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Today’s episode is a bit of a skeleton key episode.
It’s a podcast that pulls together, a couple different threads that I’ve been tugging on for the last few months.
Since the spraying, I’ve done several episodes on the mysterious rise of American anxiety, especially among young people.
Teenagers today, are more likely to say they are persistently, sad or hopeless than any other period on record.
We’ve also done episodes on the harms of social media and smartphone use We have also done episodes on the mystery of American antisocial behavior in the last few years.
We’ve seen an increase in asshole.
Ori as defined by homicides or fights on airplanes or pedestrian injuries.
And then there’s the background music of political polarization and ascendant political Nutter e.
So you take all these threads and you sew them together, And it tells me that something is going on.
Something is in the water.
Something is making America go berserk.
And I wonder what if it’s loneliness?
At the moment that I’m recording, this open 307 Eastern on Monday.
The most-read essay in the New York Times is quote, why is it so hard for men to make close friends?
The piece claims that American men are stuck in.
The author calls a friendship recession, a trend that predates, the pandemic, but seems to have accelerated over the last few years as loneliness levels have crept up worldwide quoting.
Now from the article, in a 2021 survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States.
It’s less than half of the men said they were truly satisfied with how many friends they had.
While 15% of the men said, they had no close friends at all, a five-fold increase since 1990 and quote, in 2019, before the pandemic Brian Resnick wrote for Vox.
That more than one, fifth of Millennials say they have no friends, no friends.
That is higher than A generation that’s come before that we have data for and this weekend, the Missoula, Montana Economist Bryce Ward, published a piece in the Washington Post, showing that time spent alone has skyrocketed.
In the last decade, according to his analysis of government data, almost every year, since 2010, Americans have spent less time with friends or companions, almost every year since 2010, Americans have spent more time alone, And this was true for every demographic old and young white non-white Metro rural.
Now, let me put in a couple of words for aloneness, not loneliness aloneness, I myself like being alone.
I like watching movies by myself, I don’t mind watching sports alone at bars, I don’t mind working alone.
I’m even the kind of sicko who enjoys going to bars alone to read.
So this podcast is not in the hands of some like pathological.
Extrovert, I think being alone is pretty nice.
I think there are some people who sincerely are happier with lots and lots of alone time.
But the problem is briefly, as I can put, it is chronic loneliness for people who need people.
And I think modern society is conspiring to make all of us a little bit more lonely, and we are choosing this fate even more than its being chosen for us streaming TV and movies are great.
But spending 10 hours a week watching them, makes us more alone.
Smartphones are amazing devices but they allow us to entertain ourselves alone.
When we don’t build enough housing and cities and push for families to the suburbs, they spend more time alone.
Remote work is a godsend for many many people.
It also makes us more alone in dating when the process of data moves from schools and offices in bars.
Two individuals texting each other on phones from couches.
It makes us more alone and when you add it all up you get a lot more aloneness.
And a lot more loneliness.
And I think we should talk about that.
I’m Derek Thompson.
This is plain English.
Brace, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks for having me pleasure, dear.
So as we do with a lot of podcast episodes, I want to start with the facts.
The evidence the stuff there is no controversy about and then we’ll get into interpretation and slowly layer in slightly more, controversial opinions about why this is happening and what it means.
So first, let’s start with the data.
You have studied the key data set, here it is, the American time use survey which is run by the census.
This is a government survey that basically asked Americans a bunch of it’s about how they spend their day.
Tell us what you found on the subject of time.
Spent with friends time spent with Companions and time spent alone Sure.
So for a long time and in particularly the American time use survey starts in 2003 and between 2003, and 2013 people spend basically the same amount of time with their friends.
You know, it’s like slightly less than seven hours with friends.
If you expand the definition of friends to include family and neighbors and co-workers outside of work, we’ll call those people that whole set of people including your friends companions, they spent 15 hours and Then in 2014, we started slowly kind of ticking down and by 2021.
The last year, we have this data, we’re spending less than three hours with our friends, reside in less than 10 hours with our Companions.
And what are we doing with that time?
We used to spend with our friends and companions.
We’re now spending it alone, you know, we’ve increased the amount of time we spent Alone by almost 10 hours, right?
It’s really remarkable.
You sent me all this data and going through it about every year since 2010, we spent less time with friends Almost Every year since 2010, 2013, we spent less time at Companions and so alone time ticks up and up and up.
And this is not like one of those trends that only really exist for like one demographic.
Like it’s only women over the age of 65.
This seems to be true for every age group for every gender for every income level for people in Metro and non-metro areas for white and non-white living with a spouse or partner, not living with a spouse or partner.
Everyone seems To be spending more time alone.
Do we know what people are doing with all of this extra time alone?
Mostly, they’re watching TV, which probably means watching TV and looking at their phone or the internet.
You know, there’s other things, you know, there’s other, we’re exercising, more alone as a little bit.
We’re shopping more alone, so we’re not going to the mall with our friends, whatever.
But the bulk of it is, yeah.
We’re we’re taking advantage of the fact that I can stream and sit alone in a corner of my house and not have to, With my wife about what to watch, how much time does the average American spend watching television today so the average American historically, they typically watch kind of two to three hours.
Depending what group you’re in, if you’re older or you’re disabled it’s more like 45 hours a day and I think that’s the total time.
So, you know, we’ve increased that at the margins by, you know, roughly an hour a day, or 30 to 40 minutes a day in, those is the television increase and it’s important to be clear.
As you are in the Washington Post piece, that this is not something that started during the pandemic, it definitely increased during the pandemic.
But all of these things have been growing for the last decade, essentially, I really do wonder how long it’s been happening.
You mentioned that this data set goes back to 2003 and that not a whole lot change between 2003 and 2013 but you know, as you know, you know, Robert Putnam wrote his famous book, bowling alone, On the decline of social capital in the 1990s.
So already there were sociologist the 1990s saying, you know, there’s a lot of people especially men who are spending a lot more time alone.
A lot less time with the various associations in organization organizations, that sort of yoked them together in the 20th century.
Do you think it is generally a rule that over the last few decades?
We have generally been spending less time with friends and Companions and more time alone.
So, this is the interesting fact.
This bowling alone came out when I was a first year.
And my very first paper, I tried to write was using time.
Use data to look at time spent with friends, I didn’t find anything right now.
Part of the problem is that we had time.
This was before the American time, use survey starts in 2003.
This is back in 2000 and we have like of one from 1965 and one from the 70s, one of the 80s, and one of the 90s, they’re not exactly the same shape to try and make them comfortable.
So we don’t have perfect.
But in terms of just this social time, with friends appeared to be very resilient, right?
And then there’s an actual paper which looked at all those data, including the American time use survey through 2010.
And basically concludes that time with friends was resilient.
And rotary clubs and bowling leagues and all the stuff Puttin them that at all Fallen time with neighbors had fallen.
But, you know, our friends had remained resilient and so this is this is the change, right?
It’s a, you know, we get to We go through Decades of lots of social changes and we’re still spending time with our friends, but something happens about a decade ago and it’s just been accelerating.
And then as you mentioned the pandemic just you know, really tips it over a bigger clip that want to see how much we recover from but there’s been a change and its recent when it comes to spending time with our friends or family companions whatever you want to call it.
It’s so interesting because it tell me if this is the wrong interpretation it sounds like for the last say you know, 50 years.
Maybe longer people, like Bob Putnam have been predicting that loneliness is surging in the absence of evidence that loneliness was actually surging.
So it’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf, we kept saying, no, there’s a loneliness pandemic, there’s a loneliness pandemic, there’s a loneliness pandemic but then when careful researchers looked at sort of the time you stata, it turned out that maybe some of the evidence wasn’t as strong as these sort of catastrophic headlines, but you’re sticking your neck out here now and say, no, actually, if you look at the data over the last 10 years, the last nine or 10 years.
This long-held prediction seems to be finally coming true in the evidence.
Is that kind of right?
Yeah, I mean lonely, is this tricky right?
Because I should say aloneness because I’m going to I’m going to separate aloneness and loneliness in a second.
Let’s just talk about aloneness for now.
Oh, yeah, loan this appears to have changed only recently and certainly if they’re there may have been other changes the margin in terms of time, spent alone, but certainly there’s notion that I was spending time with my friends, my family my you know, people that I like But that was constant in spite of the fact that yeah we didn’t do a whole bunch of other stuff but you know what really yeah it really has now ticked up is actual time spent alone and that’s, you know.
Because again we could have taken this time.
We didn’t spend with friends and we could have said I’m just spending with my kids or I’m going to spend it with my spouse and we didn’t we took that time that we used to go out and meet our friends and we said now I’m going to sit at home alone for the most Art.
So, this is an incredibly important question to ask and it was prefaced by one thing that you said, there’s a really important difference between alone nests and loneliness.
I mean, we can admit, I think that some people are happier being alone, some people are more introverted.
Some people have toxic relationships in their lives.
And like, if you took like a woman in abusive relationship and you say, rather than spend 40 hours a week with this monster of a husband and instead he spent zero average with him that might look like Loneliness in a Social Survey but it’s actually clearly a win for her in the local context.
This increase in aloneness.
So why don’t you walk us through the evidence that you know, that says that alone nests can lead to loneliness and that loneliness is actually bad for us?
Yeah, so again, you know, the first time I ever took a personality test, I scored zero percent on the extraversion scale, I love being alone, you know, I’m totally Ali fine with people being alone, the issue that we’re trying to understand here is the change in the average Americans allocation of their time to increase alone.
That’s what kind of are trying to assess, right.
Which is, you know, increasing the amount of time that per week that the average American spends alone relative to look in 19 2013.
We were spending almost 40 hours a week alone in the time use data and that’s not including the time your state.
It doesn’t account for sleep or grooming.
Those are we’re not asking who you’re with during those.
So it’s time a week and rest, we were spending 40 hours a week alone before, but now we’re spending closer to 50 hours a week.
So the issue is is is this 10 hours at the margin?
What does that do to us?
And look, it may be totally fine, right?
This is a new trend.
We don’t know what we can point to.
As we say, We’ll look, there’s some things out there that look bad.
Like, you know, you’ve talked about in this podcast, the the increase in adolescent, mental health, issues, particularly amongst girls.
All right, well, how much of that is related?
Due to the fact that adolescents, or, you know, we have 15 to 19 year olds in the data.
They decrease their time with Friends by 11 hours a week over this period and increase their time alone by 12 hours a week.
What does that do to us?
You know, we know that relationships matter for our health they matter for our access to opportunity, they matter for, you know, just building our social skills to make it easier for us to engage in relationships, productively down the road and, you know, so we’re we’re trying to infer a little bit because, you know, yeah, there are definitely studies, which show that it takes time to build friendships.
It’s, you know, I think one study finds that, you know, you can kind of you start being friends about 30 hours and you’re really friends at like, 150 hours on like that.
So, you know, we know we’d have to spend the time and then, how long does it take to maintain relationships that I don’t really know, you know?
But certainly there’s There’s smoke, right?
We’re looking at.
Some of the trends that we see in the world.
We’re also seeing another Trend that seems like, hey, that could go along with that.
And, you know, ultimately somebody should go off and try and figure out how much these things are ultimately related, so that we can really understand, but we know that relationships matter.
And so it’s concerning that people are spending I mean this is like you know for changes its 60% less time with their friends per week you know for the rest of us it’s more like 50.
That seems like a big enough margin that is probably going to have some effects.
I think that was a very epistemic Lee.
We have a lot of data points that in isolation shouldn’t necessarily lead us to any conclusion.
For example, if we had only your data set, that said, that more Americans are spending time alone and we didn’t have any evidence that teenage mental health crises were skyrocketing and we did not have any evidence that depths of Despair were increasing and we didn’t have any evidence that the number of friends that Millennials and men say they have was declining.
If we didn’t have any of that second stuff, then there’d be no reason to suddenly catastrophize.
The fact that people were spending more time alone, but we have to open our eyes to the fact that all of this is existing simultaneously, right?
Correlation is not causation but it’s still correlation.
And it might be causation and that’s why I think it’s so important to say, let’s get all the facts out of the table and say maybe this is a skeleton key for explaining it.
You are very kind to share the crosstabs of your data set with me and I went into them by my calculation, the group’s We’re alone.
Time has increased the most are teenagers.
Number one, men and low income men, number two.
And then number three, a little bit more subtle.
Only non-white Americans and Americans without a spouse or partner.
So I want to talk about these groups.
Let’s start with young people.
As you mentioned I did a podcast with the psychologist.
Jonathan haidt about the CDC survey that found the share of teenagers who say they are consistently sad.
Consistently hopeless has increased to a record high.
You plot these two graphs again I’m gonna make a correlation observation, you plot these two graphs side by side the graph of alone time.
The increase in alone time and the graph, the graph of increased hopelessness and anxiety.
They are very similar and they start to take off around the exact same time.
So it just tell me a little bit about what you saw about when it comes to alone time and the increase in alone time among young people, sure.
So, you know, we look at 15 to 19 year olds like this is the time when you spend your time with friends, right?
Like, you know, I don’t have time to see my friends and so middle-aged people like me.
Yeah, we don’t spend as much time with our friends because we have Kids and all sorts of other stuff, but when you’re a teenager like you spend a substantial amount of time with friends each week, it’s like your job and you know, yeah, we basically took 10 hours or almost 11 hours away from time with friends and, you know, that all of it in fact, more than all of it went into alone time.
You want to go from spending like less than 25 hours a week alone.
As a teenager today almost 40 hours a week alone as a teenager.
Yeah, let me quit.
Quote from your piece because this is this is the nut, the percentage decline is similar for the young and old.
But given how much time young people spend with their friends?
The absolute decline among Americans aged 15 and 19 is staggering relative to 2013.
The average American Teenager spends approximately eleven fewer hours with friends each week in 2021.
That’s a 64% declined because it’s 2021 which is In the middle /.
End of a pandemic.
We’re sort of mixing together this secular rise and alone time that is for reasons.
We’re about to discuss and the fact of the pandemic.
But that is a, that is a shocking thing to suddenly spend eleven fewer hours with friends, each week compared to where teenagers were just a decade ago, that’s two hours.
A day is almost 2 hours a day like, you know, you know, and again, the American time yesterday, excludes time in high school Cool, right?
So if you’re in class in we don’t count, we don’t ask you who you’re with, right?
So all of this is this, you know, after school to bedtime and the weekends, that’s basically what we’re looking at.
That’s not that long right?
In terms of just the total number of hours available to spend with friends.
And when you’re saying, yeah, we’re going to take and we’re going to reduce that by 64 percent.
It seems bad, it seems devastating.
And this is, it goes to one of my big picture theories about what’s happening with teen anxiety.
There’s a part of me that just wants to blame the smartphone and social media, but I know that when you carefully look at the studies e, the effect size for smartphones and social media use on teenage anxiety, or teenage depression, is not quite large enough to, really explain everything that’s Going on with his with this youth Mental Health crisis.
So what I really think it is is all about the trade-off.
It’s not just the fact that teens are spending all this time in Instagram which is bad for their mental health or you know on social platforms where they’re doing - social comparison.
It’s also the time that they’re not spending in the physical world, with their friends around people, laughing at wherever the mall, on a street corner at a basketball game, there’s just less social time and when you have this trade-off, Less physical world more virtual world it leads to the kind of anxiety and depression problems.
We tend to be saying.
Look at you know, I’m not the expert in the neurobiology of friendship but there are lots of studies which find really crazy things.
Like one study, they brought in couples and they evaluated how good their relationship was and then they cut them and they found that the couples that were healthier healed faster, right there.
People, whose relationships related.
I just saw study today that you know, expressing gratitude Attitude to teammates literally changes how your heart is functioning, right?
Like people’s physical capacity.
Grew, just because somebody on their team said, Thank you, right?
There’s a whole other literature about, you know, part of the, the challenge of virtual friendship is touches part of friendship, Right?
Touch is part of how we Bond, how we show our relationships.
And so, you know, again, I don’t know, all the chemistry that’s going on up here, but I think they’re, you know, if you dig into that literature, which is not my area, but it’s something I kind of come across a case.
It certainly suggests that there are mind-body connections that social relationships appear to trigger which is why, you know just last week the Harvard Gazette wrote up at this thing about this 80-year study that Harvard’s been tracking people and you know, the guy who runs the study basically his pithy line is, you know, the number one thing that predicts how long you’re going to live at age at age, 50 is the quality of your Social relationships at age. 50 right is more than your genes more than your cholesterol, you know, more than you’re Any Behavior diet?
What matters is your social relationships?
And yeah, we don’t understand fully how that all works, but you know, it certainly seems like relationships matter, and it certainly seems like time spent in relationships in physical presence matters for the quality of those relationships.
And so, you know, adding it all together, it seems like, yeah, when we see this troubling Trend in teenage anxiety, that some of this may just be the physiological effects of lack of time, spent in the presence of friends.
I underlined all of that I think it’s absolutely right.
I just want to make one observation about the direction of causality that we’re looking at.
It is possible that one of the reasons why loneliness has been found to be lead to higher blood pressure, to lead to heart disease.
One of the reasons that it is found to essentially be akin to a chronic disease.
Might be not that loneliness itself, is the main variable here, but loneliness can be Downstream.
Mmmmm of social anxiety and depression and that people can get into Vicious Cycles were an element of depression or an element of social anxiety leads to more loneliness and that loneliness deepens the anxiety or depression, which leads to even more loneliness.
And that when one pulls oneself out of the world of social life because of this just complex mesh of causes, it can lead to all of these Downstream sort of physical body effects that you and I Talking about, I think it’s all very possible.
And I really love the point about the fact that growing up is tactile.
Development, is tactile all the way from being a baby and being in your mother’s arms to, you know, playing catch with your dad or, or roughhousing with a sibling, there’s something very tactile about like our understanding of Developmental Psychology and physical development, and when maybe I hadn’t really thought about this, this is all coming out a little bit.
It herky-jerky but maybe when development becomes less tactile, something starts to malfunction, something starts to miss shoot in terms of the neural chemistry and it leads to these kind of problems that we really haven’t really seen before in terms of social anxiety.
And, and teen depression because we are, we’re taking our youth out of nature.
We’re putting them in Virtual environments where their untack tile experience, simply isn’t what they’re wired to do.
Yeah that makes sense.
You know again I don’t know for sure how this all works.
But it certainly makes sense to me that, you know, the lack of it’s like socializing online is like the uncanny valley of social unrest are socializing right.
It’s like, you know, it’s sort of this simulation but our bodies kind of react against it in ways that we don’t understand.
And then, you know, I want to go back to a point that you made that, you know, the causality and the loop and all this kind of stuff is part of the reason.
I’m actually most concerned about the young people trend Is I think you’re right that this is it builds on itself, right?
It’s, you know, I don’t go out and see if my friends, right?
And so it just gets harder the next time because a lot of social life is momentum based, right?
You know, one of my wife and I occasionally teach courses on social networks and social skills and you know, one of the things that we talk about is yeah, they like it gets harder to maintain a friendship, the longer you go without maintaining the friendship and you know, one of the tricks that we try Teach people and social skills is, there’s how to have conversations that lead to momentum, right?
That basically allow you call backs like oh hey.
Are you taking these trips?
Because then if I see you in a month and I knew that you were going to take a trip.
Well now I have something I’m going to be able to talk with you about but the more longer I go without seeing you the longer.
I go just kind of staying at home and, you know, maybe texting or doing something like that.
I’m missing out on all of this other random stuff that just allows the momentum to keep.
Going and that way, it’s like, yeah, I don’t want to go to a party with a bunch of people haven’t seen in a long time.
That sounds terrible, right?
I like going to parties with people that I know are going to be there and that I want to see and have something I want to talk with him about.
And so yeah, I think that’s a really big part of why it’s a trend, right?
And why I’m hopeful that we come back from the covid effects, but I am concerned that that was just an acceleration of the trend that will see some recovery from just the pure lockdown being Part of it.
But you know that we’re likely to, you know, to see it because.
Yeah, it’s it’s harder to get back out and see friends when I don’t get out and see my friends, right?
And this is an important place to say that in the data that you shared with me, we have some stats on the first half of 2021, and the second half of 2021 to see how this kind of stuff resolved as pandemic.
Fears were winding down or as pandemic.
Fears were certainly decreasing and what I saw in the numbers that you shared our that the alone figures start to normalize a little bit, but we are still way way over the 2017. 2018 2019 Trend.
So in terms of the latest, six months of evidence that we have all this stuff is absolutely at an all-time high or an all record high in terms of the time series.
Is that, is that right?
I mean, you know, I feel like he’s gone down a quarters, but you start running out of observation.
So I’d looked at and half years and look, most people were kind of at least somewhat vaccinated by July of 2021 if you were going to get vaccinated.
So we already kind of Hit the plateau there.
So you know, it’s kind of a we still had Omicron and Delta and some waves but we definitely saw a little bit of normalization, but you know, time with friends was still down in our above just 2019.
So, most of the change of the pandemic was still there.
We saw a little bit of recovery, but Certainly not a snap back immediately to wear and we’ve been pre-pandemic.
When I asked you about men, according to Gallup, the share of men with at least six close friends fell by half between 1990 and 2021.
Only one in five single men today or excuse me, one in five single men today say they have no close friendships whatsoever.
Because when you juxtapose it to the data that you’re presenting in fact alone time, increased significant or or meaningful Lee more for men than it did for women.
What do you think might be causing that men are bad at Social relationships in general?
You know, I don’t have as good of a sense with men versus women, it’s worth noting that women didn’t went down.
Two men are just like up there kind of more at the team level of down in the 60s percent.
And women are down more in the 50s present, you know.
I don’t know, I’ll be honest.
I don’t really have a good hypothesis.
There was an article in New York Times about the procession or something just today that right?
The Friendship recession among men.
Yeah, you know and, you know, it talks it was mostly about I get is like be vulnerable.
It was kind of like, telling men what to do to get out there and, you know, and become, you know, and spend more time with friends.
I just, I don’t know if it’s again, you know, we have will get two explanations here in a second but like if we suggested that.
Okay, well, what’s the model?
What’s the model of?
Allocating times to friend versus a loan, right?
So I have certain our bandwidth, it takes effort, attention motivation to want, to go see my friends.
I get some benefits out of those interactions.
And I have to, you know, and at the margin basically, I can sit at home and watch TV.
That’s basically what the decision, effectively amounts to write.
And you know, I don’t know, I don’t have the benefits of relationships, amongst men, have they changed.
Certainly, not the big stuff that we’ve talked about. it documented, you know, I guess I don’t have to like Paul my friend, who knows how to fix things when my dryer breaks, I can just go on YouTube, so maybe I’m like, I don’t need that friend.
Who can help me in these situations?
I, you know, I just don’t know.
Certainly, I think we have, we all work.
We’re working the same amount.
Our jobs are basically comparable to what they were 10 years ago.
You know the need for friendship in terms of all this physical stuff, that’s all there.
So, I don’t, I can sit at home and watch any sport I want Literally, like, I can just be like, oh I missed that game.
Let me re-watch it.
I can just like, literally go stream it now and maybe, I don’t know.
Maybe we’re just more sensitive and it’s like, hey, we used to get together and watch sports.
And now I just sit at home and watch sports.
I don’t know.
I think it’s really, I think it’s a really, you know, I honestly don’t know.
And I kind of appreciate the fact that you started by saying, I don’t know here has some nominees for theories, but I don’t have much confidence that any of them.
The one of the most interesting Internet York, Times essay that, you reference.
And by the way, if people are searching for it at home, it’s called why is it so hard for men to make close friends?
The subtitle is, or that the deck is American.
Men are stuck in a quote friendship recession.
Here’s how to climb out of it and there are some solutions for how to climb out of it.
Like number one is practice, vulnerability, even it makes you uncomfortable.
Number two is, don’t assume friendship happens.
Organically the most interesting sentence from the article to me was that a survey found that quote Quote, men are less likely than women to rely on their friends for emotional support or to share their personal feelings with them.
And quote, there is something really interesting about how do I put this the job that friendship does for men versus the job that friendship does for women?
It’s just, it’s just a slightly.
Yeah I don’t want to we’re already over General right where I am over generalizing here a little bit but it’s I’m reminded of an observation that One of my close friends made that it’s amazing.
The degree to which a conversation among guy, friends can just be quoting sports stats or quoting movie lines.
Not a single emotional observation is made, not a single observation about a friend is made.
There’s no people in these conversations.
It’s just name of athlete statistic from athlete.
Number of RBIs Juan Gonzalez, had a nice 95 season followed by quotes from Anchorman followed by It’s from another movie, you know, whatever, super bad that the, you know, there is something interesting lie, interestingly different about the relationships and conversations that men have versus the relationships and conversations that women have.
And of course, there’s extraordinary diversity within both groups, but I was just very interested to see that little observation that men are less likely to rely on their friends for emotional support or to share their personal feelings with them.
It’s a generalization but it had the Ring of truth to me Rings true to me, you know, you know, they get yeah.
I mean I what do I do with my male friends?
You know, and there’s a little bit more of hey, how are your kids doing?
All that kind of stuff that you go through but you know, what did you do?
But yeah, we don’t we don’t talk about feelings, you know.
And when I think about my friends they’re yeah they’re there for you know.
Yeah we coach together or you know we do Do send our kids back and forth and that kind of stuff, but, you know, we’re not really, not really like relying on them, right?
I’m not excited.
Like, man, if I got in trouble, like I’m calling my family first.
I don’t, I, you know, my friends exist in some Outer Circle and I don’t know why that is because it’s certainly not the case with the women that I know for whom is.
Yeah, there’s like, oh, we gotta do the check-in.
We got to do this and all that kind of stuff.
And so again, you know, and I, what is That’s how is this biological, is this cultural?
I have no idea.
So I don’t really understand what’s going on with men friendships, although when it comes to why we may not be spending as much time, you know, may just be that we’re not we’re not finding the benefits that we need to and maybe that’s the New York Times article is, right?
We need to be more vulnerable and start sharing our feelings and start trying to rely on each other more because the literature is actually very clear.
If you want to be friends with somebody, ask them for help.
You know, one of the cool studies is they took people that actually didn’t like each other.
And they randomly went to someone said, I want you to go to this person who you rated as somebody who didn’t like you and I want you to ask them for help and then they go and they measure how they felt about each other afterwards and both parties like each other more after they ask each other for help and so you know this yeah this individualism rugged, individualism that men I think our least more stereotypically engaged in.
I don’t need help, I can solve my own problems.
It may just be an impediment to us creating the conditions for more meaningful friendships that generate more benefits, which may explain why we’re giving up more time.
As I, it’s not worth it to do it.
Because what am I getting out of it?
Yeah, it’s there’s a really great thoughts.
It is definitely a conversation.
I want to have again with someone about about exactly how these issues affect, man.
I’ve had a couple of episodes about what I think of, as America’s crisis of masculinity, this idea that Americans, particularly liberal Americans in.
In this age are very good at being quite precise about what toxic masculinity looks like.
But not as good about being precise about whatever the opposite of that of toxic masculinity.
Looks like for men separate from praising femininity because I think that there’s wonderful things about femininity.
And I also think that the, that, that will my particular, slice of the ideological Spectrum could use a sort of clear, thinking about the suit of positive aspect of of masculinity.
Anyway, that was, that was fun.
I want to sort of to put Put a bow around that really tough.
Question of exactly why this is seems to be affecting men differently than women.
Let’s go to theories and Theory.
One here in terms of why has there been this really astonishing an obvious increase in alone time in the last ten years?
We have to start with technology.
We have to start with the Nexus of social media.
And smartphone use tell me a little bit about the evidence that you find most compelling for why we should think that this is mostly a technology story.
Okay, so we’re trying to split the change, right?
We have this relatively long term stable, Level of time with friends and it suddenly changes over the course of a relatively short period of time as far as social trends.
Go and obviously there’s a pandemic effect.
That’s very clear, very easy to pinpoint.
But if we go back, we’ve got to say, well what changed?
Starting roughly a decade ago and would be Universal because it affects everybody.
Like we’ve already talked about everybody has roughly, similar declines.
So what started about a decade ago and everybody it’s Smartphones, right?
We know it’s we get 50% penetration of smartphones about 2014 and I want to broaden the technology.
It’s not just the smartphone, it’s also the stream, it’s screens, it’s screens internet time, screens is the effect.
You’re talking about.
I can, you know, the fact that I, you know, we talked about yeah times, what am I doing alone?
Watching television, and how am I watching television?
I’m streaming right?
I have access to the entire movie Library.
I don’t sit down and, you know, well, the original opening of the article, I would I actually wrote about the television show Friends and how it came out my very first week of college.
And I watched it in the basement of my dorm with a hundred people.
And then it come combined with Seinfeld was enough of a hit that every Thursday night.
People would come to my room because I had the television and we would have four or five people that watch these shows together, right?
And that continued literally the entire run of I watched with others with my friends, we don’t do that anymore, right?
You know that we don’t one of the things that we just yeah.
Why would we don’t even watch the TV at the same time because I can just walk.
Oh, I just wait until somebody tells me a show is good and then I binge it by myself, living with my wife.
I just watch it by yourself every once in a while, she’ll be involved.
But it’s like oh, you know and you know, when I sent this article, to my roommate who was there for all of those friends, he talked about his older kids and he’s like, yeah, every night at my house.
It’s for people alone watching their own screen, right?
The there’s a couple pieces of evidence that suggests that this isn’t just a sort of a random casual linkage.
It’s not just people waiting around their hands and saying, well, we have to find something that changed about 10 years ago and Technology seems like, the most obvious thing.
So, let’s just blame it on technology.
There’s a couple pretty interesting studies.
Couple pretty interesting, sort of randomized, studies.
That suggest that there is a clear link between internet use and Alone time.
So what is a Spanish study?
I believe you sent me the Spanish study.
It was published in November twenty twenty two, very recent.
These researchers used the random deployment of Fiber, Optic, internet, cables across Spanish provinces between 2007 and 2019.
Pretty ingenious to analyze, whether the introduction of high-speed internet had any correlation with mental health cases, among adolescents and of course, they found that.
Yes, it did reading from the abstract quote, we Oh, that high-speed internet, increases addictive, internet use and significantly decreases time, spent sleeping doing homework and socializing with family and friends girls power, all these effects and quote.
So this is a part of what I would describe as a rising mountain of evidence that suggests that the combination of Internet social media, screens has an overall negative effect on sleeping time and overall negative effect on Using time and that girls young.
Women seem to suffer the worst of these effects in terms of mental health.
There’s also a famous study from, I believe the Stanford Economist Matthew against CAO who paid people to deactivate Facebook several years ago for four weeks, yeah, before the 2018 midterm elections, and he found that, if you if you force people, you pay them to deactivate Facebook.
They’ll become a little less aware of the news.
They will reduce their online activity.
They will actually spend a little bit more time watching TV alone.
They’ll spend a little bit more time socializing with friends and family and when you stop paying them they’ll they’ll continue to not use Facebook as much as they previously did.
And there’s a couple of interesting implications of this study.
One of them is that Facebook seems to be a little bit compulsive.
If you pay someone to stop using it, they stopped using it for longer than you.
Keep paying them because you’re aligning their actual You’re with their hope for Behavior.
But also, it seems like like there’s a little bit of a trade-off effect between using Facebook and actually socializing with family and friends.
If you pay people to stop using social media, they actually stopped using social media and actually socialize.
So, to sort of randomized or the or controlled experiments that go to this outcome before we move on to any other explanations.
Any last words that you want to tack on to this fact of Technology, use and aloneness.
Well, I’ll just have the other Jen’s cow and Olcott study on, you know, they actually envisioned it.
They also did another additional experiment, they pay people to put an app on their phones, which limited how much time they could spend on any social media platform or the internet.
And what they found is that a third of the time people spend on the phone, as the appearance of being addiction, right?
So is that people will basically said, oh, I can set these limits, I will pay you effectively to limit Time not allowed me to be on the phone and so, you know it they didn’t find as much of an effect on time socializing, find a little bit, but not huge, but the fact that a third of the time, spent on your phone appears to be something that I don’t want, and is a self control problem.
Suggest that, you know, again if I can solve the self-control problem, not may open up the bandwidth to allow people to go out into the real world and see their friends.
So I’ll throw that one on there as well as you know, At least somewhat of evidence about technology is part of the issue that we’re dealing.
All just seems like such an interesting monkey’s, paw effect.
This fact that look, I love streaming TV.
I love Twitter.
I love like the access to news and information.
I mean, just being able to do this podcast alone.
We’re talking over.
Zoom, I did all of my research, not in a library, but on a Computer screen on my phone pulling up just tabs and tabs of information.
I mean there’s this amazing and just fascinating interplay between the extraordinary convenience of goods and information made possible by the internet.
And the fact that when you add it all up, one of the things that necessarily has to suffer is time spent with other people and you get too much of what you hope for and it has all these deleterious effects.
It just it just does seem to be this this unfortunate.
Tyranny of this age of digital abundance.
I feel like we’ve been through this.
We’ve seen this movie many times, right?
You know, go back to the 30s, it’s a lot of the chemicals that we, you know, produce that had all these wonderful properties.
And then it turns out, oh, they create pollution and then you know, we go through, I don’t know, we’ve gone through these Cycles where we do something and it has real benefits.
And at the time we were really excited to see that we did it.
And it’s only over the long term that we start to see what we gave up to get those benefits because the Cost these costs are not immediately obvious, right?
It takes time.
And, you know, and I was like, I said they maybe aren’t even that big right?
We don’t know what the marginal effect of this lost time with friends, has it seems like it’s bad but we don’t we haven’t put all of it together yet.
But you know, or, you know, I guess, you know, maybe it’s kind of like, smoking, right?
Like, you know, it’s smoking starts off.
Hey, this is great.
You should do.
This makes me feel better and then Italy. 30, 40, 50, 60 years, down the road, we go.
Hopefully we’re just getting to the oh, this is bad early enough that we can start both changing the media and the technology that we’re facing but also change the humans so that we’re better users of it so that we can get the benefits hopefully because you’re absolutely right.
All of the stuff that the internet allows pretty great.
But if it’s coming at a cost that I’m going to only feel 50 years down the road when I don’t have social support because I haven’t invested my social network, or I get a worse job because I didn’t find out about the better job because that came from friends, you know, to the extent that we’re missing out on the real benefits of social relationships.
Ideally, we got to figure out how to, how to strike the balance.
So that we allocate our bandwidth and ways.
That leave us individually better off but also again relationships is two-sided.
There’s a benefit to others.
If I don’t choose to go to a party it’s not just a loss for me.
It’s a loss because I might have provided something to that party or I might have, you know what, we all engage in social activity.
It helps build the robust social environment, that makes it easier for us.
All to participate.
We have more social skills were better at talking to each other.
We know how to do it.
We have Manners and customs and Norms about how it’s supposed to be.
And I feel like part of, that’s what we’re losing.
And that’s where, you know, again these are my concerns but, you know, hopefully, we can figure it all out because I’m not saying I want to give up streaming.
I’m not saying I want to give up, you know, time alone, you know, that’s, you know, beneficial to me.
I want to find the balance that allows me to create the best relationships for me, and for society.
But also don’t necessarily mean that We can no longer get all.
How do I learn about all these studies that I’ve been citing to you.
They come across my Twitter feed, right, you know, it’s, you know, it would be a lot more work for me to like and again, I have the internet, I can still do it, but it’s a whole lot easier for me to say oh that person tweets.
That lots of interesting studies.
Let me follow them.
And the last point I want to make on this because I want to end on thinking.
Well what if it’s not technology at all?
What if it’s some other factor that we haven’t accounted for yet?
It’s very difficult in the want to know when your aloneness is a creating to loneliness like the to have that sort of second-by-second self-awareness to know the very the very minute that your internet use is a is tipping toward loneliness rather than merely productive lowness.
It’s very difficult.
It requires like almost superheroic self-knowledge and that’s why I think it’s so much easier to lean into the convenience than to build this kind of hyper. - 4 is this behavior that I’m doing now?
Good for me in the days and weeks to come.
Let’s flip this whole thing on its head.
Let’s say that, actually, you and I are utterly wrong.
This is not a tech story at all it.
Like all of these studies that find as the as the gents case study found that take only has a small effect size on overall aloneness or overall loneliness that they’re all true.
It’s not a tech story.
It’s something else.
Like what do you think is most likely to be that something else?
Else that is driving aloneness.
Let me draw up a quick menu for you and you can pick from that many year ago off-menu.
We know that especially last two years covid.
Fears have clearly increased aloneness, that’s obvious.
Maybe they’re also safety fears.
Not only our own safety, but our children’s safety.
We’ve seen a rise in accommodative parenting this term.
That means essentially, you know, bubble wrapping your kids rather than having to sort of latchkey kid approach to Parenting where you Kids do whatever may be changes in parenting, and changes and individuals own sense of safety is causing us to spend more time alone and encouraging our children to be alone.
More, maybe it’s a macroeconomic story, maybe in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
People, sort of pulled back and we saw sort of and accreting effective.
You know, of aloneness and anti-social behaviour come out of the Great Recession.
Maybe it’s a housing Theory of Everything Story, the fact that we’re not building enough homes, In downtown areas, forcing more people to move out to the suburbs and the exurbs, and is more people live further apart.
They’re separated not by sidewalks, but by highway is and so they spend more time alone rather than with their friends.
So that’s my menu of non Tech options.
What do you find plausible?
What else do you want to put on the menu?
Okay, can I go back to my simple model, right?
So first question is, what are the benefits that I’m aware of and can, you know, latch onto really quickly, right?
And, you know, just the pleasure of spending time with friends, I don’t think that’s changed.
I don’t see any evidence that that’s changed, but some of the, you know, the support that I might have in the past gotten from friends, that has really changed over the very long term will call this the abundance or the, you know, the post materialists Theory, right?
Which is I used to need to borrow the lawn mower from my neighbor now, As a reminder or, you know, I don’t borrow a cup of sugar from my neighbor I just stupidly drive to the store and get it on my own because we kind of gotten rid of some of these, these Norms of kind of sharing and what kind of supports we extract from others in a very materialistic sense, right?
So that would be one potential change.
I don’t see why that’s changed in 10 years.
I see why that’s changed over 50 years but, you know, maybe the other side then is the cost right house.
Has the cost of spending time with others changed and certainly that’s where the technology piece comes in.
The opportunity cost of going out used to be well I was just sitting at home alone.
Now I’m giving up watching the latest thing that I’m binging but but you know it seems like what’s changed in that realm, you know, maybe that’s some of the safety concerns that people have maybe there’s you know, Greater expectation of what you’re supposed to bring to a social engagement at this point?
I don’t know.
That would be another one.
I don’t think that we can point to something and say, Oh, I have to work more hours or because we’re not working substantially more hours or we’re not working substantially more stressful jobs.
If you look at like the General Social Survey on how stressful is your job, it hasn’t really trended at all, you know?
So I don’t see the bandwidth, you know, the my capacity part of it that seems relatively humans are humans.
I don’t think that there’s something that’s taxing my capacity in ways, that, that would make sense to me, but But like I say, in the article, like my main point is, here’s a fact, it seems like a troubling fact, we should really.
I’m hoping that some people will go out and say we should understand this fact, more.
We should really understand the effects of the of this change first.
And then to the extent that we don’t like the effects, we really do want to pinpoint, what’s causing it because that’s what we have to then try and design policies if we’re going to try and address it because You know, it could be a lot of different things that I haven’t thought about.
You know, I just know that the trend changed and when I saw the trend, it made my stomach.
Go feel a little queasy.
Yeah, mine too.
That’s basically where I’m at.
This strikes me as bad and I can I know enough, because I been in this space for a long time, to know that social relationships are important.
And I know enough to know that, you know, spending time alone can be counterproductive.
So we got to figure out this out.
But that’s really all I’m at.
And so hopefully other people can listen to this, read the article and then you know, certain noodling on it and we’ll get new papers here in six months about.
Here’s what’s driving it.
And here’s how bad it is and we’ll be able to then say, Oh great.
Here’s what we can fix.
I think that’s that’s a great place to end.
You know, my final thought here is let’s end where we started.
Let’s end with what we know for sure.
We know that alone - is Rising.
We know that alone time is rising.
We know the time spent with friends is declining for just about every single demographic that we can measure.
We also know that loneliness is rising for many demographics, and that anxiety, and depression is rising specifically for young people.
I think, as a way of a final thought, I think that we have technology that is made it easier to be with friends, without being literally with friends.
And we’ve been judged on this inferior.
The virtual experience of being with people at the long-term price of investing in relationships and that that has led to more time alone, less time in spaces with people, and that most importantly, overall, that is lead us to be more.
Vulnerable to the stresses of life because and I’ve mentioned this in the another podcast, in a way, our relationships are a kind of social vaccine there, a vaccine against the inevitable malady that is the stresses and sadness is of life, and when we don’t sort of stay up on our booster shots, we don’t hang out with people and invest in friendships and build really strong long-term relationships and inevitably something bad happens to us.
Something terrible happens in our family lives.
Challenging happens in our work life.
Something happens in our marriage or in some other friendship.
If we haven’t invested in those physical world relationships, it’s just harder to lean on them when we’re distressed and so that that’s one of my big picture Roundup of what we’re seeing.
And why I think you are peace was such an important data point to put in here because it says, we know for a fact that at the center of all of this very complex social phenomenon, we know that aloneness is rising.
This has been great price for it.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for having me.
Thank you for listening.
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