Are we a lonely generation? And if we are - then why? Is it a choice or a necessity, or both?
Recently, there has been wide media coverage of various challenges the current working generation- the millennials, faces. The most important being our economic and social welfare - both of which are closely linked. We earn less, have more debt, and are more likely to defer marriage 1. This is not surprising, considering standard labor market economics has long shown that wage depression and higher financial liability lead individuals to deprioritize social ties 2. However, this is a sub-optimal outcome considering that social ties are the most important predictor of longevity or life expectancy 3, often lead to better economic outcomes for individuals in the labor market 4,5, and are strongly related to upward social mobility 6. Then why do we do this? It seems irrational, given an easy enough choice. But for individuals in these situations, it feels murky and more like a vicious circle - where social isolation to prioritize economic opportunities does not come across as a choice but a necessity.
But then, are we forming no ties at all? That is not correct, either. This contradiction can be explained when we use instrumentality to characterize these social ties. In our hyper-networked world, we make time to form and maintain instrumental ties [where there is an exchange or an expectation of an exchange of economic value 7] at the expense of the non-instrumental ties 8 that get depreciated. And when we do spend time and effort on non-instrumental ties, we want to maximize our returns - no wonder we spend more time socializing in the virtual world than in the real world 9. Put one post, and you broadcast your feelings to many more people than you would otherwise [just as I am doing with this post :-D].
So is this the end of the road for us, then? Will we neither have the time nor the inclination to form real human connections? Will it always be an exchange rather than kinship and love cause there are no returns to these social ties?
I have thought about this a lot and still think about it, and I strongly believe that kinship and commitment are the glue that creates social cohesion, and missing this, the whole social structure will fall apart no matter how well we "cooperate" with each other. I also think it is the non-instrumental ties that increase our life expectancy and emotional well-being.
Now I know - I cannot change the social structure or norms. But I can follow my belief in my own life. So next time we meet - don't be a stranger. Say hello! I only expect you to be at my funeral - hoping you are still around by then cause it might be a long while ;-).
"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."
― Edward Everett Hale.
A more well-rounded conversation that came about 2 months after (31st March, 2023) I wrote my blog originally (26th January, 2023) : The friendship recession