Social isolation

The Vancouver Sun has a new series of articles discussing social isolation in the big city. Studies have shown that feeling lonely or disconnected from your community and peers can have far-reaching negative effects on health. Having better bonds with your neighbours and community also provides a support network in times of need. With increasing avenues for electronic connectedness, are we losing the real-life relationships that sustain us?

Photo Credit: Original photo by D Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/sets/72157610551917961/

I am somewhat sceptical of the “results” presented by the Sun. While they present a good piece of storytelling, much of it is anecdotal. They interview runners who complain that other joggers don’t wave or say hello to them. They find disgruntled homeowners in suburbia who complain of changes that bring fences and roads. I am not the friendliest person in the world, but in every apartment building that I’ve lived in, I have recognized and spoken to my neighbours on many occasions. In several buildings, Brian and I have even had tentative friendships with some neighbours.

In particular, the last story in the series attempted to link our supposed growing social isolation with the difficulty of purchasing a home.


The story featured interviews with various individuals between the ages of 25 and 35. One was a growing family who lamented their inability to purchase a home for their children, having recently had another baby. Another was a 31-year-old West End renter who complained that she would “never” be able to afford a condo, adding that there were “too many cute shoes” she wanted to buy. I am genuinely flabbergasted by their stories. Why did the couple decide to have children if they felt like their current home was too small? Why is the 31-year-old buying so many freaking shoes? What the hell does owning a home have to do with social isolation? :/

I bought a condo in Vancouver at the age of 25 and I can tell you that: (1) I don’t collect shoes (2) I’m not making babies that I can’t afford and (3) Owning a condo has not gotten me any new friends and I’m not sure why anyone would think that it would!

I do agree, however, that a good social network is vital for healthy living. It’s on par with insurance and an emergency fund. Consider cancer or cardiovascular disease. These are life-changing and insidious conditions that affect millions of people every year. And yet, having a good social network has been shown to improve health outcomes for these patients. And it’s not just the feel-good hand-wavy kind of improvement either. When you go through a serious illness, you need to have a social network to help you out with the mundane tasks of driving you to doctors appointments, picking up your groceries and helping you around the house.

But are we going to get better social networks by having more homeowners? No. We get better social networks by actually connecting with people. :/

There seems to be a great desire amongst Vancourites to blame everything on the “lack of housing affordability”. And yes, I do say “lack of housing affordability” in finger-waving quotes because affordability is relative. If you collect shoes, many things are not “affordable” for you. If I eat on a $100 grocery budget, many things suddenly become affordable for me. Do either of those philosophies prevent me from connecting with people though? Not at all! The shopaholic has just as many opportunities to connect to people as the frugal person – you still both have neighbours, co-workers and that guy you see on the bus everyday. It really just depends on your willingness to be friendly and reach out to people, which has nothing to do with the amount of money you have in the bank or the status of your housing.

I felt like the Sun could have explored a lot of interesting issues with this series of articles, so I’m disappointed that they have again degenerated into the “affordable housing” bandwagon. A more interesting take on the issue would have been to explore why people don’t connect more, considering the numerous ways in which technology allows us to connect. I’ve met people I randomly talked to on Twitter, and yet there are still people who don’t want take 10 seconds to shoot off a text and invite a friend out for a drink – for whatever reason.

I suspect those underlying reasons are more interesting and insightful than simply blaming the cost of home ownership.

Posted in: Philosophy

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