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Is Modern Isolation the Cause of Unhappiness?

Cubicles... what happens when you mix hive mentality with an office space.

Cubicles... what happens when you mix hive mentality with an office space.

In the Beginning...

When our ancestors took their first steps upon this planet they were immediately recognizable as a gregarious species, a living being that needs to be in fairly constant contact with others of it's kind. In fact this might be the reason we are equipped with bigger brains and higher IQs in comparison to the planet's other more solitary creatures.

Scientists have long said that social and semi social species often have enormous benefits from their herd mentality. Of course there is protection in numbers but some animals also gained better communication skills, larger brains, and a better ability to adapt. Wolves, lions, orcas and many other social species had to learn how to communicate with each other and organize a hunt. This is far more difficult than it might seem, particularly the more animals you add to the equation. Wolves are far smarter than dogs which have the intelligence of a young wolf puppy all the way through adulthood. Is this a coincidence? Probably not.

Having stated this we know that people in all cultures have always relied upon each other, their community, for survival and socialization. Rarely have there been documented cases of people living completely and utterly on their own without any help from others. It's a strong bond we hold, even to strangers, when we find ourselves isolated.

It makes sense we'd be social. In a lot of ways we all make each other's lives easier. People go to their jobs and help the world and all its human systems run with efficiency. Although few of us farm anymore we can still usually obtain food grown by the labor of others. We can also achieve great things talking to each other and adding upon old ideas to make even better ideas.

It all sounds very harmonious but is it really? Are we missing something in our lives? Are our communities shrinking in the modern age? Are we part of the whole or merely a mass of individuals out for ourselves and no one else?

Primitive Cultures

Primitive cultures and tribes still exist across the world in various remote locations. People who live in these tribes are normally fiercely loyal to each other, even if they are perfect stranger so long as they are part of the same tribe. We as a species have come up with thousands of ways to tell each other apart by community standards. Many tribes still tattoo and scarify each other to signify they are one of the clan, and they can never escape from this.

Gender roles and family units in these cultures seem to be far less defined then in our own Western culture. The raising of children, their education and protection does not normally fall solely on the mother or even the mother and the father; instead they are the responsibility of the entire community. The live, grow up, and learn under the careful guidance of everyone who is around them. If their parents lack in parental skills in one way or another they are free to seek others who can provide what they need, be it emotional support or a wise word.

This is a world in which community is at the most importance. Individuals are seen as contributors and it's less likely these people will create their own class systems outside of the basic leader/follower complex. There is rarely a lower, middle, and upper class. Everyone must carry their own load, share in the work, and share in the benefits of their community. To separate yourself from the community or to be shunned would either mean a slow and painful death or at the very least a much harder life.

Nuclear families are those that have a husband, wife, and children. They are traditional to the Western world but are not the oldest form of family.

Nuclear families are those that have a husband, wife, and children. They are traditional to the Western world but are not the oldest form of family.

The Birth of the Nuclear Family

The birth of the nuclear family and the start of larger western civilizations probably went hand and hand. With more people coming into contact with each other from farther distances things like disease became more of a problem. Also with the influences of other cultures and the burst in population people began to separate, to believe in different things, and to form smaller tribes within larger communities. Because of all this provisions had to be made for the children. They were no longer the responsibility of the entire community (which could now teach them all sorts of contradicting things) but instead they became the responsibility of solely their mothers. In time realizations and opinions came to be formed that the children's father should also be responsible for their upbringing in which case moral law changed. It is only at this point in history that virginity, separation of the sexes, and marriage took on any significance at all.

With two parents these new nuclear families could take on the world. They could believe what they wanted to believe and be their own tiny tribe with their own cultural differences. Children born into these families were born into a new rigidity. No longer were they able to go elsewhere to seek what they were lacking in their lives, instead they were stuck with the families they were born into, regardless of personality or effectiveness of the family unit.

Proper Victorian ladies did not socialize much with the menfolk, instead they kept each other company - sometimes even after marriage.

Proper Victorian ladies did not socialize much with the menfolk, instead they kept each other company - sometimes even after marriage.

Separation of the Sexes and a New Moral Code

In Western Society Christianity took hold and a new moral code appeared. No longer was it considered safe to live among the temptation of the opposite sex and so women started to live in female communities and men in male communities. Women stayed at home, took care of hearth and home, and raised the children. Men went out to work with other men to bring home money to support their families. Husbands spent much less time with their wives and children then they did with their male co-workers.

A strange thing happened. Marriage, which was supposed to be the celebration of intimacy, turned into business arrangements. No longer was it necessary for a couple to love each other. The only thing that mattered was that the said couple produce as many children as they could. Of course loveless relationships could turn loving in time, but rarely were they intimate on a spiritual and emotional level. Instead women who were chained to hearth and home learned to seek comfort, advice, and general sociability with other women in the community. They would get together for feasts, festivals, quilting bees, or whatever they could come up with. Men on the other hand got most of what they needed from the male world beyond the doors of the home.

Children learned to rely on their mothers and each other before they too would be thrust into the now separated world. Elaborate moral codes held these practices in place. It was God's law that women, men, and children should all live almost exclusively separate lives. This way far fewer unwanted children would be produced in this respectable world.

Child labor was popular in factories where they could be paid very little and forced to work for up to 16 hours at a stretch.

Child labor was popular in factories where they could be paid very little and forced to work for up to 16 hours at a stretch.

The Coming of the Industrial Revolution

In time the industrial revolution came to the world and changed it forever. Instead of working on ships and farms men were now moving to the city and working in factories. Women used to country life found themselves in cramped quarters trying to raise their young in peace. When ends meet could not be made women eventually found themselves working for the first time in factories only with other women. Children too found themselves weaving between large machines, helping their fathers mine coal, and doing grueling jobs most adults could not bear. A normal work day for everyone involved could be as much as sixteen hours. Individuals in a family now rarely saw each other. Most came home too exhausted to want to socialize or learn in any way shape or form.

Schools became popular in the same time period and were vastly popular after child labor laws left many little ones without proper supervision during the day. In these schools part of the raising on the children (their education and sometimes their faith) was placed into the hands of strangers for the first time since the advent of the nuclear family.

Some schools went so far as to take the children to dorms and separate them completely from their family for months at a time. These were often the privileged but they too were in separate worlds. Boys went to academies, girls to dame schools. No longer were children allowed to grow with the companionship of their siblings. Now they found themselves separated from everyone except those of the same sex.

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Is the internet ruining face-to-face interactions and general human sociability? Some feel it is.

Is the internet ruining face-to-face interactions and general human sociability? Some feel it is.

The Modern Age

Today much has changed. The sexes no longer live exclusively apart. Women have joined the workforce, politics, and the world at large. They even work and become educated alongside their male counterparts. Children however have faired little better. Although same-sex schools and factory work are no longer part of their lives they still suffer from lack of choice in their life. They are stuck with whoever is currently taking care of them.

Now instead of being the sole responsibility of mothers and fathers children can find themselves in the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles, or others. Sometimes this provides stability but other times it does anything but. The worst off are those tossed from foster home to foster home with no sense of stability at all. These children learn to be individuals against the world, becoming attached to no one, and learning to be strong without first learning to be weak.

As we grow we still insist upon nuclear families. Many of us marry and have children who we however subconsciously consider our property. How dare anyone else step in and tell little Johnny or Sue that what he or she is doing is wrong? That is the sole job of the parents and no one else!

STill we try to do our best. If at some point we stop loving our spouses, hating them even, a lot of us still stay in the relationship "for the children" bogging ourselves down in eternal unhappiness and unwittingly dooming the children to repeat our own shortcomings. Men and women alike throw themselves into work, charity, or other activities, any excuse not to come home. Children are left with sitters, nannies, and daycare centers. Somehow as we juggle our lives we often loose complete touch with our spouses, our children, our friends, and those we love. We become so involved in our own day to day business we forget to stop, to breathe, to take a moment to spend some time with each other.

Parents even push their own children into this isolated overworked lifestyle from the time they hit elementary school on. Between soccer and drama and the bake sale and the three other sports teams little Junior has been "encouraged" to sign up for by mom and pop, he doesn't even know what he likes anymore! The children aren't even given the decency and respect of deciding for themselves what they truly enjoy and what they're just doing to impress those all too distant parental units.

Children grow older, more independent, and then they discover the internet. Chat services like AIM and Yahoo promise to let them reach halfway across the world to meet someone living there and learn about their ways of life. Although this is true that is not to say it doesn't come at a price. Now our teenagers have finally grown up a little and cursed out dear mom and dad, told them basketball was not their game. After that they come home and sit alone in their rooms, tapping at the keyboard, staring at the letters coming up on the scream or playing games in solitude. By becoming more communal we've also made ourselves more isolated then ever before. We are no longer one in a community but rather one against the world.

We are so out of touch with our own nature that when we do find companionship we often have no idea how to deal with it and invite even more chaos into our daily lives. Is it at all surprising that teenagers find comfort in sex? It's a connection to another human being! Should we really be angry at them when they come home, wait four hours for their parents to arrive, and then let everyone know they've screwed up and they're going to be a new and horrendously underequipped mommy or daddy? Perhaps if we found other ways to teach them love, acceptance, and human connection they wouldn't seek out these reckless behaviors. As a human we all desire and need to be loved, however wrongly that may turn out.

Is this all there is? Is this how humanity will end? Is there no turning back or are we heading for an even more desolate existence?

If you found this article interesting you may like these other articles by Theophanes:

The History of Modern Marriage

Do Neglected Children Suffer More Brain Damage than Abuse Victims?

Is Marketing to Teens, Children, and Even Babies Ethical?

Are Artistic Personalities Prone to Flirting with Disaster?

Why do Most Cultures Have Flood Myths and Stories?


More from this Author:


Catching Marbles - A New England based travel blog

Tales from the Birdello - For all homesteading and farming matters

Deranged Thoughts from a Cluttered Mind - For funny personal anecdotes


Through the Looking Glass Farm

Typhani Brooks - Artist




Jay on September 12, 2014:

Good article, but I would like to make some corrections. Marriage for love is a modern idea, particularly a modern western idea. While feelings of romantic love appear to be universal to humans, marriage for love is not. This is not to say that love has no place in marriage, but love is not seen as the meaning or purpose of marriage. Do you really think that an institution that has been so central to social organization across cultures was invented solely or mainly for the celebration of romance? Men created marriage in order to regulate the responsibilities and obligations that accompany procreation and to create social, political and economic bonds between families. No social institution can be founded on something as whimsical and idiosyncratic as romantic love. In traditional cultures, families and communities share the responsibility of finding a suitable spouse for a member.

The idea that proper women should be virgins before marriage predates Christianity. The Romans revered female chastity so much that they created a religious sect known as the vestal virgins. Becoming a housewife was the expected role for proper women in ancient Athens and housewives were kept in seclusion. In poor households, housewives would also assist with the finances by working as a wet-nurse, mid-wife or small-time market trader. Virtually all cultures put more emphasis on regulating the sexuality of women than regulating the sexuality of men. The main reason for this should be obvious but it has been all but lost due to the sexual liberation movement. The main reason why traditional societies put more emphasis on regulating the sexuality of women than men is because women get pregnant. Furthermore, women have to carry a child for nine months before giving birth and human children must be taken care of for a long time before they can fend for themselves. Regulating the sexuality of women is more necessary in agrarian and pastoral societies than hunter-gatherer societies because those societies require more order.

Urban populations are impersonally large. In a small village, everyone knows everyone. It is impossible to know even half of the people living in a town or a city. This creates a bit of distrust between residents of urban areas. Urban areas are places of commerce and trade, so they tend to be more economically and culturally diverse than rural areas. This creates a more competitive atmosphere. It is also creates more distrust as more people look differently, behave differently, speak differently and think differently.

Modern industrial society and communications technologies have significantly damaged communal and familial relations. More often than not, we work outside of our communities and homes. We don't live in real communities anymore. We live in impersonal social networks. We need a social, cultural and economic revolution to humanize our lives.

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on August 13, 2012:

Huxley is actually famous for dystopian novels, not utopian, he only wrote one of those (the one I mentioned.) I've always been enamored with his views that humanity as a whole is usually pretty flawed - especially when we're trying to make things perfect. In any event next time you should mention what you are referring to... I read your comment a couple times and thought you were referring to me. (Though now I know you are referring to Huxley I have to laugh deeply as he was one of the most educated men in Europe in his time. He came from a family of scientists who were just brilliant. His grandfather was an anatomist that is just now being proved correct in some of his theories about birds...) In any event thanks for stopping b y for the correction and for the comments. I appreciate it.

Kathryn L Hill from LA on August 13, 2012:

I was certainly not name calling! So sorry! No, I was talking about A. Huxley! He is way too Utopian for me. We have human natures that must be dealt with and considered realistically. I prefer Hume. No, I enjoyed your very informative hub... until you mentioned that author... Huxley.

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on August 13, 2012:

Did you just call me an ignorant author? I was fine with reading your opinion on my piece until in the last line when you went from stating your opinion to petty name calling. You're better than that. Calling people names who do not agree with you is NOT a good moral. Any kindergartner would know that. It's call the Golden Rule (treat others as you wish to be treated) and has nothing to so with religion. You sounded so eloquent until then but totally disappointed me in how you ended it.

Kathryn L Hill from LA on August 12, 2012:

The only thing we need in life are boundaries we willingly follow, established for our own benefit. ( The Ten Commandments are good boundaries. ) Children are loved by their own parents. No one else can love your child the way you do... no one. It is up to the adults to manage their lives and get along with each other. Children by nature, follow their parents, and live what they learn from their home environment. If the parents operate according to solid morals and values the children will absorb them. When the whole of society operates according to morals and values, a prosperous society will manifest, despite the influence of technology! Common Sense is needed more than the philosophies of ignorant authors. Just my opinion. Thank you for letting me respond.

celeBritys4africA from Las Vegas, NV on May 27, 2011:

It's really sad...but is our reality. One vote up for an amazing hub.

Multiman on March 04, 2011:

Great article and useful information!

rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on October 22, 2009:

so pleased to found this treasure while browsing hubs. this is certainly one of the most insightful hubs I've read. love the intellectual bent, excellent.

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on September 18, 2009:

Interesting clip Jeffrey, though I have to disagree about the music part of it. The rest was insightful though.

I think this happened because the human tribe became too big, too diverse, with the creation of things like the Silk Road and the various ancient empires. There were two choices then... unite to become a body of one, or decide to break off into smaller and smaller groups, out of fear of change and diversity. I'm sad to say we seem to have chosen the latter.

Women's lib and the sexual revolution are touchy issues... First off I don't really believe there ever was a sexual revolution (people have been finding intimacy beyond marriage since... well, marriage was invented.) But women's lib is a bit different. I think it backlashed a bit... instead of freeing women it seems to have just loaded them with additional responsibility. The whole argument about having a choice between career or family is total BS. What happened is now if we wish to have children we're also expected to have jobs, instead of family or career, it's both! However this might be a step in the right direction because it's starting to lean towards the more primitive natural ways of living... what needs to change is the sharing of responsibility. Children should be all our responsibility in some way shape or form, not just their parents. We can free up a lot of our own personal time to do what we wish to do (hence decreasing isolation from the greater society beyond family) and raise better rounded children, provided there's no one in the community harming the children. There can be no tolerance for that.

Have you read Aldous Huxley's Island? It was Huxley's last novel before he died, a depiction of his idea of Utopia. It's not a "perfect" world. There are still flawed humans, even sociopaths, but the environment is different. People are encouraged to grow emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually in a totally different way, from childhood on. And then there's the end. I won't spoil it for you but Huxley remained true to his vision of the current state of humanity...

Thanks for dropping by Jeffrey! It's nice to have a discussion now and then!

Jeffrey on September 18, 2009:

It's nice to know someone feels the same way I do about modern isolation. Why do you think this happened? Is our prosperity our undoing? How do you feel women's lib and the sexual revolution play into this phenomenon? We are definitely in a pivotal time. You may want to check this out:

It touches upon many of these concepts.

ClaudiaP from California on January 30, 2009:

Good post! Sad but true! I know the past few years have brought along great progress technologically speaking, and at such a fast pace, but if we go deep down, to the core of our being, I wonder if we see a development there as well or if we are rather moving the other way. Are we happier than our ancestors were? Are we better on the whole? (not only technically, but mentally and spiritually?)

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