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The Perils Of Social Isolation - We Have Never Been So Connected Yet So Alone

The suicide deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, along with the alarming news of the rise in suicides over the past ten years, will cause us all to search for answers and solutions.

Social isolation is one of the factors driving this alarming trend. I find it also concerning that despite all of the social media and technology tools that are available; there is still the lingering and growing sense of being isolated – of feeling that you are on the outside – on feeling that you do not belong.

A 2016 New York Times article reported that social isolation is a growing epidemic that with dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. The article states that since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Despite all of the Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, share, likes, and retweets, there is a growing number of people who are feeling more alone than ever.

"Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes with everyone's highlight reel." – Tara Hunt: I should not be here today: my story of depression and hopelessness...and how I found life on the other side

Looking for social media to help connect you with others may not be the answer. In fact, there are new studies that show that people who spent more time on social media—two hours a day or more—had twice the odds of feeling socially isolated than people who spent less than half an hour a day on it. a Source: LinkedIn Rundown

Social isolation is also a major issue in the workplace. According to a study from Upwork: Future Workforce Report, 38% of their full-time staff will be working remotely in the next decade.

Remote workers are more likely to feel left out to dry by their coworkers, reports  The Wall Street Journal. According to a survey by corporate training firm VitalSmarts, remote workers are more likely to believe that their colleagues don’t support their priorities, that they are not kept up to speed on project changes, and that they are the subject of disparaging gossip at the office. Such feelings are the ingredients for lower productivity, increased stress, and diminished morale. But remote working itself isn’t the problem — it’s the way remote workers are managed. Many of these issues can be alleviated by simply making sure supervisors keep in regular contact with their remote employees

… people who spent more time on social media—two hours a day or more—had twice the odds of feeling socially isolated than people who spent less than half an hour a day on it.
And in terms of number of times a person visited the sites, those who visited 58 times or more in a week had three times the chance of feeling socially isolated as those who visited nine or fewer. Source: LinkedIn Rundown
Loneliness is an especially tricky problem because accepting and declaring our loneliness carries a profound stigma. Admitting we’re lonely can feel as if we’re admitting we’ve failed in life’s most fundamental domains: belonging, love, attachment.
It attacks our basic instincts to save face and makes it hard to ask for help. Source: Social Media May Make You Feel Socially Isolated.

“As people grow more isolated in their work, which comprises more than half of most people’s day, that is in many cases a missed opportunity to interact,” says Khullar. “Over time I think we will see negative effects of working remotely, working alone, working digitally, on people’s health.” Source: Fast Company: Could Working Remotely Be As Bad For Your Health As Smoking?

We are in a time where we have never been so connected and yet so alone.

The traps are set all around us to keep us socially isolated. We have to push through these traps to find ways for us to connect with others and to help those around us not to feel left out. How do we do this?

  • Realize that the problem exists. The events of today show us that there are a lot of people who feel disenfranchised.
  • Take a moratorium from social media. Push past your FOMO (fear of missing out) and stay off of Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn (only after you finish reading this article of course).
  • Get talking – phone versus email. Having a conversation will help to bring some humanity and interpersonal connection to your day.
  • Get into the office or attend a team meeting. There are times when being a remote worker can leave you with extended periods of time where you do not have an actual conversation with someone. Getting someone on the phone is great, meeting someone is even better.

The risks of becoming socially isolated are many. Be acutely aware of the warning signs for yourself and others. We can no longer trust that our interconnected world is going to help us.

Patrick Lynch is the President of CMP - Southeast, a talent and transition firm in the business of developing people and organizations across the full talent lifecycle – from talent acquisition and leadership development to organization development and outplacement/career transition support.