Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you lonely out there?

I picked up this month's issue of UTNE Reader, the first time I've read this mag in about 5 years because I was drawn to the cover article called "The Golden Age of Re-engagement". A short article, and the usual UTNE list of books for further reading and exploration at the back, it made me think. And wonder if there is a balance or a solution in here somewhere?

The premise is this - we devote more technology and devices to staying connected today than any other society in history, yet somehow studies are telling us (in case we haven't noticed it in ourselves) that we feel more alone than ever. The article cites a recent study from Duke University, the General Social Survey (GSS) where Duke researchers found that between 1985 and 2004 the number of of people with whom the average American felt they could discuss "important matters" dropped in half.

Then I got to thinking about being "neighborly" and what that means. I lived on the same street in Surrey, BC for 14 years, and I didn't know the names of more than 3 of my neighbors. Sad. We all got in our cars, drove to work (ironic though it is, for 10 of those years I worked out of my home!), spent the day doing whatever we do, drove home, closed the garage door (fortress of privacy) and did whatever we did.

We are just all too busy. It's easier to send a quick text message than it is to call someone. Though I was attempting to do that last night, to make dinner plans with friends and by the fourth text exchange it all seemed really stupid - we could have just talked. There's this feeling that a phone call might interrupt something. So what? Interrupt me already! Being neighborly or being a good friend used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbors means not bothering them (this according to the article again). I'm not so sure I buy that.

So where's the balance between the technology-mediated world and human contact?
How do we conserve energy in our over busy lives so we have something left for those random neighborly encounters mid-week when Paul and Julieann next door walk over with a bottle of wine and some good conversation?


  1. I agree, and the human connections are necessary, often amazing -- I must admit though,that Ian (my 21 year old son) and I text each other from different parts of the house.

  2. When I was young, you knew your neighbours not because you dropped over for socializing (although I'm sure it happened from time to time1), but because you helped one another ... whether it was helping build a new fence, garage roof, watching for your delivery from Sears while you were out running an errand, or keeping an eye out for one another's kids playing out in the neighbourhood ... I think a lot of community has been lost as we became more focussed on our own needs and started seeing helping one another as an inconvenience.

    I think of it every time I can't get my lawn mower started and my neighbours come and go without noticing. I can't for a moment imagine my father going from his vehicle into the house without wandering over to see if he could help! He still belongs in those days, and sure enough, every time a new neighbour moves in nearby, it isn't long before he sees an occasion to lend a helping hand. He always knows his neighbours.

  3. I love that about your Dad, and I can TOTALLY see him doing that. There is absolutely no way he would ever walk past someone in need.