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Before you continue reading this text, pause and answer these questions. How many people have I had a good time with? Which friends didn’t measure up? Or, have you been the one who has disconnected from others? All the answers lead to the same theme: loneliness. But beyond the particular, the 21st century can be the century of loneliness. So believes the English economist Noreena Hertz, who writes for leading English and American newspapers. Aimar Bretos interviews the author of “The Century of Solitude”.

the business of loneliness

Loneliness is a succulent business. For example, in New York an economy of loneliness has already been established. I hired the services of Brittany, a friend for hire that I found on a website, where there were 600,000 ‘friends’ to choose from. At first I was dubious about the purpose of renting from such a friend, but the purposes seemed or were legitimate. I did it and I went to have a coffee with my paying friend, we went to see books, to see clothes and the truth is, the feeling was like being with a friend. In the end, when the three hours were up, I had to pay him $120. I asked him what the people who required his services were like and he told me that they were professionals between 30 and 40 years old from the financial, technological or consulting sectors. These are people who work long hours, who don’t have time to make friends, who have moved to Manhattan and don’t know anyone, etc.

Loneliness, a threat to health

Our body evolves and gives alarm signals when we feel alone. It raises our blood pressure, our heart rate, our cortisol. This gives the body a signal that something is not right. What happens in contemporary life is that this situation goes on for too long and that is bad for our health. Loneliness has a worse impact on our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness costs the UK two billion euros. The economic impact focuses on the burden of loneliness on the healthcare sector because loneliness increases our risk of heart attack or stroke by 30 percent. Additionally, workers who feel lonely are less motivated, less productive, and more likely to leave the company.

a global problem

In the UK, one in eight adults say they have no close friends. In the United States, three out of five adults say they feel lonely. In Spain, four out of five young people between the ages of 18 and 25 say they feel alone, which is something global that will affect us all. In recent decades, neoliberalism has created a mentality in which we stop valuing kindness, taking care of each other, and more value is given to competitiveness, to aggressiveness.

Is loneliness reversible?

The companies that manage social networks are largely responsible for the rise of loneliness in recent decades. These companies are like the tobacco companies of the 20th century and governments must also refinance infrastructure for the community, such as libraries or parks.

There are things that we can do, for example, take our phones away to be more present when we are with our family or friends, because we are all guilty of not being present with them because of these mobile phones. One day a week I put my mobile devices away and I’m more present with the people I love. We can also spend 30 seconds of our time talking to the postman or the person who serves us at the bar. That 30-second chat can make a world of difference in reconnecting with each other.

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