Changed World: Coping with the new trend of “Desocialisation”

Written by Lara Just – December 2020…

This year has been a challenge for many – to say the least and this is probably even an understatement at large. I don’t write blog articles very often, and when I do I like to use either themes that come up in my clinical practice with clients or something that I find interesting at the time. At the moment the themes in general seem to be around loneliness, social isolation and with this also procrastination and lack of motivation. There has been a notable shift to those themes with many of my clients over the past nine months. I too have felt it, and so have some of my colleagues and friends as they shared their own struggles and those of their clients. What also may be happening on the collective level is what I like to call ‘desocialisation’, something that affects us all, and particularly after the events of this year in 2020…

Pondering about the themes in my clinical practice and what to write about, I found that there are now many recent articles with many useful links dealing with the topics and especially around ‘how to cope with loneliness during lockdown’. This may include the usual top 10 or top 50 tips. Among them taking baths, reading books, watching movies, getting outside, reaching out to old friends, doing more online and digital socialisation etc. etc. etc.

All the things that most of us are already aware of and perhaps even practice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s what we need or that it will alleviate that which is more and more felt – perhaps on an entire ‘collective level’.

Somehow, despite all this wonderful advice and all the self-care activities, many still can’t shake the sense of lack of motivation, low energy, frustration, and sadness.

What is happening then on the collective level? Other than everyone obviously going through the different COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions in their own various ways? Is there perhaps also something else?

I think there is something else, and it started happening before COVID-19. And I would like to describe it as the process of ‘desocialisation’.

This trend has happened with an exponential increase already after the millennia with advancements in technology and the onset of social media popularity. But due to the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic this recently even more so.

Considering the measures this year: staying in our homes, keeping physical distance, increased physical human social isolation for many, wearing masks in public, increase in technology use for working and shopping from home, staying connected and so on.

For me the term ‘desocialisation’ makes sense, perhaps because I took it from a translation in my mind from my native language German.

But this may be a made-up word, so I looked it up.

And I was in fact surprised that very little can be found under this term, and the main things that are out there have so far been used in a slightly different context.  

  • The official Merriam-Webster definition is “the deprivation of the capacity for social intercourse”.  Interesting choice of words; and just in case you were wondering, “social intercourse” means predominantly communication or ‘intercommunication’ between individuals, whereby this describes a relationship of significance, not an impersonal one.
  • Wikipedia only comes up with two music albums, one of them of a heavy metal genre…
  • And the Oxford Dictionary describes desocialisation as “the process by which an individual experiences role loss and an accompanying loss of associated power or prestige (for example, following retirement from a sport). The individual may experience a loss of social identity resulting in an identity crisis, loss of peer status, loss of self-image and self-esteem, and have difficulty finding a substitute activity or another peer group.”
  • Elsewhere the term ‘desocialisation’ is also described as “the process by which earlier socialisation is undone”.

So, this seemed to get a little closer to the meaning of what I was looking for. The fast-tracked and increased digital socialisation esp. over the past nine months could also be seen as our new fast-tracked process of personal desocialisation.

I looked up if there were any academic articles or books on the topic. I could not find much on Google Scholar. On Amazon, not much came up either except one single book by a British historian, social commentator and Christian author in 2009 on the critique of post-modernity. It surprised me that it had even been translated into four different major languages.

This and anal cream for haemorrhoids treatment and other random products on Amazon (…this is true – do your own search on Amazon!).

Similarly, and oddly, if you try the American spelling ‘desocialization’, equally nothing comes up, other than a MP3 download, loads of disinfectants, cream for vaginal dryness, Caraway essential oil and a plastic face visor amongst the most random things….

Though this seems perhaps amusing, I think you will see perhaps the same if you try searching this term on Amazon. I wondered at first if it was an odd programming or some random search optimised algorithm… but I am 100% sure I had not searched for any of the named random products nor did someone have access to my laptop or Amazon ID to do so. I thought it funny at first; yet it proves actually the point I am trying to make with what has been and is happening to us.

Coming back to why this topic is relevant for this year is probably best explained by way of the one book that I did find on Amazon (see here). It seemed in fact to come closest to what my search for meaning was around the term ‘desocialisation’.

The book explores themes around our cultural and common values from which our past societal bonds and relational ties stem from. However, things these days have changed.

  • Though the author focusses on British culture and society this trend can be seen across the world. With the change of our society and lack of these former common values and relational ties, the author argues that a society would be nothing more than the sum of its parts (or members).
  • “People no longer know their neighbours, lose contact with their families and pursue their own ends without regard for the common good. All manner of social ills, moral and behavioural disorders then ensue.” The author M. Fforde describes this current trend and as a result of what is called post-modernism.
  • “People then become isolated, insecure and self-ish” (perhaps here also meaning self-serving, self-dependent).

In psychology we know that this phenomenon can lead to loneliness.

Loneliness seems to be a modern epidemic in itself on a large scale and a sign of our current times.

There are many studies on this now one study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology evidenced social media use with increased feelings depression and loneliness. The study recommends reducing social media exposure to a maximum of 30 minutes per day to help reduce this effect.

In Psychology Today was an interesting article on why a “social media break” may be necessary and good for our mental health and social life (have a look here if you are interested in finding out how to start). But there are now many articles out there on the topic, calling it a social media ‘break’, ‘cleanse’, ‘detox’, or ‘diet’, you name it.

However, it needs to be balanced of course, as the need for connection with others, is one of the main reasons for social media use! That during this process we are becoming more ‘disconnected’ and lonely was perhaps unexpected…

I recently watched the movie “A Social Dilemma, a documentary-drama hybrid made in 2020 (!). Somehow, it has passed may of us by unnoticed. But it’s available for free on Netflix. I recommend watching it. In its 1h 34m it explores the “dangerous human impact of social media and networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations” with many former employees of the very big top named companies). If you are interested, find the trailer here. It’s worth a watch.

So this trend of personal desocialisation on the on end versus digital socialisation on the other seemed at first a blessing, and advancement, and beneficial to our development. But it now seems to be the major contributor to chronic feelings of loneliness.

This is not to sound all doom and gloom with something that will continue its tidal wave with the younger generations at its front lead. It is just to understand what is going on for us and what is perhaps felt on a collective level. Enhanced and accelerated by the events of this year, but having started already long before.

Having lived in the large multi-culture metropolitan city of London for a decade and a half, I already experienced the paradoxical sense of loneliness despite living amongst millions of people. Or because of it they way things have changed. I also thought that by moving to the countryside all this will change. The old village values will still be there and upheld.

But it has not been quite like that either. Yes, for sure there is more talking and knowing thy neighbours, but also here in a remote place of Somerset, people talk about the change. How there were village parties and festivities at multiple intervals throughout the year. People got to know each other and formed and maintained strong bonds. This isn’t happening anymore I was told by people having lived here for many decades. Though, apart from a sweet attempt to get people together this Christmas for a charity sponsored two hour carol singing afternoon – with some safely wrapped minced pie and socially distanced outside.

Part of the reasons named were ‘strangers’ moving in from the outside, e.g. mainly London, well that would be me then, I nodded slowly to that comment feeling a light red blush of shame creep up my neck. That and the general changes, we are all so busy in our own worlds, have less time, and use technology to achieve more and fast, including working and shopping and ordering things online and chat online…

Can we do anything about this ever bigger getting tidal wave at all?

Perhaps it seems impossible – yet we still can. We can choose to shut of the screen more. We can choose to go outside more. Even getting a dog if we have the option in our living arrangements and surroundings. That can get people talking again – and exercising. Is it ok to reach out to neighbours? Can we ignore a grumpy glare and do it anyway, finding perhaps that people can and do warm up to each other? Could we bake or make something and just generously share it with a neighbour sparing a few minutes to ask how they are? Do we find that time to do that over these holidays and even beyond?

If we struggle ourselves, can we reach out to someone? A friend? A family member? Can you find a place to just get outside and walk a bit? See different sceneries, see some greens, some trees if you find access to it? And when you pass someone to say hi and have a small exchange?

This is by no means easy in the current climate where in various regions the different Tiers will currently dictate the rules of engagement and publicly accessible places including bars, restaurants, café and public parks. But we need to try and do the best to find ways to get outside and interact in person if we can. Consider a social media break this Christmas, to some extent – establishing better virtual and digital boundaries as esp. around social media sites if possible. But setting up live meetings or connections as needed.

Falling too far into the screen virtual world and social media inside our cosy warmed homes could in the end make it much harder a habit to get back to engaging more live and in the moment with human-to-human relations. As many challenges that may bring that we can avoid perhaps with the digital screen and shut off button, it is still how we are wired by evolution, and what our psyche needs included in every day to stay healthy.

Feeling happier and healthier, by moving outdoors and engaging more ‘in live ways’ will also impact our immune system positively.

Something that we all need the most of right now.

Warmest wishes (digitally but meant personally…) for the season.

If you have any comments to this article, feel free to get in touch and contact me.