Of frogs and loneliness

There is a widely used anecdote about boiling a frog.  If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump straight out.  But if you put it in a pot of cold water and heat it up slowly, it will not realise what is happening and will not be able to get out in time.  It will be boiled alive.

The risks concealed in slow, gradual change can easily be missed.

In his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, political scientist Robert Putnam documents increasing loneliness in American society and how it impacts the social and political structures of the country.  Noreena Hertz’s new book The Lonely Century examines the same social problem twenty years on, and more recently exacerbated by the pandemic.

Globally, two in five workers feel lonely at work (pre-pandemic) and this rises to three in five in Britain.  In addition, gig economy workers have insecure incomes and not a lot of colleague companionship.  Smartphones result in people enjoying entertainment alone and engaging with others only remotely (although this connectivity has been beneficial during the pandemic).

Rising loneliness is a complex risk which is hard to detect and whose impacts are hard to measure on an organisation’s colleagues and customers in their everyday lives.  However, it is known that loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, strokes and dementia.  Lonely people can also become hostile towards the few people they do interact with, and they are also more attracted to extremist politics which may then have further, consequent impacts on society.

Turning this risk around would appear to require a move back to a more communal society in whatever way is possible before the frog is boiled alive.

Data Sources: The Whack Pack – Roger von Oech, The Economist magazine, The Lonely Century – Noreena Hertz

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