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The Socially Isolated Era in America is dawning

Socially Isolated

Is America — or rather, are Americans — becoming more socially isolated?

Probably. We’ve had research recently on how we’re all essentially a bunch of nervous wrecks — whatever side you come down on the ’16 election, it was pretty divisive — and personally, I think we have some problems with “the definition of success.” Seems a little too much about chasing yours, then getting yours — and not really enough about connecting with others.

And here now, we arrive at The Socially Isolated Era.

Socially Isolated: Research Block 1

Here’s the 2017 World Happiness Report. If we’re being fair here, the researchers only talk to 1,000 people per country — so while reports like this get a lot of media attention, it is a small sample size. The other common criticism is that Scandinavia always wins, and “they’re fucking socialist.” Well, hate to break it to you — a lot of the core U.S. programs of the last 100 years have some socialist leans as well. Oh no!

Here’s a recap about how America came in No. 14. One of the authors, a guy who teaches at Columbia, hit this bomb:

“The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it,” Sachs wrote in the report. “But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach.” Instead, the country should address what he calls the “social crisis”—though some of this has undeniably economic roots.

Phrased another way: America is still run, and dominated, by guys obsessed with making money. It’s hard to find a path to happiness through that muck, you know?

Socially Isolated: Opinion Block 1

Here’s an article on the biggest threat facing middle-aged guys. Heart disease? Nope. Obesity? Naw. Smoking? Nah. It would be loneliness. This is sad:

Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking.

Command and control management also leads to earlier death. So if you spend the bulk of the middle part of your life feeling socially isolated and getting railed by your boss on KPIs all day, that’s not a great picture.

The reality of being a dude in your 30s, 40s

It’s easy to be very socially isolated. Guys aren’t very emotional (in general) and don’t communicate/connect as well as they should (again, in general). People move for jobs. Some people start building families at 24; some start at 42. The middle part of your life — “The Second Act” — lends itself to a lot of socially isolated behaviors, especially for guys. (I am sure women feel this way too, but I don’t know first-hand.)

My wife and I are going through a separation (I’ll maybe write more on that down the road), and it’s a socially isolated time for me — to be sure. I have friends where I am, but I don’t live anywhere near some of my closer friends. They’re in different career/family stages. Finding your spot — your community, your connection — is tough. It’s probably even tougher for me, because I think I value that kind of stuff more than an average dude would.

Can we get less socially isolated? 

Can “we?” No. Not writ large. Social isolation happens at an individual level, so if the individual wants to change it, he/she theoretically can. Join groups, do stuff, etc. We all know the spiel. But does it feel in some ways like it’s harder because of shit like “the impact of technology” or “growth-focused business culture?” For sure it does. I could rail on social media for a few paragraphs here, but that would end up being pretty trite bullshit, I bet. I’ll say this, though: while it’s a great connector, it definitely makes the rat race of day-to-day life a bit harder for many.




 

Now, did people feel socially isolated in the 1880s? For sure. I bet millions did. It’s not like this is a new concept that economists just started talking about. But does it feel like it’s on the rise? That maybe more people you know are unhappy? I’d bet that’s true too.

The role of work in all this mess

Depending on your particular situation, you probably spend more time from about 24 to 72 at work than almost anywhere. You know what respected university professors have called standard white-collar work? “Akin to chimp rape.”

Work is a shit show for a lot of people. It’s all unclear priorities, shoved-down-your-throat demands, etc. People become bosses of others who have no right even managing a matchbox. Socially isolated workplaces are normative. We group people into cubicles and offices (walls, doors) and we force them to collaborate with people they barely respect. Then, if that team of collaborators is successful, we promote 1 or 2 and throw the rest into other bullshit projects. That’s literally as socially isolated an experience as one can get.

“Do this for me a bunch of times and maybe on the 7th or 8th time I’ll acknowledge that you did it with a little bit of money.”

And this is how we spend most of our formative years. You think that’s not socially isolated?

Now look, should promotion matter? No, not really. But does it? Of course. Because scroll above to “markers of success.” People want to be seen by others as certain things. It’s a big deal.

What else you got on being socially isolated?

I’d love to hear — and hey, if we build a community of comments on here, maybe we all won’t feel so socially isolated.

Ted Bauer

5 Comments

  1. Spot on and I’ll throw the first-hand chick perspective: it’s lonely on this side too. I’m that 42yo example on the spectrum you mentioned above. Yeah, I have people around me in the form of my spouse and my kid but that ain’t always the cure for loneliness. I also work from home which of course has its benefits, but it can also be isolating AF, especially if you’re in the ‘deadline-driven-rat-race’ with poor work/life boundaries (cough). Sure, I find a certain degree of fulfillment/satisfaction in dedicating myself to doing a good job, but at what cost? Example just last night: getting ready to head out for an extended Spring Break next week so I’m burning that midnight oil in the name of deadlines! and deliverables! and targets! Since I’m pro-status at making poor life choices, I decided to do one last cruise through social media before shutting my computer down at 1am-ish. I just sat there, scrolling aimlessly, already thinking about the shit I didn’t get done, need to get done, haven’t done, probably won’t do, and just felt, well, lonely.

    One more example to throw on the chick-perspective pile: I have a close friend who’s married with two kids. She’s a successful professional photographer. He’s a successful doctor. Kids are cute and ‘well-rounded’. She hits me with a text last week, all-caps, that just said: I’M SO TIRED OF FEELING ALONE IN A CROWDED ROOM. “Social isolation happens at an individual level, so if the individual wants to change it, he/she theoretically can.” So tonight? My lonely girl and I are getting drinks together. In real life. Probably end up throwing a couple selfies on social just to bring it full circle, baby!

  2. I too am a specimen of what the author relates in his article. Except strike the husband and the kid has already “grown”, ha! and moved out. So, being at home with the cat and dog is fairly pathetic feeling at my age. To compensate? I am one of those people who looks for things to do – I join groups, I say hello to people on the elevator – and make more than just the average small talk – like “nice day we’re having”, hyuk hyuk – I hate small talk, seriously, what is the point? Seeking out groups and activities is not for the weak, as it does take considerable effort to rev oneself up, but for me it’s worth it! I will say though, I am usually the “seeker-outer”, again, because it requires efforts – it is very rare that someone will come to me and say heyyyy let’s do such and such!

  3. As always Ted, you’ve spotted and thoughtfully diagnosed another of the unintended consequences of our ‘progress’. You mention the Scandinavian ‘problem’ – always the bête noire of those who advocate for completely unrestrained capitalism. But Scandis and much of Europe are not socialists, rather their governments and businesses do not pursue profits at any cost. They accept their role in supporting society as a whole rather than just making as much money as possible for their shareholders. Wall St. and Washington could learn a lot, but then they also own all intellectual rights to the American dream. 😉

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