A good friend sent me a sweet but disturbing note after reading my previous entry on loneliness. The note contained a link to a YouTube video about a business in Japan that rents out family members. You can hire someone to pretend to be your child, spouse or parent by the hour. In my entry I called Americans the loneliest people who have ever lived. The haunting, though oddly light hearted, video about renting family raises the issue of loneliness in other cultures. You really should take a look at this: https://youtu.be/UEhYMirs7fk.
Actually, in the interest of brevity I did not include results of more recent studies in the UK that show that the British face similar isolation to Americans. I have spent extended time in several Spanish speaking countries—Peru, Spain, and Mexico. I did not get the sense that social isolation in those countries is anything like what Americans experience. However, that is just my impression. I have seen no research.
That got me to do a quick internet search. It turns out there is recent research that compares loneliness in the US, the UK and Japan. I was wrong (it’s an all too familiar feeling). A study published last year shows that people in the UK and the US are equally lonely. The percentage of people in Japan who report feeling lonely is about half of the US and UK. More than 20 percent of Americans and Brits report feeling lonely; about ten percent of Japanese do. However, the severity of loneliness is higher in Japan. Fascinating. Here is a link for you more scholarly types (or retired): https://www.kff.org/report-section/loneliness-and-social-isolation-in-the-united-states-the-united-kingdom-and-japan-an-international-survey-introduction/.
One more thing. It turns out that the use of social media makes loneliness worse. And oddly, the use of texting is worse than other forms. Hmmm. (By the way, I am certain that readers of this blog are an exception to all this.)
The obvious question is to what extent isolation is specific to certain cultures and how much is the product of modernity. Why are Americans and Brits lonelier than Japanese? (I have heard some wit suggest that speaking English is bad for you.)
There are short term and long term issues. In the short term we need to be intentional about nurturing relationships. Duh. We also need to be sensitive to friends and family who are becoming isolated. It really is a matter of life and death. Loneliness kills. Oh, and we might want to actually call or video chat that person we were about to text.
In the long term we need to realize that we have unwittingly created a culture that systematically isolates people. That is a matter of building structures and routines that bring people together. As one of my best friends often says, that could take weeks.