We’ve merely scratched the surface on the loneliness epidemic sweeping our culture and its devastating consequences on physical health, emotional well-being, relationships, and even our spirituality. Americans are ranked amongst the loneliest people in the world, and it comes as no surprise that we live in a culture that naturally steeps a lifestyle of isolation.
We’ve already looked into the community killer of individualism, as well as the failed search for perfect community driven by consumerism. The next loneliness-inducing American value we’re looking at is isolationism.
To get us started, take a moment and look at the above image in the banner of this blog post.
What is that decadent, wooden flooring on the outside of this old-time looking home?
It’s a front porch!
We’re not too familiar with front porches anymore. Prior to the 1950s, American culture looked a lot like civilization had been for centuries. People’s homes, retail stores, and workplaces were all within walking distance. Homes were built tall and skinny, so they could be build really close to one another, and placed near the roads for easy access. But at the front of these homes were front porches – just like the one pictured above.
These front porches were the icon of American social life. They were considered the place where neighbors could pause and catch up with one another as they see each other walking along the street, or relax after a busy day. It was an area where people from the closely-packed community could interact with one another.
But that’s not what homes look like today. We have lost the front porch. Now, they look like this:
This is the typical suburb home. After World War II, people began flocking to neighborhoods like these for cheaper land and to escape from the congested and threatening living conditions of the inner city. And, thanks to the automobile, people could use individualized transportation to still get to the city for work without the threats of actually residing there. It was suppose to be the best of both worlds.
But notice what replaced the front porch: A really tiny walkway leading up to a door, tucked behind a vast garage, serving as a home for their individualized transportation; and a large front lawn that pulls the house away from the sidewalk, rather than a porch that welcomed nearness to passerby’s. Building codes for this new industrialized and speed-driven American culture saw front porches as unnecessary expenses, but garages and driveways were essential. So houses became less like public squares and more like isolated fortresses, as author Skye Jethani so blatantly puts it.
Suburban living has resulted in people confining themselves to individualized modes of transportation for long commutes to the city, living in the privacy of their homes where picket fences function as walls between neighbors, retreating to individualized means of entertainment via the television, all while their kids play in a backyard hidden behind the architecture of their private homes.
If you don’t think this is true, when was the last time you actually talked to your neighbors? I barely know the names of my own. And to be entirely honest, there’s a part of me that hesitates to really want to get to know much else. I, personally, suffer from the American value of isolationism.
This reveals how much American social life has drastically changed over the last several decades. Listen to Skye Jethani’s observations about the common features of suburban houses and lifestyle:
“Most homes are set as far back from public spaces, the street and sidewalk, as possible. The rooms facing the street tend to be the spaces we use least—the formal living room or dining room. The spaces where real life happens, the kitchen and family room, are hidden in the back. Outdoor recreation is also confined to the back of the house, usually behind a fence. Everything about suburban home design communicates to the passerby, “Leave me alone!”
– Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity
Isolationism is real, folks.
But isolationism extends well beyond the suburban lifestyle. Services like Amazon Prime can now deliver anything you want—even groceries— to your door in less than 2 days (sometimes 2 hours depending where you live) without you ever having to leave “the comfort of your home.”
Online clothing subscription services can send you a new, fresh, “trendy” outfit (that honestly just makes you look like a hipster) every month without you ever having to ask for an employee’s opinion at an American Eagle Outfitters.
Smart phones and tablets function as portable televisions, allowing you to hang out with the cast of Friends for hours on end at the expense of hanging out with actual, real, significant friends.
As much as these services save you the time from having to go to the store or wait till Friends plays at 4:00pm on TBS, it also robs you the opportunity to interact with real human beings. Because community is uncomfortable, friendship is burdensome, and the omnipresence of the internet eliminates the need for any human interaction whatsoever (just take a couple of seconds to observe any public gathering space and you’ll be blown away), it is far too easy to retreat to isolated lifestyles of personal consumption and comfort, stripped from community and significant friendships.
Isolationism is a heck of a lot more comfortable. But absolutely detrimental to every ounce of our humanity.