The Lonely, Connected Society – A Paradox

In a world where we have more ways to communicate than ever before it seems paradoxical that a recent report from the Mental Health Foundation entitled The Lonely Society indicates that 48% of respondents believe that people are getting lonelier.

A person alone in a busy world
We have more people living on this island than ever before and cities hum as people rush about their business. Anybody living in towns or near a main road cannot be unaware of the incessant comings and goings. Yet increasingly in this maelstrom of activity we find an ever increasing number of people living alone. This is no longer simply the aged of society suffering the loss of a loved one it can include amongst others the following; break downs in relationships, single parent families, people living away from home in order to find work, people living at home because you can’t find work. Whilst to many, living alone may be a choice or at least a situation that they are very comfortable with, for others this can lead to a state of isolation that creates a unique and increasingly challenging set of health issues.

In a world were the youth are often referred to as the Connected Generation (or Generations Z and Y) , they are far from immune from this isolation, and in fact the report identified them as surprisingly more at risk.
Whilst they may be hooked up via technology (SMS, phone, instant messaging, email, social networking sites and video camera) to hundreds of ‘friends’ and acquaintances this is frequently done from the privacy of their own space, be it bedroom, bedsit or flat. This connectivity for many leaves an emptiness or void leading to almost 10,000 children being counselled by Childline for loneliness and 31% of young people saying we should spend more time with friends and family rather than communicating with them via technology. When you see that 45% of 18 to 34 year olds have a close friend or family member who they believe is lonely you cannot but feel saddened that we are loosing something important in society.

This is not to say that technological connectivity is a bad thing. The power of what is called Web 2.0, plus the advances in telephony provide people with a varied array of communication tools way beyond the formalised letter or occasional telephone call that our grandparents would have had available to them. This technology- enabled connectivity clearly offers all sorts of benefits to a variety of people in different situations from grandparents communicating with grandchildren overseas via Skype video links, to people that are housebound being able to connect with people near and far building online communities that offer friendship and support through their enforced isolation.

However in years gone by community as a word might have evoked amongst other things church or school. With the falling numbers attending churches and schools having wider catchment areas and the procession of parents dropping off their children at the school gate, the opportunities to broaden your circle of acquaintances and ultimately friends have diminished. This is only exacerbated further by the perceived danger real or imagined of using public transport and walking the streets, with the opportunities they offer to interact with others in society. Today the word community is more likely to be used amongst the ‘Connected Generation’ to mean some form of social networking or on-line web based connectivity with the potential problems already mentioned. Whilst online communities can lead to face to face contact as has happened with “Netmums (online support groups formed in response to the isolation felt by mothers bringing up young children) this is not always the case.

One of the Connected Generation alone
With the report indicating that 1 in 10 of us is likely to have sought help for feeling lonely at some point in our lives, society should be looking for fresh ways of bringing people together and fostering the physical community.

There is no single answer to this increasing sense of isolation, however community groups, libraries and churches in particular with their unique role in society have a responsibility or and an opportunity to find new ways to reach out and offer a hand to those around them. This is not to encourage church evangelisation since this will only turn people away from the hand that is offered – there must be no strings attached to the help offered.

If this outreach is to become a reality then new groups are needed that offer something different to what is available at the moment. These groups will need to find enablers that offer a reason to come together in a real and physical sense, where acquaintances are made, and potentially in time friendships developed. However, as Age Concern has already identified with its Men in Sheds initiative, coffee mornings work for some people but not all.

With FUN, the light mental stimulus and the social interaction so much a part of modern board games, could they be one of the enablers? The games offer a focus that relieves the fear of not knowing what to say when meeting strangers in that the game, it pieces and rules offer a starting point for dialogue with no former knowledge or technical skill necessary.

They are no magic bullet. But with varied themes, high quality playing pieces, low acquisition costs and the humour intrinsic in many of the games arguably they offer an ideal vehicle around which to build a program that seeks to bring otherwise lonely people together on a regular basis.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kevin, I currently run a couple of businesses associated with games and can talk first hand about the postive effects they have had on both the young and old.

    My company has run a number of sessions across a wide variety of locations to great effect using the games as a medium to encourage children to both socialise and challenge themselves both in and out of school hours.

    On of our greatest hurdles is overcoming the stigma that games such as these carry. 'Games are for Geeks' is not an uncommon comment heard in the school corridors and yet these same people will lock themselves in their rooms on an evening for hours on end and 'communicate' without ever speaking. The perception that having a large number of friends on Facebook is to be worn like a badge of honour and yet to sit around a table and play a game is for geeks is a larger social problem than many would care to admit.

    Once persuading them to sit down and join in it is a quick turnaround to them loving the games and wanting to play more so why are people so reluctant to sit down and play the games in the first place. Fear of failure, a lack of inner confidence and a reluctance to want to learn something that may prove too difficult are just a few of the reasons we encounter, all of which say a great deal about the state of mind of many of our young people today.

    I believe that humans are natural game and puzzle players. It is one of the things that makes us different. The expression on someones face the first time they play up a game and they realise that they love it, it excites them and they want to play again. The look in their eyes when they realise they are about to lose and never saw it coming, or when they win for the first time.

    The sense of achievement they feel, the challenge they met and conquered and above all the fun they had with a group of people they may not have even known prior to the game makes my job incredibly rewarding to both myself and those that join us.

    I would love to recieve feedback from anyone who has an opinion on this or simply a comment about any of the above. Thank you Kevin for posting an interesting blog and hope you get many more responses.

    nigel scarfe
    Imagination Gaming