Virtual Reality's Lonely Lifestyle; Rising Isolation Blamed on Net
Byline: Joanne Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do."
- from "One," by Three Dog Night, Top 40 hit, 1969
Pop sensation Britney Spears wanted to let the world know she doesn't have it all. "My loneliness is killing me," Miss Spears confessed in her hit song, "...Baby One More Time."
In a society where so much emphasis is placed on mass communication, it seems surprising that loneliness could be a major American ailment. Despite the burst of community exhibited all over the landscape after September 11, Americans seem to have moved back to a pre-attack mode.
Society has "basically returned to the status quo," says Mary Jo Marchionni, a career and personal coach in Havertown, Pa., who counsels clients about the matter.
The villain? Mrs. Marchionni blames the Internet.
"It allows us to be isolated from activities that once required participating in the world, such as grocery shopping," she says. "Things that used to seem like chores, like shopping, now are the avenues for getting out to see people."
Pundits are now talking about the general loneliness experienced by many Americans who have not been able to connect. Individualistic lifestyles are fodder for loneliness, they say. Examples:
*The handicapped man who, lacking any close friends, has amassed a houseful of books to keep him company.
*The busy, single career woman whose cats are the only creatures she gets to hold and caress.
*The important CEO whose job takes him hundreds of miles from his family and who hangs out at the office on Sundays just to have some human contact.
"Some people are willing to accept the price of loneliness for the freedom that they think they have," says Paula Danzinger, counselor and educator at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.
"Loneliness is not so much about being alone as it is about feeling alone. The feeling of not being understood, of not being supported, of not being cared about, can cause a person to feel much lonelier than if they were actually alone."
Johann Christoph Arnold, a New York author and social critic whose book, "Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life's Hells," came out in February, says Americans cannot seem to depend on others for even the smallest things.
"To me, loneliness is one of the greatest hells today's man can live in," he says. "Forget about the Information Age; we live in the age of loneliness."
His solution: Relying less on technology and more on people.
"The time we spend on the computer cuts down on the time we could devote to a spouse, child or co-worker who might be sitting right next to us," he says. "I wish the day would come that our technology would collapse, and instead of depending on the technology, we would depend on each other.
"Any act of love - reaching out to anyone from the taxi driver to the stranger on the street - will help to overcome loneliness in yourself," he says.
It's a medical fact that lonely people get sicker sooner, says Bruce Rabin, medical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's health-enhancement program. …