Why you feel alone where you live

Loneliness is something most of us feel at home. The vast majority of people know only a couple of neighbors and while many communities now have a hyperlocal street Facebook, Nextdoor or Whatsapp group how we feel in our areas hasn’t changed much. Connection, and feeling connected, are two entirely different things.

You might wonder, is it me? Am I the only one out there feeling this way? Maybe everyone else is happily clubbed up and I’m the outsider?

Loneliness is not a feeling of isolation, it’s a feeling of rejection — nobody out there likes me.

We as humans are very selective about where we choose to live, arguably our neighborhood defines us far more locally than the house we choose to spend time in. We each weigh up numerous pros and cons of an area before taking the plunge and committing to home sweet home, and the number of things that define each is notably finite. The importance of selection bias when choosing a place is live is that many people of similar affinities all reach the same conclusions, whether it’s the attractive commute, the good schools, or the trendy nightlife.

Knocking on your nearest 500 doors always has the same result, and I’ve done this all over the world, our areas are magnetic. YOU are surrounded by people just like you, people who made life choices for similar reasons, people who share your values, your hopes and your interests.

The Truth: We feel utterly alone, surrounded by fantastic people we have lots in common with. And 9 out of 10 of these people feel just as lonely as we do.

Let’s start at the beginning. Why do neighbourhoods exist? And as we’ll find out in a moment, why do we not need them anymore?

Neighbourhoods traditionally existed to help us with one thing. Staying alive, more specifically, collaborative utility in the form of the gen one neighbourhood; a tribe. Back in 1,000BC most of us lived in caves or primitive settlements. By staying together, we reduced the likelihood of being eaten, something everyone was unanimously in favour of. This way of living worked well for a long time and tribal behaviour gave birth to a social utility model we all learn about at school; archetypes like hunter-gatherer, village elder, nursing mother, witch doctor, and of course village chieftain. Every role was needed to make the group function and communities thrived whilst remaining intimate — primates to this day still function in a similar way.

Then everything changed, the development of irrigation kickstarted the agricultural era, farming was possible without destroying the land. This meant we could produce a lot of food, more of us could live in one space and in time towns, villages and cities grew to be.

The food problem was taken care of and big walls stopped all the animals from getting in, now not all our time was spent on labour or staying alive, and so the behaviour of building a lifestyle was born. You could spend time on yourself. Civilization, industries and general wellbeing evolved, and life got an awful lot better…

Modern society has now optimised all the human needs for collective living:

  • Access to medical care? We have the medical infrastructure
  • Our safety? Publically managed. We are now the dominant predator on our planet
  • Responsibility for maintaining and retaining our knowledge? The internet is our village elder
  • Growing food and stockpiling? We’ve created entire supply chains that mean that we want for nothing. 60-minutes to your door.

All of the tribal requirements we once had have become obsolete. Community is redundant because we’ve figured out better solutions. We are now tribes of ‘one’.

Welcome to the world where we no longer need to talk to another human being to survive.

We live in a disconnected world, by design, and it’s completely practical. However, it comes at the cost of human interaction. We are hardwired for desire paths, lazy and always choosing the simplest easiest way. Alternatives are hard, painful, and difficult. No one wants that. We have no reason to change this behaviour today and companies like Amazon will only increase the ease of doing the jobs that entire tribes were once required to perform.

As a result, our society is a very lonely one, it isn’t just you, it’s every person on your street and on every street that you can see. It’s not a recoverable model and what you feel is the loss of a way of life we spent 1,000s of years getting right. The last 100 years provided a communal upgrade unlike any other before it and we’re all still adapting.

Now, it’s up to us to build the next type of local social network.

Connection comes from frequency, getting to know someone reveals the things you have in common. Points of affinity build trust. We have to spend time together to change our situation.

If we are to have a community where we live in the future it must be one built upon a new set of rules, the dependence will be on us to create roles in the community that promote lifestyle, collaboration and socialising at the heart. Specifically, we have to make local fun, being part of your community needs to be a game. One we all want to play. The hardwiring is all there, we just need to update the software for the 21st century. Game on.

This the first part of a community series where we’ll explore how to build the future of local communities. Stay tuned for Part 2: Building delight on your doorstep, having fun with the locals

Digital and product thinking

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