Back in 1978, Japanese electronics colossus NEC – an organisation based in Minato, a quarter of Tokyo which hosts 49 embassies – began to implement its C&C concept, whereby it envisaged the integration of computers and communication technologies; in the same year, anomie-ridden Police members Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers roamed around the underground system of the Japanese capital for the video clip to accompany the sublimely solipsistic So Lonely. If the first decade or so of the hyperconnected twenty-first century is anything to go by, it seems that isolation is now so mainstream that a US comedy outfit such as The Guild – fronted by uber-geek Felicia Day, Alabama’s most unlikely export – can author a ditty entitled Do You Wanna Date My Avatar? without anyone raising much beyond an ironic smile.
However, as a recent report by United Kingdom charity the Mental Health Foundation – The Lonely Society? – amply illustrates, the issue of loneliness is something that deserves our sincere attention. Isolation is a genuine problem for significant sections of the population in the UK; the following findings will resonate across much of the developed world:
1. The percentage of households occupied by one person more than doubled from 6% in 1972 to 12% in 2008;
2. The divorce rate has almost doubled in the past 50 years;
3. A sense of community had eroded in almost every area of the UK over the past 30 years.
Students in particular should be aware that prolonged loneliness can have serious consequences, including but not limited to the following:
A. Higher stress levels;
B. A weaker immune system;
C. Negatively impacted cardiovascular function;
D. A higher propensity to risk-taking behaviours, such as alcohol and drug abuse;
E. Exacerbating mental disorders such as anxiety and paranoia.
In a digital era which is permeated by what Harvard professors of psychiatry Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz have identified as a ‘cult of busyness’, students – particularly those who are having to try to attain academic excellence under severe economic and/or personal pressure – should never forget that while discipline and a grasp of solitude are essential to success, they should never lose sight of the importance of investing time and energy in quality friendships of lasting duration; indeed, their psychological and physical health demand it.