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Loneliness as a Disease: A Bird in Its Cage and the Effects of Consumerism

Loneliness as a Disease: A Bird in Its Cage and the Effects of Consumerism

In the fast-paced society we live in, the divide between generations is more pressing than it has ever been. Parents and children have always clashed, but the general saying nowadays is that “things were better in my time”. Whether you translate this phrase in Romanian, put into Japanese hiragana or find its equivalent in Arabic, the general sentiment is the same: degradation is impending and people yearn for better times, as they were before.

Where does this sentiment actually come from? Is it some sort of en-masse illusion? Maybe it’s just a stage that every person goes through once they hit their midlife crisis. Is there some sort of truth to it? As humans, we compare every experience we engage in with past situations, in order to find answers. We use these models due to the fact that they are all we know and we thrive on precedents. So, when people go metaphorically back in time, they actually romanticize the sense of comfort that their youth brought them. This is done on micro-levels too. A 70-year-old always remembers his 50s fondly. A 40-year-old yearns to be 25 again. Some would say it is just the nature of man, and I tend to agree.

So, where does loneliness come into play?

It is of the utmost importance that one chooses very carefully what sphere to analyze. Western society, such as Western Europe and the United States, cannot be lumped together with the Far East or even Eastern Europe, which in and of itself is a paradox. In order to more easily depict this epidemic of loneliness, I have decided to take two examples: beloved Romania, the country I get to call home, and the United States; two polarizing examples that have started to merge in recent times.

On the one hand, Romania 50 years ago is a mystery, a bad dream so far away for us, younger generations, that we regard it with a sense of myth and wonder. Long gone are the days of playing “Ruble” outside your apartment or going sledding in the village during winter. Families don’t visit each other as much, coffees and teas at each other’s places are a rare occurrence and the sense of the “third place” is long gone. The “third place” represents an objective location, somewhere outside the two spheres that are integral to daily life: work and home. This location could be a park, a café, a restaurant or simply somewhere else where people can sit together and socialize outside the home. In communist Romania, people living in urban areas had parks, they had the odd restaurant (if they could afford it) and they had each other’s houses. Coming over for coffee and the occasional gossip, children playing together outside until dark, and even the act of taking time to have a quick chat with your neighbor greatly contributed to the social life of an individual. And the same thing can be said about the United States. The only difference between these two nations were the pool of options one was subjected to: while the West had more freedom in terms of products and places, the East was more constricted. Nonetheless, socializing happened in similar patterns, just with different details.

A quick jump to our modern times shows a gloomy situation: people are overworked, they find comfort in material things and children “no longer play the way they used to”. Phones have replaced the need for face-to-face contact, and some people argue that they have made us lazier. Open borders, open economies and capitalism have introduced products and notions that would have been regarded as follies a few decades ago. People are trying to still adapt to these changes and are failing, miserably.

The lack of a “third place”, or its inaccessibility, has made people feel that there is something missing. Cafes are now overpriced, parks are few and far between, restaurants now offer global cuisines that come at a hefty price and urban development has shackled children to the comfort of their own home. With this void left in its wake, people turned to other means to fill it. Whether it is overindulging on social media, food or drinks; shopping and spending money excessively; vying for praise, attention and admiration from their acquaintances through elaborate trips, goods and services they buy; or just isolating themselves in the comfort of their own home and binging Netflix. These are all trends that, for the most part, are the cause and effect of consumerism and of privatizing socialization through technology. Meeting up with friends takes too long, so a Facetime call suffices. Going out to shop is too hard and you don’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic, so you resort to Shein. Why go out and spend money to see a movie at the cinema, when you can watch it on Netflix, virtually for free?

Consumerism can be closely attributed to a lack of a third place and to the rise in the lack of traditional socialization. Patterns of excessive consumption can be more predominantly seen in Western society, with Romania and the United States being prime examples for this theory. A recent statistic states that around 10.000 Romanians place a Shein order every day. In the US, products such as the Stanley Cup, a glorified water bottle containing lead, come at an average price of 50 US dollars. Generation Alpha, children up to 13 years old, are flooding cosmetic stores and purchasing skincare products. Their obsession with acting more mature is making them skip integral parts of childhood and maturing them much faster, due to the amount of chemicals they are exposed to on a daily basis, and that can be seen from a physiological perspective as well. The average age at which a girl starts her menstruation is 12 years old, compared to 14 years old which was the norm at the beginning of the 20th century. Although one can dismiss these findings and their correlation, socialization can have a domino effect on people, from an economic and health perspective.

Answers and solutions are few and far between. The patterns which are being perpetuated by society are almost impossible to break, but it is imperative that a sense of balance be achieved. Changes of paradigms are integral to progress and to reverting back to a healthier lifestyle, from a social perspective. Otherwise, what sense of normalcy that we have left will disappear and people will start to isolate themselves even more, effectively becoming birds in gilded cages, surrounded by products used to fill an inescapable void.

Photo source: Dorothe / PxHere.


Hosowaka M., Imazeki S., Mizunuma H., Kubota T., Hayashi K.: “Secular trends in age at menarche and time to establish regular menstrual cycling in Japanese women born between 1930 and 1985”, July 2012, National Library of Medicine (United States)

Putnam D.R.: “Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of the American community”, 2000



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