (for some) rather than root causes (for all) and regressive tax/compensation structures

But I am not sure what that actually means. And I am not a native speaker.


> in America and I suspect in many other places, competition pressure centered around places with strong "second place" (Job) opportunities combined with decades of civic mal-planning and treating symptoms (for some) rather than root causes (for all) have combined with a regressive tax/compensation structures to destroy the middle class and upward mobility.

I suspect this is almost exclusively an american issue. There is a big societal focus on "getting ahead", "keeping up with the Joneses" etc. in the US that just doesn't exist in most other countries.


I'm reminded of this poignant song by Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiCRZLr9oRw

There's a world to be discovered... Only takes the will to do so really...

I’ve recently picked up the works of Vilem Flusser, a pretty underrated philosopher who touched on this subject in his 1983 book, Post-History. Much of what Flusser writes about is prescient, but in regard to increased loneliness in modern culture specifically, he argues that a major shift from dialogic forms (speaking with) of communication to strictly discursive forms (speaking to) is responsible. Even our so called “social media/social networks” are discursive and not dialogic—aimes more at telling people about ourselves than stimulating converstion. Part of this shift stems from specialization—when our interests are so highly individuated we have no shared grounds from which to speak, which reduces us to speaking about “pop culture” a shallow solutions to this growing gap in mutual experience.

(Even this post is discursive, not dialogic, just like many of the other parents in this thread, since the technological collective communication mechanism doesn’t emulate real conversation—in online chats you’re already speaking to everyone and no one thanks to the veneer of anonymity/new identity a user name gives you, coupled with the guarantee that others in an online forum are coming from disparate backgrounds. The notion of an audience with shared values/cultural origins has dissolved and been replaced be a universal Everyman/Noman which in turn leads us toward the dissolution of community outside the realm of technical specialization.


With you on most of this, but isn't anonymity through usernames orthogonal to the discursive/dialogic shift (hey, turning a discursive text into a dialogic one!)?

I'm thinking specifically in the context of an early 00's forum, people had their usernames but if you spent time on the forum and it became a community, you "knew" the people behind those usernames through the dialogue you had with them on the forum. You might have no real name or face to associate it with, but you understood how they thought and felt about things, what their interests were, and that kind of thing.

And it's true that a parent post would start discursive, but it would often be an invitation to dialogue. It's sort of like if you're at a party with everyone in the world, and groups start forming around conversations people find interesting, with people constantly drifting in and out of the conversation with less regard for whether you actually know anyone in the conversation than people exert in physical space.


This is a great point. And the irony is that the more discursive the environment is, the less people feel heard, the more loudly (at least metaphorically) they speak, in a vicious cycle. This doesn't fulfill the need for conversation and interaction.

(Some people suggest that the rise in therapy for wealthy urban people is largely because this is the easiest way for some people to have someone actually listen to them. I don't know if it's true but it seems very sad.)


I suspect that I started to misunderstand where you were coming from, but I think that I caught myself.

---

I suspect that you're using the term "Everyman" in a different way than I'm used to it being used — as that every man is set apart from the rest. I'm used to it being used in the way that any man holds in common some/many characteristics, beliefs, and behaviors with all other men.

> The notion of an audience with shared values/cultural origins has dissolved and been replaced be a universal Everyman/Noman which in turn leads us toward the dissolution of community outside the realm of technical specialization.

Using my view of Everymanism, we would suspect that individualization would not necessarily move us away from shared values. We would need to distill out our similarities from our differences via discourse, and we would suspect that similarities would be found.


Great point.

Are there any good solutions ? Any place to read about good solutions ?


Social media where you "speak with" sounds fantastic, but how you would do it Slack/IRC is one way do it, those have usually tightly knitted community but there is definitely other more creative ways do that.

IMO it's just a question of design emphasis. That is, Slack/IRC work well for this kind of thing specifically because their rooms are created for the discussion of some broad topic. Social media (Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/Instagram/etc) generally doesn't because it doesn't have the same emphasis on topical discussions (Facebook groups being something of an exception, although uptake is limited).

So to create social media that lends itself this direction, take the focus away from individual expression in a bubble and put the focus on topics, just like Slack/IRC/forums/BBSes do/did.

Google+ was actually a step in this direction and was the home to a number of topic-focused communities as a result, but Google wasn't prepared to follow through. Maybe someone else will.


The basic problem with written communications, is that it's a just not good for emotional connections. There's some research to back that.

Maybe that's why communications degrade to discourse.


> One might assume that the higher up the organization you go, the more connected you feel, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Research reported in Harvard Business Review found that half of CEOs report feeling lonely and 61% of those CEOs believed it hindered their performance.

I wonder why people would assume that?

I'd think being CEO would be the loneliest jobs.. You have no peers in your company; literally everyone is one of your reports.

People on the same team can complain to teammates about their management. Managers can complain to other managers about their reports or their managers.

Who does the CEO complain to? Probably their partners, other CEOs, friends, but either way it's most likely people outside of work.


Only if you’re trying to keep some kind of aloof separation from the people you manage. There’s no reason a CEO can’t open up and be more inclusive. Things like asking for constructive criticism on your performance and then acting upon that will instill a level of trust that can then create a more open and inclusive working environment.

I’m not a CEO, but I am a CTO/founder and me and the CEO/founder are the de facto joint heads of the organisation.

I often say to my junior devs things like “don’t believe everything I say as gospel. There are lots of false prophets in our industry, so a healthy level of cinicism is good. If you think I’m wrong, don’t be afraid to say so”.

This creates a perceived flatter structure that becomes more collaborative, which leads to a more social work environment. I can only assume it would help for those lonely at-the-top.

The way I see management of people is this: trust your smart people to make good decisions, when there is disagreement or conflict the manager is there to be an arbiter and a guide toward the bigger vision of the organisation, not a dictator


> Only if you’re trying to keep some kind of aloof separation from the people you manage. There’s no reason a CEO can’t open up and be more inclusive. Things like asking for constructive criticism on your performance and then acting upon that will instill a level of trust that can then create a more open and inclusive working environment.

I don't believe I stated anything that implied managers can't be inclusive as I think the opposite. I actually think that's a fundamental part of their job.

I'm just skeptical managers and their reports can treat each other as equals because one of them has the power to terminate the other.

Great managers can make that imbalance of power feel nonexistent, but it nevertheless exists, and the issue is you will never know when someone is being fully honest with your or not.

I don't mean to imply that you do this, but sometimes bad managers seem to be unaware of this and get too friendly/cozy and it's actually a huge problem because they just keep doing things which make their reports uncomfortable but the reports are too afraid to speak up. I can only imagine that this is how a lot of sexual harassment begins.


can managers fire their direct reports at most companies? not sure how common this is, but at my (relatively small) company, my boss cannot simply decide to fire me. he would have to go to the director (my skip level) or possibly a VP to actually have hiring/firing authority. of course, he's been there a lot longer than me and could probably persuade them if I was underperforming or causing problems.

I don't think it is a question of opening up. People won't share the same things with their boss that they share with their coworkers.

I think it’s pretty common to believe that life is better the more power and prestige you’ve got.

Comparison: how many people are surprised when it turns out that a celebrity is miserable? You usually hear “but so many people love them, and they’re rich!”


I too thought this was a given and have personally experienced it even just being a rung or two on the ladder. It makes total sense - what you do or don’t share or say becomes more important, the stakes are higher, and there’s just generally less people at your level to confide in

I disagree, CEO isn't a lonely job. You might not be more connected to your reports on personal level but you know quite a lot of other CEOs personally and might also have handful of executives working under you as your personal friends.

There's a generalized factor that makes it easier to both climb the corporate ladder and make interpersonal connections. On the other hand, it takes more and more effort to win at higher and higher levels of the org-chart tournament, leaving less time for outside hobbies that can foster a sense of belonging.

I don’t see CEOs being lonely outside of niche situations. Most are going to have to have some strong desire to tell many people what to do. I’m sure they wind up building a “community” around themselves both inside and out of work.

Last night I read the "Happiness" chapter (no. 18) from Steven Pinker's fine book, Enlightenment Now, where he reviews data on loneliness in the US students (among two dozen other graphs in the first twenty chapters).

Pinker implies social critics abuse the words "epidemic" and "crisis".

After reviewing the downwards-sloping graph (plotted from 1978-2011) and more data, Pinker writes:

[quote] Modern life, then, has not crushed our minds and bodies, turned us into atomized machines suffering from toxic levels of emptiness and isolation, or set us drifting apart without human contact or emotion. How did this misconception arise? Partly it came out of the social critic's standard formula for sowing panic: Here's an anecdote, therefore it's a trend, therefore it's a crisis. But partly came from genuine changes in how people interact. People see each other less in traditional venues like clubs, churches, unions, fraternal organizations, and dinner parties, and more in informal gatherings via digital media. They confide in fewer distant cousins but more in co-workers. They are less likely to have large numbers of friends but also less likely to want a large number of friends. But just because social life looks different today from the way it looked in the 1950s, it does not mean that humans, that quintessentially social species, have become any less social. [/quote]


I like Pinker's views with regard to violence and such, but I think he has largely missed the mark on this point. Maybe I'm just trying to generalize my own situation so as not to feel alone (sort of ironic I guess).

> Modern life, then, has not crushed our minds and bodies

It is indeed objectively correct that modern life has not crushed our minds and bodies.

> Modern life has not turned us into atomized machines suffering from toxic levels of emptiness and isolation

It is indeed objectively correct that modern life has not turned us into atomized machines suffering from toxic levels of emptiness and isolation (unless perhaps you include suicides from self-perceived loneliness, I assume Pinker does not include those in his analysis).

> Modern life has not set us drifting apart without human contact or emotion.

To me, this seems true only if you take it pedantically literally, where "without" = "absolutely none" (and even then, I wouldn't be surprised if it was not entirely true).

> How did this misconception arise? Partly it came out of the social critic's standard formula for sowing panic: Here's an anecdote, therefore it's a trend, therefore it's a crisis.

Really? Is there no non-hyperbolic (see 2 out of 3 of the examples provided above) way that can or has been used to describe the increased social isolation that many people are in fact feeling, regardless of the "expert" opinions of people like Steven Pinker?

> But partly came from genuine changes in how people interact. People see each other less in traditional venues like clubs, churches, unions, fraternal organizations, and dinner parties, and more in informal gatherings via digital media. They confide in fewer distant cousins but more in co-workers. They are less likely to have large numbers of friends but also less likely to want a large number of friends.

And yet, any feeling of social isolation is one's imagination? And only as a reaction to the fear mongering of social critics?

> But just because social life looks different today from the way it looked in the 1950s, it does not mean that humans, that quintessentially social species, have become any less social.

That, specifically, is objectively correct. However, the fact that humans have become less social (as Pinker himself just finished describing above) might be a sign.

Hopefully he releases a revised edition so we know know what to think and how to feel.

To me, this style of writing may contribute to the "backlash" against expert opinions we hear about.


What are you trying to say? All you do is assert that a very literal interpretation of what he's saying is correct, with the implication that what he's trying to say isn't correct, but you don't actually offer any arguments against his actual positions

People like Steven Pinker are thought leaders - he exerts influence over what millions of people think.

I and many others see signs of loneliness (and a variety of other mental health issues) all over the place, and it can be reasonably attributed to the incredible societal changes that have taken place in the last < 50 years. Pinker mockingly dismisses these valid concerns as "misconceptions" by mischaracterizing them as ridiculously hyperbolic strawman complaints, implying such beliefs are based not on actual personal observations, but rather based on fear mongering by social critics.

He seems to be a gifted writer, able to spin colorful and psychologically persuasive prose, but at least in this case, his disproof of concerns is utterly empty, if you actually read it carefully.

Maybe this particular excerpt is not representative of his overall work, but I tend to be very wary of those who are are profiting handsomely off the status quo as they tell others who haven't fared so well in the new world to "don't worry, be happy".


There's a huge difference between going to church every Sunday, and talking about church on Reddit. Internet ties are transient, anonymous, and adversarial. The idea of the meetup came into being precisely because these ties were so weak.

even coworkers...you have weaker ties because too much social sharing can and will get you fired. Coworkers are under no obligation to be with you long term and have no bond apart from their employer. The reaon why people make social ties among them is because they literally have no one else; their family may live in another state, and friend networks can be absurdly hard to maintain.

Pinker is just off base on this one. Part of the modern knowledge worker's idealization of college and replication of it in their workspaces is that it's one of the few times where social interaction is forced through proximity. No one, and I mean no one, has spoken rapturously about the glorious communities of online learning.


Seems like Pinker is one of the few who can remain sanguine. He's not going to be able to persuade many.

TBH, that quote is certainly not persuading me. I don't have lots of statistical data to look into, but I will say that myself and my peer group (gen X) at least seem much lonelier, with negative consequences, than my parents and their peer group.

A lot of it is that it's just so much easier to be isolated today than in the past. When my parents moved in the past, they may have hired movers, but they stilled called me, my siblings, and some of their friends to help. I just get on thumbtack to find some help and then hire movers. When my parents were coming back from a flight, one of their kids would pick them up from the airport. I just take an Uber.

Part of forming strong social relationships is a need to rely on other people. It's much easier to get by today without relying on anyone, and that can have significant negative side effects.


Wait, people confide in coworkers? I've had some coworkers for 18 years. I'm fairly certain they don't know anything about me beyond what I'm working on currently. Why would I ever tell a coworker private information about myself?

> Why would I ever tell a coworker private information about myself?

Because you've spent most of your waking hours with them every day for a third of your life and we're social creatures.

If I didn't make friends with my coworkers, I wouldn't have friends.


To each their own. Some people value privacy. That’s fine. But most of us spend more waking time with coworkers than with our partners or spouses, so it’s nice to open up at work.

The rise of secularism probably is a factor. The social function of religion was to create a link between people and to regulate and control their coexistence. It provided a set of collective rituals, customs, festivities. Take that away and what remains is essentially the family unit and the market forces.

> Take that away and what remains is essentially the family unit and the market forces.

Or what's left of them anyway.

Seems like you left zero-sum tribalism and perpetual consumerist distraction off of your list.


I think this might hint to one of the greater arguments for communism, which is functionally society as religion.

That being said, I don't feel for a second that religion is the only way to fill that hole practically. But it requires a society that both recognizes the need for that social cohesion and institutionalizes that which can maintain it. 2 weeks paid vacation HOA quarter acre with a picket fence and blacked out windows mainstream American culture is definitely not trying to accomplish that.


Once I found a really bright employee and I asked him, why don't you talk more and socialize more? He said well once I did exactly that and someone with large follower count on twitter made mockery of my views since then I keep my personal opinion to myself.

Another one told me, that he doesn't really have a lot in common with people around him and that he considers online community where people are exactly interested in what he likes requires lot less mental overhead.

Due to social media follower count, some people love to pick out others and insult them on social media only because they happen to have a different opinion, here you don't even need to hold on wrong opinion - holding a different opinion does the job.

Before internet/social media, there were very few and expensive ways to get together with people across the geographic boundaries so you always had to please people around you and sometimes get them interested in the things you like, to have fun with them.

But this changed with internet, now you can choose some very obscure topic and you'll find other people who are interested in the same thing several clicks away.

And your mom is sick at home and can't go to supermarket for shopping? No problem, Amazon home delivery is one click away.

Before that, you had to keep a friend who lived close to you and also help him and keep him happy so that he helped you when you need him, like buying some stuff for your mom while she's sick and you are away.

Due to technology, there is simply less need of friends etc... And many don't consider it a good ROI over their time to keep friends. I heard it several times in valley, if you want a friend, get a dog.


I find this observation interesting because, in my own biased perspective, people are finding it more and more difficult to compromise. And maybe that's because we're not forced to compromise with people to live our lives anymore.

We can surround ourselves with people who believe what we do and if we don't want to interact with anyone, we can just order stuff online. Creating and existing in our own little bubbles.


>Another one told me, that he doesn't really have a lot in common with people around him and that he considers online community where people are exactly interested in what he likes requires lot less mental overhead.

You're right, but peer pressure gets to you and one need to stand for itself.


> if you want a friend, get a dog.

I have no doubt it was said by plenty of people in the Valley, but that's an old quote about D.C..


I'd replace 'lonely' with 'lacking perspective', due to life being unbelievably great.

It's hard to know the difference - just go without hot water, electricity or much food for a few days and then see how much 'loneliness' bothers you.

It's an epidemic of life being so incredible, that we're constantly bored and restless. Strong human connections are made through negative experiences, not ecstasy.

You can't have an awesome life of doing nothing difficult, and yet have great close relationships. You have to choose.

We have choice now - in the past, you had to suffer. Now, you can choose to, if you want. Most people are choosing to not and slowly degenerate into old age, with a bored half-smile on their face at best, cluelessly bitching about trivialities at worst. It's all fine - just remember, you have to choose to suffer, if you want to achieve a great life.


People without water and electricity suffer from loneliness too. Always did. The churches have structures that provide company to sick and old for that reason. If you ever read books from previous eras including war times, they deal with loneliness a lot.

Physical suffering does not make you not lonely. It just means it sux for more reasons then just one.


In some parts of Canada, the Red Cross sends volunteers to weekly check-ins in senior citizen communities. Nothing formal, just a friendly knock and a "how are you, need any help with anything today?" kind of conversation.

How long before working adults needs something similar because the conversations they have, which take up the majority of their day are all so "productized" and artificial?


Alibaba/aliExpress specifically had studies that singles spend more money online. That is why they introduced the singles day and made it such an event.

Loneliness is a problem, but we need to be aware that there are entities who specifically profit from a culture of solitude: “And there I was.. Alone with my ads, looking at made up pictures of other people’s lifes.”

We are in the middle of the creation of a perfect consumer, which has to have a hole in themselves that can never be filled, a itch that never goes away when scratched, in constant need.

And arguably there is solid economic incentive to go further down that road.


There's an upside to loneliness for employers. Fewer distractions from the job. Less likely to mate and require higher insurance premiums for a spouse and children. Less likely to join a union or act as a a group against the employer.

I have met a number of isolated, depressed people across various places of work in my career, and the single common signifier among them all was a slow-to-rapid decline in their quality of work and enthusiasm for the job.

These are not good for employers by any means.


> Less likely to mate and require higher insurance premiums for a spouse and children

Lonely people are a tremendous risk to themselves and others, they do a lot of spontaneous dying and tend to get progressively worse at caring about doing their job. I've seen employee loneliness hurt company bottom lines, I don't think that's rare.


I also see people at work who have no family and they see their work as their only reason for living which makes them feel desired, respected and important to others around them even if they are not involved personally in their lives.

But are they as big a risk as married people with children or potential agitators or unionists?

Is there even any objective data on this kind of comparison?


> But are they as big a risk as married people with children

I don't have any objective data to offer in the middle of a workday, but conventionally, married breadwinners with children make for model employees.


Married couples going through divorce/infidelity/family/kids/health issues(which is not rare) is a tremendous risk as well, right?

I don't understand why lonely people are automatically classified as a tremendous risk. I've experienced multiple times that exactly the opposite is often the case.


Mostly because they can't take risks with their dependents.

This article struck a chord with me. I am a middle aged immigrant in the tech industry battling loneliness since I was about 15. Outwardly I probably seem to be doing ok.

While I see a lot about the challenges to public health and society by the loneliness epidemic, I haven't been able to find much in the way of what lonely people can do do build community especially in the atheist / agnostic realm.

Over the course of reading the comments, I found a few resources that I've compiled, please pile on if you know of others

Sunday Assembly https://www.sundayassembly.com/

Unitarian Universalist churches https://www.uua.org/

Meetups https://www.meetup.com - I've tried several meetups but nothing has really stuck as in finding people who consistently come for an activity and the opportunity to connect more deeply

As I think about it for someone like myself I am looking for more "church without the religion" outlets than say activity groups like say hiking etc because i find the activity groups more focused on the activity than generally making friends that you can call on for any kind of emergency, real world problem


There is one facet to this which I find interesting -- and that's how disconnected we become from the emotional impact of our decisions.

In a small closed community, we cannot help but be part of a system of social and emotional feedback. The decisions that we make have consequences, and this is very much the social environment that we have evolved for (confined to prehistory for obvious reasons).

Those feedback loops have been largely severed in "modern" (i.e. last few thousand years) large-scale, urbanized, literate societies -- a fundamental change in the control systems that govern human behavior.

With so many of us running partially open-loop ... is it any wonder that we see a proliferation of pathological behaviors?

Can our latest (early 21st century) technology help to restore some of those connections? To help us get feedback on the impact of our speech, our writing, our choices? Could this help us re-establish an earlier, more natural way of relating and connecting to our fellow human beings?


I think a lot of this has to do with the lack of stable groups of a size that enables social effects and feedback to dominate - things like guilt, shame and reciprocity. Without this sort of group interactions become much more stressful and we don't feel like we belong.

https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/social-med...


A lack of shared philosophy means there's no open, shared spaces. Like tonight, I'm going to a Knights of Columbus meeting. On Thursday, we're leading marriage prep at our church. On Monday, it's my men's club meeting. Later in the month, we're having a church BBQ. Most of the time, we're over socialized.

For the elderly, we have a shut-ins ministry to visit them. For the poor, the Vincent de Paul society still goes two-by-two to all those who have asked. We've gotten rid of churches, replaced them with nothing particularly inspiring, and now we're wondering where all the social cohesion went.

EDIT: I will point out that I'm not restricting myself only to churches here. I think, in the past, America also had this characteristic -- anyone who believed in American ideals and sought to further them was an American. De Tocqueville mentioned this quality of Americans (every American is a president) in his various writings on American social structure. Unfortunately with the rise of identity politics and ethnic factionalism, we've lost this notion of 'America as an idea', as is seen in the reluctance of people to serve on juries, for example.


I don't know if the reluctance of people to serve on juries is really an example of reluctance to serve, or an example of reduced wages & benefits given to workers, and a reluctance to serve with a financial hardship. All sorts of social gatherings, including civic life is affected by the tightening of finances and leisure.

You may be right. That is an angle I didn't really explore in my comment. Again though, I think having organizations, such as churches, which are (hopefully) continuously pointing out that money isn't the end-all-be-all of life does help and are willing to offer financial 'aid' to its members (in quotes, because this aid is often not explicitly financial in nature, such as offers of free day care).

I find that true too. Friends from mutual interest oftentimes are friends of convenience. You don't know them for their intrinsic value, you only know them by what they bring to the table.

And it sucks.


"If friendship has a basis it is this: that a person may desire the company of someone for whom he has no specific purpose" - Roger Scruton

I really miss church. Having a day where you knew you'd meet up with friendly people, have a potluck after, and maybe head to the beach, go for a hike, etc. was really nice.

It's a shame I was a fraud since I never truly believed, and eventually stopped pretending. I haven't found anything to fill that part of my life since.


Atheism will always struggle to grow its ranks until it replaces the necessary features provided by religion. I'm an atheist/agnostic who spent a few years in a very cult-like christian denomination. I can say a lot of bad things about it, but it did help me to become more social and taught me a lot about the benefits of shared beliefs. Having a network of people to call on in times of need is priceless. Regular socialization and group participation helped me graduate from being an anti-social outcast.

You can form groups around hobbies and activities, but the bonds just aren't strong enough to overcome our natural tendencies to judge others or take offense at the slightest indiscretions.

I think a lot of people like me end up Unitarian Universalists just so they can gain some semblance of a community again.


Hah, I wouldn't be shocked if we were in the same denomination. They have a bit of a cult problem (Waco comes to mind).

I have social groups around hobbies and activities, but the bonds are different, and without a shared belief (or, I often suspect, professed belief regardless of one's actual deep-down convictions) the nature of the relationships is different. I'd have sooner asked someone from church to watch my child in an emergency than someone from the homebrew club. Not that there's anything wrong with homebrew club members! It's just a different set of norms, expectations, etc. that come from being in each group. Of course, this can be stifling too. HBC members are a lot less likely to care if I'm gay, etc. (though honestly the church people, or at least those under 40, didn't seem to care either)


Unitarian Universalisy is exactly the church for atheists who see the value in the non religious parts of church. The problem is most people don't understand the value of this, so most people won't get it unless they are driven to it by religion, and religious people tend to not notice that religion isn't the main reason the good parts of church are good.

Religion is to church like the stone is to stone soup, including the part where dirt on the stone can mess up the soup.


> religious people tend to not notice that religion isn't the main reason the good parts of church are good.

I strongly disagree with this statement. While I am quite involved in my church now, and think that's great. A belief in God (independent of a congregation, and at times, in spite of the congregation) has kept me sane at the worst points in my life.

I get that you do not see the value in this -- that is your right of course. However, please do not project your feelings on religious people.


However, please do not project your feelings on religious people.

As a formerly very devoutly religious person, I have to say I agree with the parent comment that religion is the worst part of organized religion. I have been much happier (and to your point, "saner") since I stopped believing. One of the things I definitely understand but don't miss is the defensiveness that comes out when someone says they are better off without religious belief.

Returning to the main topic of loneliness/community, I think we can have a sense of shared purpose without needing a sense of higher purpose. I hope we can find a way as a society to rebuild the carrot of strong communities without needing the threat of loss of salvation as stick.


> One of the things I definitely understand but don't miss is the defensiveness that comes out when someone says they are better off without religious belief.

The "defensiveness" wasn't in response to an expression of personal experience as you claim.

The pull out quote was characterizing a diverse group of people, including scientists, scholars, and former atheists, as somehow oblivious. I think patronizing hand-waving about defensiveness is unfair.


I think you can derive benefit from a belief in God. Like your choice of religion, the characteristics of the God you choose to believe in have an effect on the costs and benefits of your belief.

I think it is laughable when non-believers deny the value of belief, as it just seems so obvious to me. That said, I choose not to believe and gain those benefits because I believe a God, as we normally conceive of, does not exist. I think of belief in God like many other concepts and ideas. Love, for instance, does not seem to exist. It is, in a way, an app you choose to run on your brain, and it comes with certain features and costs. Then again, I work in software, which I also believe does not exist, so I have a bias in that I think things do not have to exist to be powerful.

Edit: I guess I think of belief in God as a sort of 'local maxima', where it has benefits, but I'm holding out for some sort of greater maxima that can be found with a philosophy and belief system without God.


I'm baffled by the way both you (who I gather to be an atheist) and many religious people talk about believing in God as though it's something one would just choose to do, especially when it's because of how believing benefits them. It seems incredibly insincere. If X is true, Y would be wonderful, so I believe X. That's not faith, that's optimism. That doesn't work for me. X is true or it's not. Find that out, and then enjoy whatever consequences come out of that.

I believe in God, but it's because of things I've felt that seem as real to me as having seen something. Other than the fact that I can't so easily just show that to another person, the scientific method applies. Faith is then whether or not I choose to trust that and nurture that feeling and build on it or not. It's not just blind hope because it would be nice if it were true. It seems as silly to me as someone who, instead of saying "I see no evidence for God therefore I will proceed as though one doesn't exist", presumes that if there's a supreme being, they've obviously outsmarted it and spotted all the holes in their plan, thus disproving it's existence.


What do you observe that leads to the conclusion that a god exists?

I've felt a very distinct and strong presence on a number of occasions, and the timing and the tone or personality of what I felt, so to speak, has usually been nudging me in a specific direction rather than just being present. I know that's hard to explain, but it's strong and distinct enough that I'm about as confident of that as I am that what I'm seeing is actually there and not all a delusion.

It doesn't require projection to make that observation. A formerly religious person could make that observation and be talking about themselves. In fact, it would be kind of strange for a non-religious person to think that a higher power is the reason for the good aspects of religion.

IMHO, it's not. Their intentions are well founded, but I can find no safety or trust in a group that considers rationality a personal choice.

Sorry, but could you (or someone else) explain what you mean here? I'd really like to understand this. Are you referring to UU or atheists? What group considers rationality to be a personal choice, and in what sense?

I don't feel safe around religious people. Any place where I am required to accommodate their beliefs is not going to be a spiritual or communal place to me.

What's interesting is that your notion of 'rationality' is based in the religious beliefs of first the Greeks, then the Romans, and then Christianity. When you read non-Western philosophies, you soon realize that there are many disjointed notions of rationality.

Of course, your perception of the universalism of rational thought is due to the globalization of Western philosophy as the de facto truth -- a sort of conversion of the entire world, so to speak.


IMHO, not really. I just have a low tolerance for woo and bullshit - western, or eastern bullshit.

Fwiw, I'm not western in origin, and have spend much of my life in non-western countries. I'm not sure what you are referring to in terms 'western' vs 'eastern' philosophy, but I'm not ignorant of the various perspectives brought forward by Suffism, Jainism, Sikism, the various forms Buddhism.

If anything, the commonality of bigotry and human nature that I've witnessed living in multiple places around the globe is what makes me uncomfortable with religion. I'm not comfortable with people playing pretend. It does too much damage.


This is my perception of them, as well.

https://www.sundayassembly.com

This is an example of what you seek. They pop up every now and then in my country.

Quote from website:

>The Sunday Assembly was started by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, two comedians who were on the way to a gig in Bath when they discovered they both wanted to do something that was like church but totally secular and inclusive of all—no matter what they believed. The first ever Sunday Assembly meeting took place on January 6th 2013 at The Nave in Islington. Almost 200 people turned up at the first meeting, 300 at the second and soon people all over the world asked to start one. Now there are over 70 Sunday Assembly chapters in 8 different countries where people sing songs, hear inspiring talks, and create community together. Why do we exist? Life is short, it is brilliant, it is sometimes tough, we build communities that help everyone live life as fully as possible.


>>Atheism will always struggle to grow its ranks until it replaces the necessary features provided by religion

Strange claim, and wrong as well, since number of atheists/agnostics has been increasing steadily for a long time now, as fewer and fewer people identify as members of a particular religion.


> since number of atheists/agnostics has been increasing steadily for a long time now,

Worldwide or in the west? Is the number increasing as a percentage of world population, or are we only growing near the population growth rate?

If we produce a bunch of aimless atheists, we may find ourselves outbred by cultures and belief systems which find ways to encourage their adherents to procreate.


What does that have to do with finding a replacement for the community aspects of churches?

Basically, atheists need to form their own religion.

I can be your God.

O Lord if there is a lord, save my soul if there is a soul!

Nice try!

How about volunteer with a group advocating for something you deeply support?

Or how about Universal Unitarians?


Assuming you're in America, I recommend Habitat for Humanity.

You're giving a family a home and the equity in that home that can legitimately change their lives for the better.

Plus you learn useful skills (home repair is always good to know), it's decent exercise, and it's HIGHLY social as well.


Do note that Habitat is fundamentally Christian:

https://www.habitat.org/about/mission-and-vision


Had no idea. Honestly I've done volunteer work for them for years now and never heard this brought up in any way.

Definitely not forced on you and not any sort of requirement to join/volunteer.


Yeah, the bottom of the page there also says they don't proselytize.

Yeah I lived that life for a while too, I was even in the church band for a bit, after I admitted atheism to myself. I loved church, except the whole god part.


Refitting our libraries to be more like community centers would help. Having visited a few libraries abroad, I think ghis is whats missing in the US.

That's a good direction to work towards.

However, there's a lot of what engineers would call "tech debt" in that area. Make libraries more like community centers, and you have to deal with an inrush of people who have been rejected by other parts of the failing social safety nets in their lives. In the process of trying to pay that debt, many libraries are judged (ignorantly, I believe) as havens for the crazy or hostile.

It's a MUCH bigger problem than just "make $x space better/safer/more accomodating", though that is part of it.


I don't think this helps. It's not just having a space to meet. It's having a reason to meet. Without the unifying force of religion or another philosophy, we invariably devolve into family-based group identity, which is another word for ethnonationalism or identity politics.

>which is another word for ethnonationalism or identity politics...

To be fair, so is "religion" in practice.


Identity politics, perhaps. Ethnonationalism, I don't think is an inherent part of it, as is seen in the universal audience of certain major religions, like Islam and Christianity

the obvious counter example to this is people who meetup and create subcultures - the array of which are vast.

This is happening a lot across the US, but should happen more. And doing so doesn't put the books part at risk, as some fear; and it might turn people on to books by proximity.

> A lack of shared philosophy means there's no open, shared spaces. Like tonight, I'm going to a Knights of Columbus meeting. On Thursday, we're leading marriage prep at our church. On Monday, it's my men's club meeting. Later in the month, we're having a church BBQ. Most of the time, we're over socialized.

Church is not only open shared space, my equivalent is the local sports club for instance. There are many optional activities through the week, lawn bowls Saturday Afternoon and Tuesday night, Cricket Saturday afternoon, pool Wednesday night, darts Thursday night, the parents from the next door school meet there (often with teachers) on Friday afternoon when thye pick the kids up and the bar is open everyday. On any given day you can find children running around to people in their 90's and everyone from the wealthiest few percent of society to the destitute. The lack of shared philosophy is a good thing, it exposes you to a much broader range of society.

Places like this might be a lot rarer than they should be, but that is not an intractable problem, I've seen similar communities develop from as little as a bit of land granted by the local government and a shed. There are still some things groups like this could learn from some churches though, as things get increasingly legalistic the answer to personal infractions is to throw them out, we need to be more community oriented and forgiving for instance.


No no no. Your examples of sports clubs are exactly antithetical to the kinds of shared spaces I described. My point was that you need shared space based on a shared philosophy (or metaphysics or religion). Interest-based groups are nice, but they do not foster the kinds of connectedness that are fostered in religious-like groups.

For example, my brother and I share little interests in common. However, we would trust each other with our children. On the other hand, I would not trust my programming language community friends with my kids. Why not? Because my relationship with my brother is based on a shared philosophy of what's important in life (given to us by our parents of course), whereas my relationship with the PL community is based on simple shared interests. For all I know, my PL friends could all be nazis.

That's the problem with interest-based clubs -- without an underlying worldview, they cannot foster the kind of intimate social experiences fostered in church. I mean, I would trust many of my church friends with taking care of our children, despite having absolutely no shared interests in common. That's really different to how I view my friends with shared interests, who -- although I may spend more time with -- I don't trust at that intimate level.


> Interest-based groups are nice, but they do not foster the kinds of connectedness that are fostered in religious-like groups.

My example was that they can, without the authoritarian thought police that you seem to think is necessary.

> On the other hand, I would not trust my programming language community friends with my kids.

How much time do you spend socializing in those groups compared to church? You're not comparing like with like here, in my example we spend a comparable about of time together as you do at the church and got to know each other over many years. And yes, people can and do trust each other with their children.

> Because my relationship with my brother is based on a shared philosophy of what's important in life (given to us by our parents of course), whereas my relationship with the PL community is based on simple shared interests.

It's important for kids to be exposed to many ideas within reason.

> That's the problem with interest-based clubs -- without an underlying worldview, they cannot foster the kind of intimate social experiences fostered in church.

Have you ever wondered how many people there don't share your worldview but don't speak up for fear of being ostracized from the community aspects? I don't get the impression that you're a very tolerant bunch.


> My example was that they can, without the authoritarian thought police that you seem to think is necessary.

I never said anything about an authoritarian thought police. Those are your words not mine.

> How much time do you spend socializing in those groups compared to church? You're not comparing like with like here, in my example we spend a comparable about of time together as you do at the church and got to know each other over many years. And yes, people can and do trust each other with their children.

The majority of my day is spent socializing here.

> It's important for kids to be exposed to many ideas within reason.

Indeed. I think it's important for children to be exposed to pretty much every idea, but I do not think we need to give up on the one they find safety in to do that.

> Have you ever wondered how many people there don't share your worldview but don't speak up for fear of being ostracized from the community aspects? I don't get the impression that you're a very tolerant bunch.

I feel this is the worst argument to levy against Catholicism in particular (which honestly, is the only group of this nature I'm familiar with; indeed, I do think certain other groups would be scarier, like the Neonazis or antifa), given the prevalence of cultural catholics, who -- despite not believing in the theology -- still see something of value. From a purely secular perspective, the church teaches a particular epistemology and metaphysics, which I'd reckon even the most agnostic (which I'll admit to being at one point) among the congregation share.


That's a space Cafés Philosophiques fill in secular society in some places, but I don't want to go to one in America. It'll probably be full of weirdos. "Third places" like this need to be absent of tension.

Anyway, I fixed that by having a key set of friends who always hang out, usually at a specific friend's home. We play board games guaranteed every two weeks, are on a shared Slack instance, and hang out practically every week. Feels good.

Back in the UK, it was the pub. Same folks at the pub. You can count on them for help. Quite a family.


> Unfortunately with the rise of identity politics and ethnic factionalism, we've lost this notion of 'America as an idea'

Yeah, there is more ethnic factionalism and identity politics then at the time of ku-klux-klan or reconstruction or Jim Crow ...

I get your point, but the races were divided before now.


> Unfortunately with the rise of identity politics and ethnic factionalism, we've lost this notion of 'America as an idea'

I hate to open from this angle, but does your ethnicity happen to be the dominant one in this country? If it’s not, I’m not sure how you’re not seeing how ethnic factionalism is a step towards the realization of the idea of America that you purport it to have murdered.

The American idea is unimpeded opportunity. Any individual’s definition of unimpeded opportunity depends on their culture. Friction between cultures creates a perception of impeded opportunity. The truth is that what is perceived as lost by one is gained many times over by every other.


I am conspicuously non white; not that that actually matters (yet another way in which ethno nationalism has become entrenched -- you have to justify your own beliefs with skin color!). And yes, your inability to fathom that a non white guy may perceive ethnic tension to be higher now just shows how disconnected the races are.

I dont believe that theres any value in having several distinct cultures in one nation. For one, i think some cultures are better than others. American values are frankly superior to most other cultures.

We should feel free to share aesthetics (which is what most mean by multiculturalism), but I dont see the value in being forced to adopt other philosophies or moralities (which is what has been forced down our throats as multiculturalism). For example, we can decide chow mein tastes nice and bhangra dancing is fun, but we cant let that influence our fundamental conception of freedom, which is ultimately firmly rooted in a Greco-roman value system via Puritanism.


Tocqueville wrote that shit about every american being a president at a time when slavery was in full swing. He had the rose tinted googles of a french noble. You have rose tinted googles if you think ethnic factionalism has gotten worst.

> You have rose tinted googles if you think ethnic factionalism has gotten worst.

Nah... as a brown guy, I've seen America go from 'you can be American too' to 'you shouldn't even try' (from the left because it's immoral to want to be 'American' and from the right because it's impossible). I think it's worse.

> slavery was in full swing.

Despite the inhumanity of it, one point of slavery was to convert the perceived-to-be uncivilized slaves to 'civilization'. The means were immoral, but the intent proves my point.


> Despite the inhumanity of it, one point of slavery was to convert the perceived-to-be uncivilized slaves to 'civilization'. The means were immoral, but the intent proves my point.

This is just not true. It was done, because it was largely profitable. There is no way that routinely separating child under 10 would civilize anyone. Making it illegal to teach slaves to read is not consistent with civilizing either. Limiting what they wear to one shirt per many months, splitting families as punishment, really none of that has anything to do with anything civilizing.

Making their testimony not count in front of judge right after slavery fell suggest original motivation was not civilizing either.

I could go on with specific routine treatment of slaves, but the "civilizing" argument is passable only when you never looked in details of how slavery worked and basically took sanitized version of it as history.

Meanwhile, profits from slavery were large. It made for cheap cotton and cheap workforce overall. It was massive proportion of contemporary wealth. They did not went to war for civilizing, they went to war because they wanted to expand the slavery.


I’m not so sure that looking on the bright side of slavery proves any points here. Any “civilizing” that was done would have been for the purpose of making them better slaves.

Over the last 48 years I’ve lived in crime- and poverty-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit, various places in the South with widely varying degrees of Deepness, and various parts of California. It’s very hard for me to say how things have changed across all of those years and places, but I absolutely think that in the aggregate, successive generations have become less racist, and that in turn can sometimes have a civilizing effect on older generations. And of course, as people get older, some of them grow up instead of just doubling down on old fears and hatreds.

One thing that has changed in recent years are people who were super racist all along feeling like they can start saying the quiet parts out loud again. As one example, I don’t see White Nationalist types as being a new phenomena at all, but rather people who’ve been emboldened by politicians who tell them what they want to hear.

In that sense I agree with you that things have gotten worse, but I don’t see that as more people being more racist. Rather it’s (ironically) a minority of Americans feeling like they can come out of the woodwork and be as openly shitty to other people as they always wished they could be.

Hopefully in the long term this will result in this now-exposed slimy underbelly of America shriveling in the light of day when they realize they’re much more on the fringe than they thought. Hopefully. And hopefully that happens quickly enough not to do lasting damage to race relations. If not, America may be beyond recovery, as it would sadly deserve to be. No amount of history or accumulated political philosophy or national ideals or traditions can help a nation survive a population that collectively decides it would rather have a Putin or a Bolsonaro than a Washington or a Lincoln. Time will tell.


>Unfortunately with the rise of identity politics and ethnic factionalism...

Are you aware of what de Tocqueville, thought of Native Americans and Blacks? Even from de Tocqueville's brief time here, he could see the ethnic factionalism. If you're uncertain he saw the US in terms of ethnic factions, reread chapter 18 of his Democracy in America. Ethnic factionalism was central to the US. (It is this ethnic factionalism that, historically, holds us back actually.)

Now, I might concede that Identity Politics may be new. (Only in the sense that we certainly had no LGBTQ etc political movements here in the 19th century for instance.) But to suggest that ethnic factionalism in the US is new is just to ignore the history of the United States.


> But to suggest that ethnic factionalism in the US is new is just to ignore the history of the United States.

Nothing of what I said suggests that ethnic factionalism be new, but only that it be of sufficiently different character. I do still stand by that. Both those on the right and those on the left have each convinced the other that those from different ethnic groups are inherently incapable of joining the American enterprise. While I believe certain groups were marginalized in the past, I believe this was due to what were perceived as temporary and fixable conditions. There was still an underlying belief held by at least one major party that... with sufficient education / propaganda / indoctrination... any man or woman could be 'converted' to the in-group of 'American'. I think there is no longer any political party that actually stands for this kind of integration. The left sees this sort of integration as immoral. The right sees this sort of integration as impossible.

Religion or shared philosophy does -- in my opinion -- play a significant role in relieving racism. For example, in my opinion, this is why Catholics are the group most likely to marry a person of another race, even if they are more likely to marry Catholics -- the Church has continued to convert people from many disparate communities, despite the modern day injunction against doing so.


>Nothing of what I said suggests that ethnic factionalism be new, but only that it be of sufficiently different character...

It is of different character, it's a lot better for minorities today. Notwithstanding the drawbacks of being black or native american today, and I do understand that there are many, it is much better to be native american today than it was to be native american in the 19th century. Ditto for being black.

>Religion or shared philosophy does -- in my opinion -- play a significant role in relieving racism...

Here we absolutely agree. I just think that relief of racism probably comes more through what I'm just going to call "spiritual practice" for lack of a better term. We all already share a common philosophy. Many of them. Most Americans readily accept the fact that an American of a different race, is still an American. That's a shared philosophy. Most native americans, blacks and whites speak english, eat chicken, and go to some form of christian church on sundays. On the surface, they all have the same sort of base philosophy. But the devil is in those details that I'm calling "spiritual practice" right.

The music at a black southern baptist church might be off putting to people accustomed to a white catholic church for instance. Or vice versa. Different spiritual practices. The reason Catholics marry Catholics is familiarity. Same spiritual practices.

Also should mention that I think spiritual practices can encompass more than just religion. Habitat for instance. Or playing music with your bandmates at local gigs and festivals might be a spiritual practice. The musician may not even realize it, but the reason he teaches kids at the local festivals is because music is his spiritual practice.


One of the initial challenges facing scholars of comparative religion was the recognition that few societies had anything resembling an organised religion with a priestly hierarchy and a well defined theology. These kinds of spiritual practices, cults & mysteries are still religion -- which is to say, they are still the subject matter of the study of religion.

> While I believe certain groups were marginalized in the past, I believe this was due to what were perceived as temporary and fixable conditions. There was still an underlying belief held by at least one major party that... with sufficient education / propaganda / indoctrination... any man or woman could be 'converted' to the in-group of 'American'.

Racism was an extremely widespread belief in the past - and being black is not temporary or "fixable". What's more, the early American racism was more excluding that its contemporary legacy - it was believed that the Anglo-Saxons are superior beings, as proven by their conquests and colonial dominance, and everyone else, including other whites (Germans, French etc.), are an underclass.


> and being black is not temporary or "fixable"

This is an extremely and purposefully disingenuous view of what I said.


The truth is that American history (XIX century especially, but also before that) is horribly, appalingly racist. I cannot reconcile that fact with what you said about people in the past believing that everyone, regardless of race etc., can be made into an American.

One can act in way that we consider racist while holding idealistic beliefs. I fail to see why this subtlety of human behavior needs to be justified over and over again.

[flagged]


>"we can't listen to any ideas from anyone born before the year 2000 because they were racist"...

Woah, woah, woah.

Where did you get that? No one cares whether de Tocqueville was racist or not. The material point of the post is that ethnic factionalism did not rise in the US in the past few decades, it's been with us from the beginning. De Tocqueville was simply a convenient stylistic means of illustrating this fact, as the original poster implicitly relied on the authority of de Tocqueville in his assertion that ethnic factionalism is new to the US.

You're jumping to a conclusion that no one made man.


That is not a charitable interpretation of the parent comment, friend.

I think he's just arguing that the factionalism has been around for a while; that the "rise of ... ethnic factionalism" isn't a new thing. He obviously considers de Tocqueville a reputable source on the issue so he's not undermining him here.

I think your criticism is misdirected.


wow you managed to work in a vaguely racist patronizing attack in your pro church post bemoaning the lack of upstanding morality in america.

It's no wonder one of the richest organizations in the world is able to fund plenty of third places for its members.

As it stands you can derive community along any number of axes while even celebrating diversity.

The issue isn't there are no potentialities for community but rather that there are few spaces available and little time for most people who struggle to make ends meet.


Where do you see racist patronizing attack?

> As it stands you can derive community along any number of axes while even celebrating diversity.

Hmm... the Catholic church celebrates diversity, so I'm not sure what you're on about.


You literally bemoan identity politics. The catholic church certainly does not celebrate all kinds of diversity ;)

I miss living in the dorms in college. Sure my standard of living is much higher now, but I think I was happier in the dorms surrounded by interesting people.

Too much of our identity is tied to our employment.

Add to it the fact that our economic system is inflationary (and badly measured at that), not working literally causes one to fall behind.

So no one can actually take time off to do something different, cultivate lasting relationships, join a guitar club, play stupid games, travel, spend time with kids, spouses, family etc. without FOMO on inflation and career.


Nicely put! Did you notice that not even in sports can we relax and make lasting friendships and a relaxing atmosphere? If you didn't win, you went there for nothing. As a result, everybody seems to be concentrating on keeping score and winning and not on having a good time.

> Did you notice that not even in sports can we relax and make lasting friendships and a relaxing atmosphere?

Team sports are different. They tend to create lasting friendships quite often. Not always but quite often. Same for music bands, tiny startups, backpacking groups etc.


This article is one of the most disgustingly bugman things I've ever read. It doesn't matter that America is a soul crushing gladiatorial pit; a miserable scramble over a few crumbs tossed us by the reptilians at the top, it matters that American corporate efficiency may be at risk.

Virtually everything about modern American life is alienating, mostly because of this mindset and the downstream products of it. But if it were good for corporate efficiency, I'm pretty sure Harvard Business School types would be all for it.


Any data if the suburbs and car culture contribute to this?

I went looking because I believe it does, and found a Consumerist article, "People Love Their Cars Because They're Lonely", discussing a journal article, "Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love".

I believe it does because the greater distance cars allow you to travel mean the areas you spend your time in are less likely to coincide with the areas others spend time in, so unlike the small town I grew up in, people don't become familiar, then friendships don't form. The car also allows shopping in large supermarkets, which result in the local shops closing down, and chance to become familiar with faces of the staff and fellow customers is lost.

I've been at parties and been recognised ~"I see you cycling along xxx", which I can't imagine happens to people who drive, both due to the enclosed nature of cars and the speed.

https://consumerist.com/2011/07/22/study-people-love-their-c...

https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/658338


My experience is that people don't get familiar (and certainly don't form friendships) on commutes, whether it's on foot or by bike or by car or whatever.

Urbanization certainly doesn't solve it.

Agreed. People riding busses and trains for 10+ hours per week aren't exactly in better shape than people with equivalent car commutes.

People living in sprawl and in nonwalkable places are more likely to be overweight, get less exercise, and spend less time walking

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2629517/


I was talking about work life balance and discretionary time, not physical fitness.

Also some people have physical abilities such that walking is not a valid lifestyle choice. For instance, two year olds.

I'm pro-walkable spaces. But it's not across the board superior to other arrangements.


Normally walkability also correlates with density of both businesses and houses which also encourages people to live closer to where they work. Compare that to a business park in the middle of the suburbs which requires a long distance commute to reach it.

> For instance, two year olds.

Probably easier to push a child on a stroller through a walkable area than to put it in a car and drive to a location. Less time-consuming and better for the environment as well.

As well as walkable spaces being better for the elderly who can't legally drive and the handicapped who can't legally drive as well.


Agreed. Walking past random people on the sidewalk doesn't help any more than walking past random people in the supermarket (which you surely do even if you live and die by a car in the burbs).

A supermarket is an area designed for one purpose only which is to buy food. Everything else is given an afterthought or no thought at all. Compare that to a plaza or street which is made to encourage human interactions with benches, tables, cafes, libraries, and quiet areas made for simply relaxing.

Not how it works IME but YMMV. When there are benches and tables, I see that they are sometimes used for socializing by groups of people who already know each other and decided to meet.

I sense that there is an exploitation of human nature at work in this. Fear and outrage get attention, and attention gets revenue. It's amazing the number of times that both liberal and conservative personalities are associated with the world's most horrific events because that triggers outrage and gains clicks, and then turns out to have been fabricated via 'recontexting'.

Outrage drives polarization and polarization drives people apart. Fear drives caution and caution keeps people from getting together.

At this point, the only antidote for loneliness is to be aware of it and develop the courage to introduce yourself to someone you don't know. And then try to start doing that on a regular basis.


It's amazing the number of times that both liberal and conservative personalities are associated with the world's most horrific events because that triggers outrage and gains clicks, and then turns out to have been fabricated via 'recontexting'.

What’s an example of this recontexting?


this is why I'm working on this http://foxie.cool we need an easier and simpler way to interact with the world around us!

Curious,any reason why I see similar articles on HN?

The topic resonates strongly with me, is it especially a problem with tech workers?


It's probably worthwhile to point out that the trend toward remote work poses real risks to remote workers by increasing their physical isolation. I work at a remote-first company, and I've worked remotely for other organizations, and the high-bandwidth, spontaneous and accidental interactions and information sharing, the sense of togetherness, are distinctly absent in a lot of remote work, regardless of such benefits as avoiding a commute.

I suspect the loneliness epidemic will be a catalyst for worshipping of AI gods in the not so distant future, which is a bit unsettling but seems inevitable.

One clue as to why there is a problem might be in the framing of the article, where the individual's despair only matters because it might start to impinge on someone's bottom line.

This is an old problem, called "alienation". Marx wrote about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienation


I'm sure that loneliness is depressing, unhealthy, debilitating, etc, etc, etc. For many people. Maybe even for most people.

But I'm happiest when I'm doing something that's interesting and challenging. And when I'm focused, other people are mainly a distraction.

So for me, a few friends are enough. Plus chatting online. Sharing what I know, and asking for help.


If you have a few friends, you're not lonely.

People should go out more... There's a life outside these walls!!

Reminds me of stories like these[0]. :(

[0] - https://www.oddee.com/item_98735.aspx


can't comment on this topic as whole but I would like to chime in from IT perspective -- lot of folks in IT industry with educational background in Computer Science or Mathematics tend to have anti social / cold / weird personalities. Maybe Universities and Colleges should incorporate 2 courses on how to act more social / warm as part of their curriculum.

Is this limited to US? How about Canada, Australia, England etc? Anyone who lived in US and one of these first world countries care to comment?

Could this loneliness be a primary factor in the increased sensitivity and fragility of younger generations?

I also wonder if loneliness is a key factor in some people preferring lies and deceptions in exchange for kindness in their interpersonal relationships. I know this may sound strange expressed so directly, but I have seen numerous comments on HN claim exactly this preference very directly and clearly.


I'm purely guessing here, but I think loneliness could be a factor in increased fragility. When you're fragile it's easier for people to hurt you and when you're hurt you get attention and consolation from others. This can alleviate the loneliness.

>the increased sensitivity and fragility of younger generations?

Can you cite your source for this assertion? Thanks!


Calling what's happening with modern society "loneliness epidemic" is like saying that people in a building set on fire are "suffering from heat exposure and air pollution". A lot of social processes/constructions that make our society stable have been hijacked for profit or deliberately sabotaged for political gains. In both cases it's usually a product of extremely short-term thinking or highest forms of cynicism. Feeling disconnected is nothing more than an illusory side-effect of a whole host of other things.

Illusory side effect?

Not at all illusory to my mind. We've never been more disconnected from people as we become ever more connected to the net. And that, is certainly not where I thought we'd end up or were even heading for most of the time I've worked in tech.

Society has had 40 years being persuaded to believe in the cult of the individual and that society and community does not exist, and did not matter anyway. All that real terms GDP growth gives fewer and fewer community services and resources because of reasons - political dogma and artificial commercialisation mostly.

Just about every resource, amenity, hobby and club my parents would recognise, and had locally, has been commercialised, consolidated and centralised. There's now fewer of them, and so they're further and further apart. Now it needs transport, and planning. Pubs, clubs, shops and small music venues are closing in record numbers, and besides who can afford (time or money) to go out any more? So Netflix and chill.

Now add apps that try to make every single human interaction no longer actually need human interaction. No need to talk to someone in a bar, or when meeting friends to get a date, we got Tinder marketing images to swipe, and instant messaging to avoid making a call or visit.

Maybe I'm just getting too old but I miss friends calling every week or so just to talk crap for 30 minutes. That got spaced ever wider - now comparatively rare - everyone's on fucking facebook or working on their instagram image. Calls are far more likely to feel intrusive. The other half can talk for England, but spends a fraction of the time on calls compared to 10 or 20 years ago.

Any more disconnected and there'll be a moat around everyone's houses. Convince me it's all illusory. :)


To offer a counter-point: for me, all those social networks and internet in general facilitated some of the most meaningful friendships of my life. Mind you, I am talking about real-life friendships, not just "internet friends" kind of stuff.

For example, two of my closest friends that I hang out with on the order of multiple times a week (dinners, concerts, sports games, etc.), I would have probably never met them if it wasn't for the common facebook groups. We don't even use FB that much (I log in about once every couple of days for 5-10 minutes at most), but I definitely attribute a chunk of the success of our friendship to FB. That's how we met, that's how we find new events and things to do (oh, your acquaintance X liked that new art exhibit opening on the museum FB page, you would probably be interested in checking that out with your friends!).

Also, I don't know where you live, but in my area, things are only getting better in terms of places for meaningful socialization. New small niche bars, concert venues, and hobby places (hacker spaces/libraries/garage co-ops/hobby-specific clubs/etc.) open up at a regular rate and seem to attract a lot of people, many of which become regulars. I talk to bartenders quite often, and most of them seem to echo that sentiment.

>we got [...] instant messaging to avoid making a call or visit.

Maybe if someone uses messaging as a REPLACEMENT to hanging out in person, they never wanted to hang out in the first place? To me, that sounds like a good thing, because in this scenario, messaging cuts out forced in-person interactions of low quality.


I've made plenty of real-life friends online too - difficult not to when you've transitioned through BBS's and everything since.

Social is the point it got less social, and more about algorithm of outrage and reaction - of the knee-jerk kind, oh, messaging and scheduling. Or sometimes trying to give carefully perfect posed glimpses into imperfect lives. More like movie of the life and marketing themselves than the life. Of course that's simply amplifying the bad tendencies of people as well as good, but it has brought a change in quality too.

If it's just me reaching dinosaur age, well the kids and friends seem far less satisfied with their lot than I ever remember anyone at their age - whilst still claiming to be mainly happy. I'm not even going to try and pick that apart here. :)

> things are only getting better in terms of places for meaningful socialization in my area

High streets are struggling, and it's not just retail - so I'm not sure where you are! Locally, and if the media is to be believed, everywhere that is not central London is losing all those sorts of amenities at similar rates. Libraries rate a special mention - they have been decimated everywhere, including London. Sure, it's not quite a cultural desert, but considering the growth of the town you'd hope there would be more not fewer venues and choices. I can venture further afield to a major city centre and find plenty of bars and restaurants, but even there fewer choices overall. Far more chance of 5 identikit Weatherspoons in place of the interesting, and great, independents.

> they never wanted to hang out in the first place

I suppose I walked into that. :p Thing is, it's not just me - I hear many muttering similarly at work, or when we do meet up, and we are talking on a post of an epidemic of loneliness after all. Everyone seems to be spread more and more thinly. Drowning, not waving?

But you generally know easily enough when people have moved on, lost interest, or are blanking you - that's something qualitatively different.


It's just an anecdotal point, but I've been meeting way more people in real life than online for dating purposes recently.

What's interesting (and a little frustrating) is that most of these people profess that they are introverts who rarely ever go out. You would think the segment of people you meet at bars/clubs would be people who go to bars/clubs and are thus fairly outgoing, but it's not the case.

Granted this is in the context of the queer community, which in some ways got hit very hard by apps/etc; it used to be very hard to meet queer people outside of queer bars (because how else would you reliably know, especially in a world where such identities were usually hidden?).

Speaking personally, it's very deleterious to me if I go even a couple days without talking to people IRL (god forbid I'm WFH), so I sometimes make myself go out. Sort of like going to the gym, I'm sometimes not in the mood but pretty much always feel better afterwards (assuming I don't end up with a terrible hangover ;) ). I think it's worth it for the casual HN reader to see just how well they handle staying in all the time if, indeed, they do.


Hmm, interesting and confusing. Where did all the extroverts go then?

From friends I get the impression the shallow of Tinder has worn a bit thin. Though I've been off the dating market so long, and it's changed so much I have no clue how I'd go about it now, if I found myself needing to.

> it's very deleterious to me if I go even a couple days without talking to people IRL (god forbid I'm WFH)

I think I share some degree of that, which is partly why I miss people just phoning for a chin wag. My one stint working from home had me feeling isolated after the productive early novelty wore off. A week or two? Sure. Ongoing? Hell no. :)


>we got [...] instant messaging to avoid making a call or visit.

From my observation a lot of young people struggle with the social anxiety of a phone call.


It's one of those things you struggle with until you have to do it a lot. Young people grew up in the age of email and social media so they weren't forced to get good at talking on the phone. Spend a summer selling junk on Craigslist and the problem is solved forever.

Another option other than malicious intent is that people are choosing to live this way even though they know it makes them unhappy.

Where is the pressure to live differently? It used to come from family and community.


I don't think it's a matter of pressure or choice, my grandparents simply lived in a more social environment.

Broad family trees, churches, guilds/unions, even free-range childhoods - gone or fading across the nation.

Aside from work communities, the rest was mostly innate. You can't "choose" to live in a bigger family... but that environment, those pillars of socialization, were what fed into the smaller social niches.


So, why don't we consciously reject this current course, and set up some social spaces in our communities? Perhaps a franchised non-profit, where the costs to join are just enough to cover the rent. Something like Rotary Club, but for the modern age.

Or, maybe even better, design new towns that have public spaces, and are dense and walkable, with mixed commercial and residential zoning? Like basically any European town. Maybe even banish cars to garages on the outskirts, so that kids are safe to roam around.

Just spitballing here, but it seems like there's some demand for something. WeWork seems to tap into some of that demand, but it's kind of a sad commercialized replacement for something more community driven.


Need to call it something. Marx went with "estrangement". Alienation seems to be more commonly used today.

Marx used the german word "Entfremdung", which can mean either "estrangement" or "alienation". In context, "Alienation" is the better translation.

Because I found it interesting, the wikipedia entry on Marx’s Theory of Alienation[1].

[1]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienatio...


Think a lot of people coming to US are immigrants.

And some also come from countries where they had much tighter community and shared life. But they choose US because it allows for more individualistic freedom and upsides (as you don't have a socialist government who eats into your income/wealth through taxes in order to equalise the whole society), so people feel more rewarded here.

Constitution guarantees strong property rights here and your land can't be taken away from you for "social good" like in most European countries.

Obviously, with this in place there is no reason for an invidual to share his resources like land with any other person, because in his mind, it's his hardworking which got him those nice things and now no one but him as any right over them. This over time creates more loneliness as people don't really see benefit of dealing with you. If I share my ranch with my neighbors, obviously, they'll want to maintain good relationship with me but what if I don't even let them roam around it? Or shoot their dog if it tries to trespass? Now you see the problem?

This system optimizes for greater individual gain but come with some side effects like loneliness as you live in a very competitive society, it gets hard to trust others. If you become way richer than your neighbor because your company did good, you might no longer want to make your neighbor part of your life because they can no longer relate to your problems and wonder that even tho this person have lot of money, how come this person isn't happy?

As I understand those who are in US feel everyone must work to support themselves and government should not support anyone through tax revenue for them to sit at home and watch Netflix or play Xbox etc...

They always had a choice between going back to home and living in a tightly knit society but they choose America only because the upsides are greater here and it attracts those who optimize for individual interest like individual freedom/wealth etc...

Many of my American colleges do not understand why I was working for 30K euros a year back in Europe when I could easily get 100K job here in states.

Pace of life is also quite fast in US. Now I don't mean that Americans walk 10x faster to work but that due to the large size of the market, if your product takes off - you can become very rich over a year or month and your life changes completely. Very few places have this ability to support entrepreneurs, sure in a third world country like India, if you become a celebrity, it might take a year to become very rich but what if you are an entrepreneur simply creating products in your garage or coding from a coffee shop? Nearly impossible and unheard of.

I've lived in Europe, US and currently living in India (as wife is from India) and there is growing dissent in middle class here because government have been put lots of taxes on middle class and offering lots of benefit to poor people as a result middle class people don't feel justified in paying taxes and try various loopholes and under table tricks.

It makes sense if you think India is large and size of poor population is large compared to the middle class who are getting taxed left and right. If you give them a chance, most will just love US and strong property rights US has.

If you want to test this, simply ask people to cast their votes in a ballot. Do you feel like you are not getting benefits for the taxes you pay? If you only allow middle class in India to vote, you'll see a lot of them somewhere around 90% in non metro cities gonna vote, "yes". Only people in big city might feel differently as they really get some benefits like better transformer, 24/7 power and clean water etc...

Even the villages are slowly getting empty and parents complain that the kids are not able to come to their place even on key celebrations like Diwali ( which is huge over here)

Only difference is there is no party in India which supports individualistic views like we've in US.


If I share my ranch with my neighbors, obviously, they'll want to maintain good relationship with me but what if I don't even let them roam around it? Or shoot their dog if it tries to trespass? Now you see the problem?

I found this somewhat comical because it’s the parts of the US where people have ranches and would even have to worry about a neighbor’s dog running around that are the least alienated.

It’s the progressive and modern, densely populated cities where people don’t talk to their neighbors and don’t recognize people on the street from day to day.


A lot of people move back as well. I see it all the time now, it’s just not worth it.

What’s not worth it ? Moving back or staying in the US ?

Life here in the US.

At Amazon today on one their largest email lists there is a discussion of why you should not say "hi" or any other communication with a female at any time but especially when standing at an elevator inside the building.

This position of loneliness is going to get worse before it gets better when the prevailing attitude is, don't talk to anyone.


Interesting. What is the logic behind not saying « hi » to females?

I know that this is sexist, but I would at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Not being familiar with these email list, I’m unsure as to the general « feel » of these discussions.

Can you provide more insight?


Is this person just being nice? Are they going to follow me? This is on my daily commute, is this going to become a thing? Does this person have an agenda?

We may feel it is a simple and kind gesture but it isn’t. Because woman are harassed so freaking much they basically always have to be on guard. Never know when a nice person will turn into a creep or worse turn into an assailant.

(It was only through my partner telling me her experiences that I learned these things)


People who feel like that should seek therapy. Seriously.

Can women say « hi » to women, or is the issue only when men say « hi » to women?

> Interesting. What is the logic behind not saying « hi » to females?

Refusing to speak with someone is the safest way to avoid the appearance of sexually harassing them.


Not saying "hi" to women as a way of making women feel more welcome. Makes sense.

Horrifying. I don't think I could stand working for such a company.

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