“Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.” ― Joss Whedon
A colleague recently sent me an article about cities of the future and how human loneliness is now a serious design factor. Jessica Brown, the author, reminds us that;
- humans are social animals
- the current loneliness epidemic is now being called a public health crisis
Her first point is a little more complicated than first glance. Humans must have other humans in order to physically survive. You can’t leave a baby in the woods and hope he will just turn out okay. Sorry Tarzan. Parents and family are essential for human survival.
But it’s even more important than that. Not only are we dependent upon others to help us survive, during infancy and childhood, we need adults to teach us how to survive. Imagine all of the skills that you were taught in order to head off to first grade:
- Asking for help
- Going to the bathroom on your own
- Obeying authority figures
- Finding your way home
- Making new friends (and enemies)
Have you read the recent research about children, social skills and time in front of a screen? Children and teenagers are spending so much time on their electronic devices – they are missing out on critical time with real people, learning real social skills, developing real relationships that could prepare them for adulthood. Instead, it seems that more and more young adults are not prepared for casual and even more developed relationships that protect them from loneliness.
Being on your phone busy with work, surfing through posts online, watching the latest media doesn’t replace social contact with real people. As children are learning to make their way in the world, they need to practice social skills like understanding non-verbal communication and environmental cues. These are difficult to attain when a majority of time is spent online.
When I walk into college classrooms these days they are filled with students and silent. There is rarely any talking, sharing or laughing. Everyone is sitting alone, attention locked on their cell phones. The zombie apocalypse has arrived.
Jessica Brown’s article reminds us that it’s often easier for us to rebuild the world we live in than take deep and difficult looks at our own selves and the ways we are raising the next generation.