LONELINESS IS AN EPIDEMIC

I believe that technological advancements have created a sense of loneliness that continues to spread in epidemic proportions.

Loneliness is not the direct result of a lower income, advanced age, or even poor body image. Loneliness is felt by some of the wealthiest, successful, and beautiful people of our society. No culture or religious denomination seems immune to this unwanted surge pushing through our urban and rural communities alike.

Living in a time where roughly 60 or more social media sites co-exist on the internet with users numbered in the billions, we must ask ourselves why we are feeling so very isolated when we are supposedly the most connected generation in history?

I blame technology and society’s demand for convenience for this resulting feeling of loneliness. The lack of human contact and personal one-on-one interaction cannot be replaced by posting on a wall, or a 280-character tweet. The sooner people remember this basic fact, the happier and more content we will all be.   

Nearly every home, whether it be a sprawling mansion, or a dingy basement rental contains a collection of televisions, computers, and  smart phones. With these miracles of modern technology in daily use, we can access the world with a key stroke; yet I find that many walk through life plagued with the gnawing feeling that they are essentially alone and have no one to share their lives, daily struggles, or accomplishments with.  

We crave human interaction but are slowly forgetting how to maintain relationships with friends, family, and favored co-workers. To maintain a friendship, you must spend time together, in person. Liking each other’s posts and retweeting your friend’s links does not count.

Look around a restaurant, public transit, or even your neighborhood sidewalks. Everyone is focused on their phone, barely acknowledging the person seated at their own table or walking directly beside them. Between ear buds and smart phones, we’ve positioned ourselves to be alone even when we’re not.

Take a moment to picture the large screen television in your home. How many hours of your life has this technology consumed? Capable of delivering high-def movies and even streaming live sporting events, these selected viewings can be scheduled between binge sessions of our favorite sitcoms’ courtesy of your ‘Netflix’ account. Our televisions have become an essential possession, many have admitted they would rather give up their stoves before they would consider giving up their televisions.

We seem to have lost the desire to grab a friend and head to the theatre on ‘Cheap Tuesdays’ anymore. We can all stay home and watch whatever we want right in our own living rooms at our convenience without any crying babies or over priced snacks. We now have the ultimate option of spending entire weekends in, ALONE, viewing the latest and greatest broadcasters have to offer without even stepping out the front door of our home.

Should hunger suddenly interrupt our entertainment, we are not longer bound by the time-honored  tradition of pizza, chicken, or Chinese. With a mere swipe of our phone, we can hop on delivery apps like ‘UberEats’, or ‘Skip the Dishes’, and utilize a service willing to deliver our choices from nearly any restaurant in town.

No need to call a family member and meet up at a neighborhood eatery to enjoy your favorite meal. Why bother sliding into a booth at the restaurant down the street to dish on the new guy at work or debate your kids’ sudden announcement that they can’t live without a puppy? Why even bother changing out of your pajama pants when your favorite pasta dish or even a freshly broiled steak can be delivered directly to your door? You worked hard all week, the neighbor is driving your son to practice, so why should you move off the couch? Not like your parents would even care if you called them to join you for pie and coffee at that new place across from the mall. (Yeah right, you know they would jump at the chance.)

While lounging in your house, you can order, pay, and tip your delivery driver online before even beginning to consume your meal, ALONE, while balancing your iPad on your knees as you delete unnecessary emails before returning to the live game that you temporarily paused before rising to answer the door. You have all your needs meet, except the most import, you are still ALONE.

With all the changes in our society, I must admit that I was noticeably disappointed when the retail giant ‘Sears’ closed their doors after roughly ninety years in business. ‘Sears’ was an  institution that furnished us with the annual Christmas catalogue poured over by countless children every year looking for their favorite Santa gifts.

Profits dwindling after the popularity of ‘Amazon, eBay’, and box stores like ‘Costco’, this perennial family favorite was forced to end their reign. The childhood memories of following my parents through the isles as I excitedly picked out school clothes and debated Christmas gift giving had come to an end. The closing of ‘Sears’ confirmed that chapter of my life was long past, and for better or worse, we had progressed into a new era of purchasing.   

With home delivery and user-friendly websites, shopping can easily be completed from your kitchen table. Wandering the malls with your best friend while consciously working your way toward the ‘Cinnabon’ counter is becoming a tradition of the past. Even now, as your kids point their ‘I want it finger’ at the latest toy advertised during commercial breaks, you can open ‘Amazon Prime’ and have it delivered to your door within 48 hours.

Sure, driving to the mall and meeting your buddy might take a little extra time as you share neighborhood gossip over hot dogs and smoothies at the mall’s food court, but you’re having contact, renewing friendships. If you’d had stayed home, you could have finished your shopping in under ten minutes while you sat ALONE, in your favorite chair. Not a lot of memories or funny stories built off that position.

The more technology advances, the more we seem to remove ourselves from human contact. We isolate, and then unwillingly find ourselves plagued by loneliness.

I’m not say that watching television, ordering delivery food, or shopping online is a bad thing. I just believe that it should all be consumed like tequila…in moderation.

Chances are you will never solve any of life’s most pressing tragedies over draft and buffalo wings at a pub; but sitting with your buddies and sharing stories of your job hunt might leave you feeling a little better about the struggle.  

Human contact is a necessity. Simultaneously typing snappy answers to multiple friends on ‘Facebook’ while sorting through the mail cluttering your desk is not communicating. It’s a waste of your precious time.

Pick someone in your life, anyone, and give them a call. Tell them you found a stale loaf of bread on your counter and are heading down to the local park to feed the ducks and get a little fresh air tonight. Ask them if they’d like to come with you. Offer to buy coffee on the way home if necessary.

I promise, you’ll have more positive responses than you would ever imagine. If the person you picked is busy, pick someone else. If everyone seems tied up and no one can meet you, consider grabbing a book and heading down to the local animal shelter. They love to have volunteers read to the dogs, the animals also responding from human contact.  

Not fond of ducks or dogs, any activity that brings you face to face with another person will suffice. I read a post about this guy who used visit a senior’s home and ask if there were any residents who didn’t have visitors that week. He’d stop by and chat them up, brightening their days and being rewarded with a heartfelt thank-you from residents and staff alike.

The more you interact and invite your friends and family out, the more they will begin returning the favor and inviting you back. Someone must start the process, why not you? I promise you, the rewards will easily be worth your initial uneasiness at breaking your solitary routine.

Years back, on the family farm, my mom would routinely pick up the phone on a Saturday night and call a neighbor, telling them the pot was on (she meant coffee), and within a few minutes a friend was sitting at her kitchen table. Occasionally, the husbands would accompany their wives, the night sometimes turning into a four-hour card game with kids playing underfoot. These impromptu visits were a vital part of my parent’s social life, and I grew up sharing my toys and my record player with my neighborhood friends on a weekly basis, routinely being invited back to share in theirs.

Friendships are fueled by face to face contact, not by posting emojis on social media. The next time someone posts that they’ve had a bad day, don’t reply with some cookie cutter condolence promising that things will improve, and you understand their frustration. Reach out to them, in person. I truly believe that one friend that you can meet up with face-to-face whenever you need to talk or have a laugh is worth a 100 ‘Facebook’ friends that you haven’t heard a word from in years.   

If you sense that a friend is hurting, reach out and contact them, start chatting and see if they’d like company. Offer to bring a pizza and see if they’re interested in having you stop by. You don’t have to repair the situation, you are just there to be a sounding board. That is one of the best gifts you’ll ever be able to give. Your time and your presence, a gift that has become rare in our day to day lives. And by offering your company, I promise you that you won’t feel so ALONE, and that encroaching loneliness that had begun settling down on your life will definitely begin to lift.

We members of The Fifty Candles Club must band together, and as a proud member, I promise to start looking out for the others in my life that might be fighting epidemic proportions of loneliness right underneath my nose.

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