How the digital revolution has isolated America

In an era where technology makes everything easier and more accessible, it is easy to fall into a state of individualism and isolation. At least, that’s according to guest speaker Michael Hendrix who spoke at the “Lonely America” lecture at the Los Angeles Pacific College (LAPC) board room at Azusa Pacific on Oct. 30.

Hendrix is the director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute in New York. In the past, he has also worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. In his lecture, he discussed how American communities have adopted a culture of hyper-individualism as technology makes life more convenient.

He noted that social media plays a crucial role in everyday life, especially for millenials. While platforms like Facebook and Twitter were intended to bind communities across the world, they have resulted in splintering communities. This digital revolution, as Hendrix calls it, has witnessed a generation of people who are mentally and emotionally detached from one another.

“Loneliness in America is a vital topic for all of us and so much more so for those of us living on a college campus,” Hendrix said. “Thinking about the world we are entering into for [students and faculty], loneliness, modernity, technology: those will all be the most significant challenges we will have to wrestle with in the future. I thought it was a successful time for all of us to have a discussion together… that will hopefully continue about what it means for all of us to live truly flourishing lives together.”

Because social media allows people to curate their image meticulously, it is rare to either show or see one’s true self, because of this, people are becoming more lonely, individualistic and isolated. This results in communities of people who do not interact. This also has an economic effect, Hendrix explained. This means that government, especially at the local level, is not heavily involved in the communities it represents.

The digital revolution has brought American communities an overwhelming sense of hyper-individualism and loneliness that affects all aspects of life.

Some attendees felt that being able to ignore opposing views on social media was a problem. Allyssa Salcedo, freshman political science major, said, “[America’s climate] makes it so that people aren’t able to understand each other. There’s so much animosity between opposing sides, and I hope we can solve that as Americans.”

Others agreed, like Brailyn Eyong, sophomore nursing major, who stated the importance of recognizing diversity within our communities.

“Although [diversity] is talked about a lot, I think there’s bits and pieces of community that aren’t talked about… Race, religion, gender/sexuality––they all have a place in community,” Eyong said.

Hyper-individualism does not benefit the community as a whole, Hendrix said, and recognizing that is the first step in resolving many current American issues. This lead Hendrix to make a call for action.

“If there’s anything we’re missing today, it’s true leadership,” Hendrix said. “I’d like to see more of that along with humility.”

Dr. Abbylin Sellers, associate professor of American politics in the Department of History and Political Science, said, “Mr. Hendrix brought attention to a subject matter we may know to be true, but we do not talk about.  Defining loneliness as a poverty of connection is an accurate depiction. It should be a wake-up call to us that there is something profound missing we need to have in our lives—community. With any progress in society, there are going to be trade-offs.  Mr. Hendrix provided a thoughtful explanation of the cost of modernity to the community and made us aware of what has led to a lonely America.”

The lecture was hosted and sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Department of History and Political Science at APU.