In the UK, the number of people living alone doubled in the last 40 years. Public perception is that this must be mostly elderly people, due to the increasingly ageing population. However, many young people are living alone and suffer from loneliness -no matter how connected they are to people via the internet. They might have thousands of friends and followers in the virtual world, but still have no-one to really talk to.
What is true friendship? How do we know when someone is a friend? How easy is it to develop meaningful friendships online?
Even in real life, some people have many friends to do things with: shopping, drinking, dancing, watching or playing sport. However, not many people have friends they can do nothing with: someone to simply ‘be’ with, for comfort and company. External activity and stimulation becomes the focus of many relationships, rather than a more ‘internal’ intellectual or emotional intimacy – or a companionable silence. You can feel lonely, even when you are not alone; lonely in a crowd.
According to Age UK, 450,000 people in the UK over 65 were alone last Christmas. One in six over 65-year-olds rarely communicate with family, friends or neighbours once a week. Old people can become isolated: it is almost a given. However, surprisingly perhaps, another age group that features in the loneliness figures is the younger generation. Young people are also victims of social isolation. In a poll last year, the BBC found that 1 in 4 young people suffer from loneliness, in spite of having many social media connections. 30% of 18-24-year-olds admitted that they feel lonely and isolated at least some of the time.
Apparently many young people feel ‘out of touch’ with people, through lack of face to face contact. As social media’s influence increases, collecting a high number of so-called ‘friends’ is appealing. It is possible to have thousands of Facebook friends all over the world, in which the quantity of contacts is more important than the quality of the relationships. This means that many superficial acquaintances are created, without the depth of caring and intimacy that can develop in close friendships with a select few. Developing a true relationship through real, shared experience and history cannot be achieved online. Human interaction wins over technology in terms of close friendship.
So, what does friendship mean to you?
Founder, Arthur Coaching
Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.