Since the beginning of time people have worried about their future, especially in days of war, transition and rapid change. But nothing has matched the revolution that technology has introduced and the speed of change is now a light speed. So, yes, people have a right to be worried.
But before we descend too deeply into that madness, perhaps we should be worried about just getting through the present. We’re not doing well at it. What’s the source of that information? Think IKEA. That’s right, a world leading furniture company that annually publishes research reports on how people live in relation to their homes. If that doesn’t very revolutionary, think again.
The most publicized finding of their most recent report involving 22,000 people in 22 countries. says that almost half of Americans (45%) go to their car to have a private moment to themselves. Two years ago, that number stood at 20%. That finding, among many others, caused researchers to conclude that people, especially those living in cities, are increasingly dealing with loneliness and the growing sense that they no longer belong in this world.
Perhaps this doesn’t surprise some, although the thought of millions of Americans sitting in their cars outside their homes just for privacy is something unexpected. The ultimate narrative of the report is that people are no longer feeling at home or belonging in modern cities. That’s a challenge to every politician, civil society advocate, corporate and social service leader. More and more people are feeling as though they belong in places outside of their living quarters – parks, schools, social gathering spots. A full one-quarter of the 22,000 respondents stated outright that they are more comfortable outside their homes altogether. With the new economy gurus always telling us that the future of work might be in the home, there might well be a great disconnect emerging. It makes sense when you think about it; it just wasn’t expected to be sourced by IKEA. Consider this from the report:
On the other hand, people report a creeping unease with their living spaces: 53% of young families don’t get a sense of belonging from their residential home. Only 57% of people who live with family or alone feel a sense of belonging, and the number drops to 34% if you live with friends or strangers.
The five things people are finding as the real sources of their alienation? Lack of comfort, lack of belonging, lack of ownership, lack of privacy and lack of security. What’s the one word common to them all? Lack. As our world is facing the prospect of getting by with less and less, the idea of “home” being the place where the lonely go for a sense of peace, belonging and understanding is increasingly under assault.
Naturally this would worry IKEA, who has made a fortune on making people feel more at home with less expensive products. How would a furniture franchise fix this emerging isolation? Could it? And what does all this have to do with furniture anyway? This is about something way bigger, far greater than any corporate initiative. People living in community are now lonelier than they have ever been. They feel less safe, more transient, increasingly financially strapped and lost in the field of risky employment.
We are getting to the place where “stuff” is no longer bringing the satisfaction that it did in an earlier time. People are more likely to be alone in a social media-connected city than in the country. Nobody says this better than Olivia Laing, who wrote in her Lonely City:
“Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each another. We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.”
That is just what IKEA is discovering and inventing better chairs, beds and tables is never going to cure it. It’s about the character of community and its ability to overcome this increasing alienation through better policies regarding business, employment, public transportation, culture, effective housing strategies and leadership that draws people away from their alienation and towards one another. There is no community without citizens. Anything else is just a placeholder.