Loneliness Pandemic 5/10/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Reading the BBC online, I came across an article about an epidemic of loneliness.  According to the article, loneliness can be as dangerous as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.  Fifteen, or roughly one cigarette every hour of being awake.  The article went on to say that loneliness is an epidemic…in America. 

This article is being written by one of these victims.  It’s not fun to be lonely, and I understand how it can be so unhealthy.  My lifestyle is sedentary, and when I’m bored, which is most of the time, I’m eating.  But the good news is that I’m not obese.  My diabetes and heart disease means that I don’t process food correctly, so I haven’t put on weight.  And, yes, I call it “good news” sarcastically.

Some might argue that Covid could be the reason for the loneliness in our society, but I truly doubt it.  It may be a contributor as we have a larger fraction of work-at-home employees, and as much as people might dislike getting up and going to their job, the reality is that the in-person workplace does provide a means of socialization.  But I don’t believe this to be the major cause.

As I write this, I’m watching a truly stupid movie on my streaming service.  My television sits on a stand above my gaming system.  Today, as I drove, I did so in my very own personal isolation device.  This is why I think we’re so lonely as a society.  We no longer have to leave the house to go see a movie, to go play a game (even an electronic one), and as a society there are only a very few rare members who take advantage of mass transit.  There’s barely any reason to leave the house today, as so many of us like it.  With delivery services, we don’t even have to go out to eat or shop anymore. 

I’m not claiming that I’m any better.  I use my social media to keep in touch with friends who are literally around the world, and yet, as I interact online with them, I’m interacting with fewer people who live closer to me.  One can argue that I am interacting with my friends, or that playing online games with others constitute interactions with people, but it’s not the same.  Interacting with people online is basically like saying that I interact with other drivers on the highway.

Part of the problem, and you might be getting tired of hearing this, is corporate greed.  While living in New York City, Broadway put on a street performance in an effort to increase the number of people going to their plays.  I was a post-doctoral student at the time, so my pay may have actually been less than minimum wage, so when a friend came to visit, I could only afford to buy tickets to an off-off-off-Broadway show, and while it was fun, even those tickets cost $150 each. 

So, we have to ask the question, is it a problem that people don’t want to go to live plays, or is it that most people cannot afford it?  If they cannot afford tickets, they are not taking their children to plays, and in the end the live performance bug cannot get into the newer generation.

It’s not just Broadway and plays.  The symphony, museums and even movies are so expensive that it’s difficult for people to afford to go.  Sporting events are perhaps the worst of these offenders.  As sports announcers complain of how empty stadiums are, they neglect to mention that tickets are financially beyond the reach of most people.

As an undergraduate, I took an interesting math course called “Operations Research”.  The goal, at least in business (there are other applications such as military as well) is to maximize the profit of industry.  I was talking about this with a friend of mine who just started an ice-cream truck business.  If prices are set too low, you’ll sell more units, but won’t make much profit.  Setting the price too high will give you a higher profit margin per unit sold, but you won’t sell as much so the overall profit will be low.  If events like sports are not selling, it’s time to re-examine the cost of the tickets. 

As people cannot afford to go out to movies, plays and games, interactions with other people decrease.  As we order food and goods to be delivered, we lose the opportunity to interact.  Yes, we’re in an epidemic of loneliness, but who is to blame?  We are for preferring to isolate in our homes which is made possible with technology.  Business is also for pricing tickets outside of our ability to afford them.  With this shared responsibility, we have to learn to work together to find answers to the problem, but we are out of practice with cooperative problem solving. 


One thought on “Loneliness Pandemic 5/10/23

  1. Your points are well taken, but miss one key element. Many people were never taught as children how to entertain themselves, whether through books, listening to or playing music, photography or crafts. Those who didn’t learn then often fail to acquire these skills as adults, and these things are useful and not hideously expensive. Solitude isn’t a health threat for those who have learned to enjoy it. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for solitude versus doing a videochat while crossing a busy street!


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