Before I got out of bed this morning, I answered a text message, accepted two friend requests on Facebook, made a connection on LinkedIn, opened four emails, and responded to a direct message on Instagram. My alarm hadn’t even gone off yet.
In our tech-focused society, we’re more connected than ever, but our devices have morphed connection into something that is fast, efficient, and borderline thoughtless. And that, according to a new report in Bloomberg, is causing a serious wave of social isolation.
“Sociologists have been fretting over our fraying social bonds for a while, but the warnings are getting more dire,” Bloomberg reporter Ben Steverman writes. “Society is falling apart because we’ve forgotten how to hang out.”
Experts say our generation’s loneliness crisis is expanding, and despite our high-speed online correspondence with our large social networks, the lack of face-to-face interaction in our day-to-day lives is leading to increased feelings of isolation and social anxiety. “The more time we spend with our devices, the more time we need with actual human beings as well,” Steverman writes, noting sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s argument that we need a “‘third place’ — a space to exist beyond work or home — where people can gather and connect.
Steverman, reflecting on Oldenburg’s concept, suggests we must physically gather together to foster the level of connection that’s missing in our online relationships. His thesis: We need to start throwing parties.
By putting away our devices and welcoming our friends into our homes, we can re-learn what it means to connect with one another, without the pressure of “likes” and comments from our online followers.
Steverman also urges us to let go of any expectations of being a perfect party host and throwing a candid hangout with friends instead — and experts back that theory up. “One of the biggest problems with social anxiety is that people think, ‘I need to perform AND look good,’” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy specialist Reid Wilson, Ph.D., author of Stopping the Noise in Your Head : the New Way to Overcome Anxiety and Worry, tells Thrive. According to Wilson, overcoming initial social anxiety starts with overcoming the negative voice inside your head. “Remember that you are going to be more critical of yourself than anyone else is going to be,” he says.
Wilson points out that while we can’t completely “kill of the inner critic,” we can let it become “background music” while introducing positive thoughts. “Accept that critic, but don’t take it too seriously or let it run the show. Move the critic to the background, and pull forward a voice with positive messages.” The idea of hosting a party can seem daunting, but Wilson says the point is to be less hard on yourself first, and letting the rest happen naturally.
Steverman emphasizes the notion of letting go of “outdated standards” that come with hosting a party. Not sure where to start, or who to invite? “Experiment, observe, then tweak,” he suggests. “Do whatever works to create something increasingly rare: a group of people laughing and talking, phones safely secured in their pockets and purses.”
Wilson and Steverman agree: Ultimately, throwing a party is merely a way to bring people together for informal conversations and a good laugh — and the minor details matter much less than you think. “Put out some food and a punch bowl,” Steverman writes. “A casual party is better than none at all.”
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