A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Atlantic titled “Why Americans Suddenly Stopped Hanging Out” and I can’t stop thinking about it. (FYI: The article requires a subscription to read it, unfortunately.)

The gist of the article is that there is overwhelming evidence and a terrifying trend (my words) that we don’t hang out with other people as often as we used to–even the people we like the most.

This trend is visible across every demographic category regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. It seems that we have all been on the retreat into isolation and disconnection.

The article explores why this is happening. And I know what you are thinking: COVID. But the truth is that this trend started long before we knew that word.

Personally, I’m not as interested in how we got here as I am in what we should do about it.

Loneliness and disconnection have catastrophic consequences on our health and well-being. Disconnection is like gasoline on the fire of polarization. It also allows space for hate and dehumanization of others to grow and flourish.

Bottomline: what’s happening is both harmful and dangerous.

Years before the pandemic, I used to talk about how work was the last social gathering spot. It was true even then that social and community institutions like churches, civic groups, and even organig groups like “card clubs” were either dying out or seeing drastically declining attendance.

Work was the ONE place where most people still had the opportunity to come together with other humans. It was the new community center where people were making friends and meeting romantic partners. It’s also the one place where you might encounter people who are different from you.

Work had taken on a heftier, more important role in shaping the social fabric of our world.

And then COVID.

Today, work is more distributed than ever. We still “come together” for work, but increasingly it isn’t in a physical space where we can collide and throw sparks of social connection.

I’m worried terrified that if we don’t do something, the future ahead could make today’s social challenges feel like the good old days.

But, there is good news.

We can reverse this trend.

Each one of us can take action right now to bring more connection into our own lives and the lives of those we care about. Reach out and schedule a coffee with someone. Or invite friends over to hang or play cards this weekend. Send the text right now…I’ll wait. 🙂

On a bigger scale, I’m thinking about the role work should play in re-connecting people.

Those of us lucky enough to play a role in shaping the work experience of others have an opportunity (maybe an obligation) to use work as a vehicle for connection and relationship building.

To be clear, I’m not in any way making the argument for forcing people back into sterile, pointless office spaces for no reason. Remember, this trend was happening long before the pandemic turned work upside down. Some offices do more to divide than unite us.

What I AM suggesting is that we must be fiercely committed and focused on how to design work in a way that fosters the formation of authentic connection, whether we are together in the same physical place or not.

Given the scale of this problem and the devastating impact if it is left unchecked, this feels like a moral imperative to me.

We MUST act now.

What will you commit to do?


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Jason Lauritsen