Can "digital determinism" – a term coined by my colleague from the Culture Café, Rochelle Furstenberg – be a cause?
Digital determinism is the idea that the development of digital technology determines our social structure and cultural values. While our lives fill with screens, big ones, and in between, we spend more time in their company and less time together … and we're more lonely than ever before. According to Dr. Shiri Daniels, ERAN's professional director, the Israeli emotional first aid organization, "Loneliness is the disease of our time." More than 20% of the nearly 500 people who come into contact with ERAN every day reach out because they are lonely.
Have you ever been lonely? Of course you have that. Loneliness is an inevitable part of the human condition. It is normal to feel lonely, especially after a breakdown, a death or a move to a new location. We would not have country music and no blues without loneliness. But there is another form of loneliness, loneliness that persists and that loneliness is deadly.
Loneliness steals more years of our lives than obesity.
Loneliness is just as dangerous as smoking.
Loneliness shortens a lifespan as much as poverty.
Loneliness is subjective; it is the gloomy gap between the relationships you have and the relationships you want, both quantity and quality.
Our lives are increasingly being isolated; more of us are single, living alone, have longer commute or work from home, without the casual social contact of the water cooler and the coffee room. Social isolation can creep into a life and with nothing to dispel it, the new become normal.
People can be caught in their loneliness, what happened to the troubled computer programmer from the American hit TV series, "Mr. Robot." He hacked into his therapist's private life and resonated in isolation. able to call him in a therapy session: "I want a way out of loneliness, just like you!" Indeed, many of us do that.
Science has even been able to observe the effects of loneliness at the cellular level, but how this happens is not yet understood. However, this is well understood: we need not only human connection to be whole, we need it to stay alive.
Being alone is not the problem. Loneliness is not necessarily loneliness. Loneliness can be wonderful and necessary, nurture peace and creativity. Just spending the time can charge its batteries … which can then connect.
No matter how dangerous loneliness can be, it is also noble; loneliness is the noble desire for more and better relationships – for something bigger than yourself – for connection. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once remarked, "faith is the redemption of loneliness."
Do you object to digital determinism? Do you want to push back against the epidemic of loneliness? You can start today by calling that person that you have not heard for a while. Join a conversation with that neighbor who always seems to be alone. Technology does not have to be a destination; we can make a difference.
And if you are lonely now, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Welcome to the club … get out and say hello to another member.
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Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, radio station and writer for various publications, including The Washington Times and Psychology Today. She lives in Jerusalem and can be reached via [email protected]