The public broadcaster in Norway, NRK, had a pretty sad article on their website a few days ago. It was an interview with a 24 year old woman, which they used to highlight a particular form of loneliness.
The woman described a life that looked good on the surface (partner, child, apartment, and studies at the university), but she struggled during holidays, especially the long summer. The article wasn’t specifically about her, but about a wider problem in society. We could loan a word from Windows for this form of loneliness, low or limited connectivity. It means that you are connected to the network, but without access to the internet.
It’s a similar thing many experience in cities. They have people around them. They may even have a network of people they see regularly as long as they work/go to school, but for some people this falls apart in holidays. The problem is worsened by social media, where we see our associates have perfect lives. We compare ourselves to the exaggerated stories we see online, and conclude that we are hopelessly inadequate. The feeling of having less, of being less, is pretty painful.
It’s a feeling I was familiar with long before the internet and computers became available and accessible to everyone. I don’t focus on diagnoses on this blog, but I received one at the age of 42 that explained a lot. I have NLD, which is more or less the same a Asberger syndrome, and one of the consequences was a problem getting and/or keeping friends. I’m 50 years old now and I can already say that my life hasn’t been bad at all. It required some effort, though.
The difficulty was getting through the the tweens and teens, but I had some strategies. I discovered books, and I think that saved me. I struggled a lot with reading as a child, and as a result I didn’t do much of it during the early years, but everything changed when this world became accessible to me. I read a newspaper article some years ago about people that may have done the same. It was about people that took their hobby farther than most people. I remember one guy that liked looking at birds, and if someone reported a rare sighting on the other side of the country, he would gladly jump on a plane. Being obsessed with your favourite activity is not a problem at all, unless it prevents you from letting people into your life. Then you really are alone.
I’m not trivialising loneliness. It’s real and devastating, but I believe that some forms of loneliness can be associated with life skills. The article on NRK also included a short interview with two scholars, who said that this has a lot to do with cultural expectations. Many tend to think that summer should be about playing at the beach, barbecuing, going to the coolest festivals, and of course we should be doing this with friends. In short, life should look like a soda or mobile phone-commercial. The message is always that in order to accomplish something, to be successful, to be loved, you need to buy stuff. Many are strongly affected for Christmas too, a time when we give each rather extravagant gifts, and make up for the time we haven’t spent with our families. It usually doesn’t look like a commercial either.
In some ways I appreciate a development towards individualism. I live in a so-called social democracy, an ideology that may give most people a security they don’t have in other forms of governance, but it tends to be restrictive and many feel a need to remind us of our obligatons to the collective. Some individualism is a good thing, but in a society where you are more on your own, you also need lifeskills you may not have thought of. What do you do if you have to manage alone for a few hours, days, or weeks? Do you go bonkers if you have to spend an hour or two offline?
Personally, I’ve been speeding this summer. I’ve made a lot of progress with my manuscript. I have some characters I really enjoy spending time with, and I’ve also taken the time to read more than I’ve allowed myself to do for a while. I have re-read old books by Robert Jordan, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Rick Riordan. As a conclusion I’d like to add that loneliness is real and frankly dangerous if not treated, but in many cases we can partly counteract it ourselves. In fact, it’s our responsibilty to do so. In my case it starts with a book, and my own writing, not social media.