All the Lonely People: The Atomized Generation

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From Erraticus: “A friend articulated the problem clearly to me one day when describing the difficult transition between university and employment. In college, she had had a close circle of friends with whom she shared each day, but now she felt like she was constantly alone.

‘I keep asking myself, “Where is everyone?”’ she confessed. ‘Where are all the people? I have this persistent feeling like there are supposed to be people around, but they are missing.’

Atomization and Loneliness

I frequently hear that we are in a crisis of loneliness. While this is true, my friend’s sentiment strikes closer to the heart of the issue. It is not simply that people feel lonely; it is that people are less connected than they have ever been. We are in a crisis of atomization. Where loneliness is a feeling inside of us, atomization speaks to the reality of our circumstances. Although loneliness can present itself in any culture and time, its current excess is a byproduct of atomization.

Atomization is the process by which larger units—compounds or cultures, molecules or families—are broken down into their subcomponents, their individuality gaining clarity as their relationships disintegrate . . . This generation has seen us pulled into a narrative of progress only to find ourselves disillusioned and stuck, with nowhere to turn.

. . . While it may be necessary, the problem is not one that can be solved by a simple change of circumstance. Nearly every system around us exerts an atomizing pressure, and wherever we go the problem will follow us—inside us and out. I’ve come to believe that the real culture war is not political. It is this.

. . . Community was something that used to be inherited by our parents and grandparents—tended to and passed on gently between generations. However, today, much of that social fabric has crumbled. We are living in a time where we cannot accept the social norms if we are to live well. We must live each day in radical opposition to the world, keeping in mind that the economics of modern life are designed to atomize us, and we must be active in preserving a better way of life.”

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