Fewer friends, relationships on the decline, delayed adulthood, trust at an all-time low, and many diseases of despair. The prognosis is not great.
Great piece! Thanks for putting it all together. Direct correlation going from a TV in the corner bar, to one in every house, to one in every room, to one in every pocket, and around every turn.
This was an extremely interesting article that really aligns with my own experience - though I am much older than the young people who are living largely online. I'm 60, and don't have any non-relatives I would consider friends - acquaintances, yes, but not friends. I consider a friend someone you could confide in or talk to about almost anything, and I've rarely had someone like that in my life. This dovetails with my almost total lack of trust in others (another topic of the essay) - if I can't trust someone, I can't truly be their friend. There's my wife and my son, and that's the full list of those I trust.
Uncomfortable but what nobody will want to say is that much of this could be driven by multiculturalism. American history is replete with phases of multiculturalism, but the characteristics were different. It may be that Irish and Italians eventually getting along is different in a post modern world of a much broader cultural spectrum. Or rather 'getting along' is the wrong term because Americans do get along, but there's a difference between getting along and feeling of the same community or group.
I'm not sure why, but instagram prevents me from linking to your blog (when I tried to share this post) and then removed my story when I tried to direct people to just look up the article. Something something protecting our community.
Terry Davis’ work is an interesting example of a computer system being built for a completely divergent set of motivations. That it seems crazy, indeed that it likely only could have been realized by an occasionally insane person, highlights the nature of our problem. I doubt if restructuring the internet is the solution here. I doubt if a significant restructuring is even possible without a radical change in the persons designing these systems and the telos of their vocation.
Fascinating, enlightening, and well-synthesized analysis.
I'm stealing your line: "Rather than bowling alone, Americans are instead browsing alone over 7 hours daily on average and increasing every year."
Finally, I have been lamenting -- especially since 2020 when it seemed to me that half the world went literally insane on a number of issues -- my own observations among contemporary American culture that overlap with some you mention here (to name a few):
. isolation; meaningless; the cheapness & degradation of human dignity & life;
. irrationality & mental illness intent on driving us toward an economic/social/cultural collapse;
. evisceration of trust in, and corruption of, virtually every institution; and
. cowardice, especially among ever-increasingly-emasculated men, responsible for perhaps the leading cause of family dysfunction and societal ills (yet rarely addressed by politicians, "thought leaders," or media) -- the increasing lack of a father in the home.
I am less optimistic than you, especially with the seemingly exponentially-increasing "quickening" pace of dysfunction given the "network effects" of online social media, "AI" Bots, and censorship (e.g. "mass formation psychosis, "social contagion," and innumerable and ever-increasing "existential crisis" hysterias).
To conclude then, I would go a step farther by labeling the state we find ourselves in now as:
(1) "The Social Depression" (instead of Recession); and
(2) Since the Deep State (and their Propagandist Media / Big Tech Censors') Soft Coup against a sitting U.S. President (2016-2020) coupled with (a) permitted Leftist Domestic Terrorism across the country and (b) insane worldwide reaction to the Chinese (and apparently American-funded) bioweapon -- a rightfully-earned "Zero-Trust Society" (instead of "Low-Trust Society") in authority across all levels: social, political, and institutional.
This a great, thought-provoking essay that articulates gut feelings I've had for some time now...
Let me take a look at this at some point over the course of this upcoming week.
Sex is not necessarily (and frequently isn't) a social activity. E.g. even solitary animals mate.
"One of the most discussed topics online recently has been friendships and loneliness."
Online discussion is a social activity, so it's not surprising a decline in other social activity would be a topic of conversation.
"millions of provincial people came to the major cities to pursue their dreams. Many uprooted themselves only to be poor and unfulfilled"
Outside of infancy it's highly unusual for animals to not have to directly work for their food. Since the industrial revolution a majority of humans no longer work directly for their food, they work on something else and purchase their food. I wonder if this delinking of work and nourishment has something to do with ennui. Oversocialization, and a divorcement from the other two instincts (sexual and self-preservational) may be part of the problems you mention here.
"The number of Americans who claim to have “no close friends at all” "
These people should be polled as to whether they think this is a problem. And studies should be done on these people (with psychological controls who do have friends) to see whether it is a problem. I'm one of them (excepting my spouse), and I don't see it as a problem. But I don't have a control, and none of us completely know ourselves. I wonder what the actual number of "friendless" people is when including relatives, and how many people answering the poll included their spouses.
I also wonder whether the idea of "friendship" that is in people's minds is one of in-person interaction. Are some people not counting online compatriots who they genuinely and frequently enjoy engaging with as friends?
What are the trends in education, employment, and dining out? How many people in the past would gain friends through shared schooling and then go on to a workplace or shared diner with those friends?
People are not homogeneous. General trends impact us all differently.
"Regimes crumble and collapse due to a lack of belief in themselves."
Is this true, or does it take active antipathy? Plenty of people consistently vote for, or otherwise support, the lesser of two evils.
"Skepticism toward the state has evolved into more generalized distrust toward society at large, amplified by the internet."
I completely agree. It would have been nice if a poll broke out attitudes toward employers. The 70s also saw the transition from lifetime employment to job insecurity. This affects people both socially and self-preservationally in a way previously not seen since the industrial revolution's flight to the cities.
Very interesting, especially your conclusion. I've heard Mastodon goes somewhat in the direction of a democratized social internet, though still has primary instances controlled by a single person (instead of being completely distributed). I have not used it though.
Lack of eye contact as a cause of social distancing; more people not engaging in street life so the commons withers into a semblance of what it was during the last century. Lack of free play in dense neighborhoods equates to less risk taking in eighteen year olds across class lines.
I am *guessing* that this is the strongest causal link for why people are less sociable and/or have fewer friends without being able to back up with data - Internet has increasing enabled people to get into a niche interests/activities/hobbies that people in close proximity don't share. These niches also shape people's values and world views that can't be aligned with others. It's also possible people just don't have the motivations to make time for consistent social connections because their reward pathways are stronger for these niches. i.e you boredom erasure is a couple taps away versus actually making plans with people who also are also similarly flaky in their motivations.
Online communities thus far are not strong enough or lacks the irl cues to form strong connections. Some manage to meet each other but they are exceptions. Most of the time the cost is too high to meet each other.
I wish someone could do a study on friendships between populations of high internet penetration and low internet penetration.
Loneliness...one of my biggest fears: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NES3hSNv6o
I know this might seem a bit of a stretch, but I think a part of this is also rooted in the economic situation of the US. We have basically printed our way out of problems for the past 15 years.
While the decline of most of these metrics started well before 2008, I believe that part of the reason there hasn't been the impetus for social change is because there is basically widespread stagnation in the structure of economic relationships which (imo) definitely influence social relationships between people.
Great article and research, thank you. My one comment here is that you didn't mention our society's move towards 'de-facto polygamy' whereby the traditional monogamous relationships have declined in favor of the top tier of men getting sexual access to a very large volume of women, and the bottom several tiers of men getting absolutely nothing and being invisible. This is why there are so many sexless men -- the women in their league for a commitment are busy having sex with men out of their league in hopes that they can get them to commit (which they never do, of course), meanwhile racking up trauma and damage from those heartbreaks and 'alpha-widowing' themselves in the process. There have been many others who have delved into these trends that I would suggest your readers check out: F Roger Devlin's 'Sexual Utopia in Power' on the right, Rob Henderson, Stephen Baskerville.
This problem is only worsening as religious traditions that promote monogamy are fading fast and single-mother households teach women to see men as mere objects for their manipulation and parasitic opportunism. Add the misandrist feminist mainstream and lack of any shame for hypergamous whoring and you've got de-facto polygamy. Women no longer need men for protecting or provisioning, so they are chasing after the charismatic CADs, who make up a mere 10-20% of men and have zero incentives to settle down anyhow. Regular, average men are no longer attractive to women who've slept with 50 'alphas' by the time theyre 28. These women then go on to hate all men because they couldn't secure a man out of their league and rejected those men who were willing to commit in favor of tingles from Chad(s). Most men are invisible to young, fertile women, and very few people are even aware of the problem (other than the men themselves, of course, and the few people who genuinely care about them). This is causing all kinds of social ills, school shootings being perhaps the most spectacular.
First realization - we're not alone in our aloneness.
The pandemic has reset the individual and societal acceptance of being distant or even isolated. Additionally, polarization of people (religion, politics, open displays of wealth and income) makes relationships that used to be easily made and maintained subject to erosion.
One difference in opinion can lead to loss of friends by unilateral or mutual decision. The lesson learned is that friendship can be both costly and tenuous in this day and age.