There is a health crisis in Britain. In response, British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced the creation of a new position in the British government: Minister of Loneliness.
The minister’s goal is, essentially, to nag policy makers until they notice how isolated their populous is and how their policies sustain this isolation. By doing this, the minister seeks to form community, which has an endless amount of mental, physical and spiritual health benefits. On the whole, I think Britain is setting a positive precedent in trying to combat what May calls “for far too many people … the sad reality of modern life,” according to The New York Times. To be sure, it is an essential reality for America as well, which is why I think we all should be paying attention to what Britain has done. I think it is entirely plausible for the introduction of an American Department of Loneliness to be lurking in the near future.
I admire what May is trying to accomplish, but I just can’t hop on the bureaucratic train with this issue. And I’d feel no different with America, either, if our government followed down Britain’s footsteps. This thought continues to unsettle me — potentially, federal bureaucrats and social workers will know people better than their neighbors do. I doubt that bureaucrats will make house calls, but you understand my point. I can’t help but wonder if the loneliness epidemic would exist if neighborhoods were more social. As it is, though, everything we want out of our home life — entertainment, refuge, fun — is inside, not on the street or front porch. To translate into collegiate language, everything we want is inside the dorm. There is no need for awkward hall conversation when we have iPads and PlayStation 4s on which to play.
Loneliness, though, is indeed a sad reality of modern life, one that I continue to encounter. My freshman year here at Florida was disorienting. I came from 13 years of private school where you had a personal relationship with every member of your class. Honestly, I had forgotten how to make friends and be social because I hardly needed to growing up; the intimate size of my classes made sure of that. At UF, and in college in general, friendships are really up to you, and that’s what crippled me. The thousands of clubs and opportunities UF offers were dizzying — so many people to meet and so much awkward small talk. Thus, I chose to stay in my dorm room for a good portion of my first Fall semester. That decision had many consequences. For one, I really was lonely. I had enough homework and PS4 time to keep me busy, but I knew what I was doing: distracting myself.
Don’t worry about me, though. Things got better, and they will for you to if you find yourself in a similar place. The painfulness of putting yourself out there is worth it, trust me. In any case, federal departments and agendas are great, but I think the key to overcoming loneliness is the art of swimming up our cultural stream. Everything is structured today for you to not need to leave your house or room. Why go out to eat when you can order in? Why talk to your neighbors if you can watch TV? Why go to class when you can watch the lecture from the comfort of your bed?
It is evident that the deck is stacked against you meeting new people and making new friendships. I suppose the government can change some of the ways things are structured, but our communities will not flourish until people stop being tools of their tools, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau. By this, I mean that we need to control our phones, not the other way around. The same goes for anything else.
What would that look like, a nation of people who mastered isolating cultural forces and became technologically competent citizens? A university full of students who know the value of putting the phone down sometimes to endure shallow conversation? I’d like to think, at the very least, they would be a little less lonely.
Scott Stinson is a UF English sophomore. His column focuses on culture.