Cities – So Much Isolation?


Mitch writes:

More people than ever before live in cities, yet more people than ever before feel lonely, and socially isolated. Is this even something we can fix?

I’ve lived in large cities and small towns on two continents (so far), and one thing seems true at least everywhere in the English-speaking world, and probably everywhere else as well. The larger a city is, the harder the people who live there seem to work to maintain their privacy. Ironically, that makes these ‘human hives’ some of the hardest places in the world to meet new people, especially for retirees or shut-ins, or simple misanthropic nerds like myself.

I hate crowds most of the time, so I am perhaps more sensitive to this than most, but I believe that city living, especially in the New Yorks, Chicagos and Londons of the world, is a uniquely hostile environment for humans. It’s not classically hostile, nature, red in tooth and claw is held well back.

Food, water and shelter are easier to find than probably 99% of human history and 100% of human pre-history. Nonetheless, metropolitans walk about braced solidly against social intrusion, they are deeply, eternally on guard against human and corporate predation. Someone is always, always hoping for a chance at a little of their attention, their time and most importantly their money.

Walk up to a stranger in a big city and give them a cheerful ‘Hello!’ You’ll see “What the hell kind of a con are you running?” pass across their features, even if they don’t say it out loud.

Once they’re out of the crowd, once they are in with a group they see as ‘their own’, these are decent, friendly people, at least as much as anyone is anywhere. But if you aren’t already part of that group, at least by association, you are inaccessible, and so are they.

The thing is, I’m afraid that this might be absolutely necessary. Last time I was in London I had lunch at a McDonalds (don’t judge me!) that was bigger than my house, and it was standing room only! I ate standing on a square foot of floor, shoulder to shoulder with the heaving masses, and I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of them. For my own sanity, I had to pretend they weren’t ‘people’ at all.

Trying to be sociable in a sardine can like London or NY would drive me mad. I don’t think I could live in a big city without that kind of mental armor.

I’m not like that anywhere else. I live in a town of around 30,000 people. I say ‘Hi’ to strangers all the time, and they smile! I dropped something on my driveway unloading my car the other day, and a complete stranger picked it up, knocked on my door, and handed it to me.

A man could get stabbed doing that in Oak-Town.

So what can we do about it? Can anything be done? Please, share your comments!

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