I had two very different articles come across my desk this week. I want to share a little from each of them and then write my reaction to them.
The first one was from Facebook. It was the image of a Walmart store with no clerks at any of the checkout lanes. The article said there was only one clerk to help where needed with the auto-checkout machines or to use a regular cash register for the odd person who would not use the automated machines.
As more and more stores use the automated checkout, there are fewer jobs for checkers. The article was mostly about the loss of those jobs.
But for me, it was the loneliness of shopping in a store like that, that hit me hard. I have enjoyed the look of surprise on clerks’ faces when I greeted them by name. Of course we never got in any deep discussion, but it was an opportunity to touch another’s life.
The second one was from a wonderful web site for parents and teachers called, GreatSchools.org. This one told of the huge increase in teens using social media on their phones and the correspondingly huge increase of reported loneliness and depression.
Since about 2010, after smart phone use began to grow, teenagers began to spend much more time on social media and far less time doing things together. The average teenager today does not talk to their friends on their phones, as much as they text or message them on social media.
The article reported from a large survey of the time spent on social media and the time actually with friends. Another study reported the percentage of teens who say they are lonely or depressed. In these studies with skyrocketing screen time came skyrocketing rates of depression and unhappiness.
I don’t want to blame the increase of loneliness all on smart phones and social media. It is not the fault of the media, but our individual and group choices. Highly social people will be social whether in person or over media. More solitary people will continue that way. (Though they may find it is easier to ask questions or make requests over media than in person.) But it is more common to use media to communicate than to meet and talk or to do something together.
My concern is with our culture of isolation.
The busier we become, the less time we have for friendships. The more media we have available, the easier it is to fill all our time with things instead of people. When we don’t have enough contact with people, isolation breeds loneliness. Unless we recognize the danger and do something about it, it is easy to slip into mild or serious depression.
I tend to be a task oriented person. I like to tackle a job and do it on my own. I can easily get so deeply involved in a task that I forget about hunger or thirst. Fortunately, I have a very thoughtful husband who reminds me to ‘come up for air’ even in the middle of a job. He is an out-going, friendly man who genuinely enjoys people and looks for ways to connect. I have been blessed! I am much more comfortable with people after our years of marriage than I would have been left to myself.
My single friends who are happy, have found ways to reach out and touch people. They make a conscious effort to plan meeting with friends and neighbors. They have found ways they can help those less fortunate than they are. Of course they use media, but they don’t let that keep them indoors and isolated.
One of the joys we have of living in Malaysia is the coffee shop culture. My husband and I love to go to local coffee shops in our neighborhood for breakfast. Everyone greets everyone. People we don’t know any other way, often stop to talk to us. Even if we are not in on a conversation, we will chuckle as a whole group explodes into laughter at someone’s comments. A friend told her newly widowed friend, all he needed to do to fight loneliness is to go regularly to the same coffee shop. He was bound to find some people with similar interests to do things together with him.
Take a moment to consider:
- Is there someone you know who is lonely? We need to keep our eyes and ears open for the signs of loneliness in those around us. Are we willing to take some time, even a few minutes to connect with those we encounter?
- As auto-checkouts take over the clerks jobs, we need to be proactive in finding ways to meet and greet strangers. A smile and friendly greeting may be all you need to do to brighten someone’s day.
- Are you lonely? Look for others who enjoy the hobbies and activities you enjoy.
- Finally, and most importantly, pray! Pray for God to lead you to someone who is feeling lonely or discouraged. Pray that God would help you have just the right words to brighten another
Links to the original posts