anthropology · behavior · community · emotion · happiness · Social

Just how lonely are we?

Jeff Ragsdale on Location
Jeff Ragsdale, the instigator for "One Lonely Guy" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More and more studies are coming out about how Americans feel more isolated than ever, and that we have less “close” friends despite being more connected to people via social media and technology.

One book was recently released that explores that idea of loneliness and the need for humans to connect with each other through the case of one man’s ad and the voicemails he received in response. From University of Washington News:

In October 2011, former University of Washington student Jeff Ragsdale, living in New York, had hit a low point — his stand-up comedy and acting career had stalled, he had been through a bad breakup and he was living in a cheap rented room. Despondent, Ragsdale posted a flyer around the city that said, “If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me. (347) 469-3173.”

To his surprise he got about 100 calls and texts the first day alone, and they kept on coming, finally numbering in the thousands. In time he brought the messages to the attention of his former teacher, UW English Professor David Shields. From that came the book “Jeff, One Lonely Guy,” edited by Ragdsale, Shields and Michael Logan of Seattle.

“I had kept in touch with Jeff over the years; I knew he was always up to interesting projects,” said Shields. “Jeff kept sending me the most amazing transcriptions of phone calls and texts that he had received. At a certain point, I just couldn’t say no. The material was simply too interesting; it spoke too deeply to the culture.

“What I love about the book (and I can say this because it’s less anything any of us did, and it’s more the voices that came in on Jeff’s cell phone) is what it tells us about what it’s like to live in America right now. I can’t think of a book that evokes more specifically how people talk now (the new words and phrases and sayings are extraordinary — it’s a virtual Roget’s of contemporary slang); how much they/we hunger for connection to themselves/ourselves, to each other, to a larger community; how energized and enervated they are/we are by Big Media and digital culture; how confusing love is in a 24/7 porn environment; and how baffling transcendence is — how fame or brief flickers of fame seem to beckon out of every internet portal. This book is a remarkable document of contemporary existence.”

Read/watch more about “Jeff, One Lonely Guy” in The New Yorker, Book Forum, and The Huffington Post.

The explorations of loneliness and connectedness sparked by one simple ad is pretty incredible. The book itself is also pretty powerful in that it truly is a collaborative effort, not only edited by three guys, but the content of the book is created from the voicemails of 100’s of individuals who were looking to connect with another individual in some way.

In Seattle we talk about the “Seattle Freeze,” this phenomenon where it’s hard for newcomers to make friends, but it sounds like it’s a problem all over the U.S. Would you say you have a close friend, or close friends? Would you say you feel connected to where you live, to your community? Why do you think we feel so disconnected from our neighbors compared to 30 years ago? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.