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The problem of social isolation in the digital age

BY Tanguy de Gelis

22nd Aug 2023 Lifestyle

The problem of social isolation in the digital age

As new data from Famileo reveals the loneliness issue in the UK, its founder looks at the reality of social isolation in today’s digital age

New data from a consumer survey conducted by Famileo has revealed that nearly half (45 per cent) of British adults feel disconnected from their loved ones nowadays.

The past few years have been unquestionably difficult. The isolation of the pandemic has led to many of us experiencing prolonged feelings of loneliness and seclusion, even long after any restrictions were lifted. Pair this with the ongoing cost of living crisis, and people are socialising with others far less than before. The way we interact and communicate with others has become dominated by digital channels. Social media has rapidly become the primary means of keeping in touch with friends and loved ones.

While social media has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for quick communication, almost half of Brits (44 per cent) believe that our growing reliance on technology to communicate has negatively impacted the frequency of in-person social interactions and has led to increased isolation.

Generational differences

Lonely old manMany older people are left isolated by a lack of education in using modern technology. Credit: DGL Images

Famileo's research showed that more than a third (35 per cent) of all British adults agree that the lack of real social interaction these days has a negative impact on their overall wellbeing.

When we think of social isolation, our minds often spring straight to the older generations, who regularly find themselves left out, distant from the daily activities and cherished moments of their loved ones because of their declining physical capacity and in many cases, a gap in digital literacy.

"Despite the survey results showing that the digital divide is beginning to close, a quarter of elderly people still feel isolated"

Despite the survey results showing that this digital divide is beginning to close, with three quarters (77 per cent) of over 60s using social media in some capacity, a quarter (23 per cent) of them still feel that the ongoing lack of proper social interaction has left them feeling isolated and out of the loop with the world around them, including their own families.

Young people get lonely too

Sad teenDespite being adept at using technology, young people can be most sensitive to its isolating effects. Credit: AntonioGuillem

Interestingly though, it is younger generations who report feeling the most isolated. Despite being able to effortlessly navigate the digital landscape, Famileo's research revealed that 41 per cent of 16-24-year-olds feel that the rise of social media has led to increased isolation, leaving them feeling lonelier than ever, despite being able to connect with one another at the touch of a button.

This highlights a concerning trend that, even in the generation who have grown up with social media as the norm, this shift to a digital-first society isn’t without consequence.

Distance makes the heart grow… lonelier?

A major contributing factor to social isolation is physical distance. Combined with the demands of our increasingly busy lives, the physical distance between family members often prevents us from keeping in contact with our loved ones as often as we would like.

"Over half of Brits still love the tangible experience of receiving personal post"

In fact, despite more than half (56 per cent) of adults surveyed revealing they wish they could spend more quality time together, a third (32 per cent) see their family just once a month or less.

While digital platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook serve as a means to send photos and life updates quickly and easily, over half (54 per cent) of Brits still love the tangible experience of receiving personal post. There is still a deep-rooted desire for meaningful connections that transcend the digital realm.

"Snail mail" is far from dead

Old woman with letterLetters can feel much more personal than a simple text. Credit: fizkes

Often considered a dying art, it is clear snail mail still has its place.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult keeping in contact with family members can be these days, particularly with older, less tech-savvy relatives. In fact, my whole business was inspired by my struggles to stay connected with my grandmother, who was missing out on family news, due to the fact that she didn't use the internet.

I have come to truly appreciate just how important a tangible message can be for maintaining and strengthening relationships in today’s digital age and believe that there is still very much a role for paper connections in strengthening bonds between the generations.

"Often considered a dying art, it is clear snail mail still has its place"

Whether it be a letter, birthday card, or family newsletter like Famileo, I have seen firsthand just how enriching the tactile experience of sending and receiving personal post can be, to people of all ages. Nurturing relationships and evoking a profound sense of being loved and better connected to loved ones, it is a vital tool that we should all consider using as a means to not only combat the effects of social isolation, but simply brighten someone else’s day.

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