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The age of loneliness

Loneliness has become a circumstance of modern societies, heightened by the influence of technology and the decrease of physical social interactions
The age of loneliness
File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
11/03/2018
08:51
Mexico City
Newspaper Leader by EL UNIVERSAL
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Loneliness, as a feeling of isolation, the incapacity to stay in contact with people, or the real sensation that we don't have someone – like a friend, a relative, or a neighbour – to talk about with about our personal affairs, is an “unavoidable characteristic of human experience,” according to sociologist Juan Diez Nicolás, and a phenomenon that has become the concern for several governments since it has increased exponentially in western civilizations.

To such an extent that, for instance, the United Kingdom was announced the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness, focused on addressing the ever-growing number of cases of “chronic loneliness” amongst its citizens.

Although it is complicated to determine, exactly, what the origin of this feeling of loneliness around the world is, it is already considered an illness – some have even ventured to use the term 'pandemic' – and it can be ascertained, based on several studies, that this is a circumstance of modern societies and their way of life, which increasingly includes a larger number of the population living in the city, the aging of the population, economic uncertainty – mainly for the young people and senior citizens –, immigration status, disabilities, and the influence of technology in several ways of life, especifically of the so-called social networks which, paradoxically, have highly contributed to another characteristic of modern life: the decrease of physical social interactions, mainly in urban areas.

Erich Fromm claimed that we are born alone and we die alone, and in the interim loneliness is so great that we need to share our lives it to forget it. This makes us think loneliness is, in fact, part of what we call human condition and that it has always existed and always will. However, it's undeniable that, at present, this feeling has been heightened by the several socioeconomic factors of technologized, globalized and interconnected societies, but at the same time, and perhaps because of it, societies that are each time more isolated at an individual level.

This is neither good or bad, necessarily, so long as those who experience loneliness do not see it as something negative, due to the potential and devastating effects on health, such as the increase in the likelihood to die prematurely, as it causes other illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or dementia and several cardiovascular diseases. Thus, loneliness may become a public health problem even more severe than obesity.

Looking forward, the very configuration of societies points out to an increase of this phenomenon. Given the implications, we have to develop attention mechanisms but above all, adaptation measures.

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