(By Samantha Biggers) Have you felt like you don’t really know that many people besides those that are online buddies?
Do you feel alone or isolated?
If you are like many Americans this is just the way it is.
Despite being more connected than ever, Americans routinely express that they are lonely and that they lack true friends. This is very concerning because social interaction is part of being human. Interacting together is an important part of learning on many levels.
Suicide rates are climbing and I think it has at least something to do with the isolationist state many Americans find themselves in. Isolation leading to higher suicide rates with some groups is not a new phenomenon. During the days when housewives were often left alone and isolated on the prairies of America, suicide rates were high among them. This was sometimes referred to as “prairie madness”.
Consider that these women would often be left for months at a time with no one to talk to at all. Perhaps they had a child to talk to if they were lucky but some were simply left alone.
According to the Center For Disease Control, suicide rates among girls 10-14 have tripled since 1999. The rate for women overall has increased by 45% from 1999-2014 compared to 16% for men.
The flight to the suburbs was the beginning of our modern isolationist state.
The flight to the suburbs led to further isolation and disruption of communities. You would think that kids and adults would form new friendships and community groups and they did but the deep roots and ties that were present in their neighborhoods in the city were not something that could be replicated quickly in a new neighborhood where people from a variety of other areas were suddenly living together.
The interstate system linked it all together. You could get in a car and be at your job in town in minutes.
The interstate highway system is another major contributor to the isolation of many areas in America even if it may seem like it provided easy access. All over America small communities and towns that once had thriving economies and business sections had a large volume of traffic diverted. Sometimes entire towns and communities disappeared or at least regressed to wide places in a road with a few homes and possibly a gas station or convenience store or two.
A Family Dollar or similar sometimes pokes out from what was once a hayfield or the parking lot of another store that didn’t make it through the changes the new interstate economy had wrought.
I remember as a child in the late 80s how where there were once strawberry fields next to sprawl and then there was just more sprawl and the fruit fields of Skagit County were resigned to the outskirts until still more of them were claimed by suburbia.
The flight to the suburbs has proven to have other consequences in today’s current economic environment. There is now a flight to the cities where there are more jobs, excitement, and opportunities to socialize. With lower populations, businesses that once thrived with the suburban boom are now sitting empty and deteriorating. Photographers now make money off showing us “Abandoned America”. The people left behind that cannot just up and move their life back to a more urban environment are stuck commuting long distances and always being at the mercy of gas prices and car maintenance while spending more time away from family. Being in your car, often alone, is part of the isolationist state of America today.
Another telling occurrence is that people in rural and suburban areas are finding that as their populations decrease and more online shopping occurs, they cannot even support a single grocery store. When people have to drive 20 miles or more to get fresh foods, there is a real problem. Sure some people choose to live far away but what if you moved somewhere that was thriving and then everything started drying up around you after you were well established and owned a home?
At the same time, some areas are creating more suburban sprawl as people migrate to locations they like better. We see plenty of this in western North Carolina.
Recommended Reading: The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Fall of America’s Man-Made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler
The New Mobile Nomadic Reality
Ever notice how it seems like people move a lot? In the past, a lot of people stayed in the same house for a long time or at least the same town. In the modern age, it is very common for the young to have adopted a mobile lifestyle for work or school.
First, you go to a college or find a job. Instead of settling for jobs near where someone is from, they search far and wide.
At least part of the reason for this is that there are a ton of places where there are no jobs that are related to the degree that someone received, there are few jobs, the competition is too great, and the pay is not high enough to support the lifestyle that is deemed acceptable by that person.
All those people moving around a lot leads to people not laying down roots. When someone is younger and just entering the workforce, they might move every 2 years at least a few times in their 20s. Compare that to the past when the average person in their mid-20s had already married and often, started a family already which used to lead to a lot more interaction in a community via school and children becoming friends thus leading to the adults socializing at least a little bit themselves.
I will never forget how the fellow at the home builders supply laughed when Matt and I, in our 20s, stated we wanted to build our house with 50-year materials. He found it hard to believe anyone planned on living in their home for decades because people just don’t do that anymore.
A lot of people want to be “special”
While people have always wanted to stand out from other people, in modern times this has been taken to the extreme. People want to feel morally special in many cases rather than just be a person. This can be dangerous because when you feel morally right, it is far easier to justify actions that are not so great because that person believes “they mean well or their heart is in the right place.”
Fact: There is no way for someone to be “special” without some people not being special.
Social media and technology allow people to show themselves off or get reinforcement from others. If we are insecure about our appearance we can take a “selfie” or show more skin. If you do that then it is highly likely that someone is going to respond and make you feel special for a few minutes at least. This can be very dangerous. Feeling special is addictive. Who doesn’t want to feel that way at times?
Interacting via technology and social media allows us to isolate ourselves from groups and people that we do not agree with. This leads to a limited worldview and a lack of respect for others’ opinions. I am not saying that we all decided one day that we didn’t care about the opinions of others. This was a gradual slip for a lot of us. It often starts out with your social media friends. You have the ability to block or not be friends with any group or person’s that you disagree with. In fact, you can even report them to a site and possibly get them blocked since censorship is increasingly rampant.
When we isolate ourselves from other opinions, it is far to easy to not keep expanding the mind and growing as a person.
How do you know that you really believe something if you don’t at least consider the opposite viewpoint?
It has always baffled me why and how people that have strong viewpoints often don’t consider the other side or read anything they have to say. You cannot defend your own beliefs as well if you don’t at least try to understand the values and viewpoints of the opposition.
Magic is not going to save us. Technology is the modern equivalent of magic. It can help but it is not a solution for everything.
Technology has also led to us going towards it to solve problems when we should be looking at the issue in its entirety. I have been a reader of the work of James Howard Kunstler for well over a decade. I first read “The Long Emergency” when I was living in an old camper without indoor plumbing and very little electricity, while my husband and I built our house and farmed. I had just lost my job as a financial planning assistant. It was 2008 and the recession was hitting everyone hard.
Recently I read “Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and The Fate of the Nation.” The book describes in detail how when there are problems we think that technology can miraculously solve them. The truth is that it is not that simple. There are only so many resources out there and only so much technology can do to combat more and more people demanding a certain lifestyle. Most people do not want to make lifestyle changes due to a lack of resources or more expensive resources.
When I was growing up in a small town in the North Cascades of Washington State you could tell where all the kids were hanging out by the pile of bicycles or skateboards in front of a house. A lot of the time you could probably hear a lot of alternative rock, rap, and heavy metal music, and the sounds of video games.
Our parents knew that we were out running around at times too. We hung out down by the river, sneaking cigarettes, gossiping, throwing hatchets, jumping in the water, etc.
Nowadays someone would probably have called the authorities for a lot of those activities. Kids are simply not allowed the freedom to interact with others without helicopter parents coming into play. I might not have kids of my own but I hear stories that are amazing. One parent told me that their kid was sitting on their own front porch without an adult and someone actually checked in on them. How crazy is that?
At the same time, I can understand why parents are concerned. Kids did some nutty things back when I was growing up. We got into fights occasionally too but it never escalated to severe injury or maiming. No one pulled a knife or a gun. We knew better than to take things that far. Now I hear people say ” I could never trust my kid to not do that”. Well why is that and if that is the case why are you accepting that and not teaching them to act more logically and sensibly?
Making friends is harder after you get out of school and start working, raising a family, etc.
People are afraid of getting accused of sexual harassment.
The way things are now, even as a woman, I would be cautious about interactions with the opposite sex in the workplace. All someone has to do is get mad or jealous and your reputation is shot. I know that statement is going to make some people mad but it is true.
Consider how many relationships and friendships used to start in the workplace and you can see how this road to friendship has been blocked.
If you even become friends with fellow workers on Facebook or similar, there is a chance that information that is private could affect your work life and future advancement. This applies to men and women.
People are very afraid of sexual harassment claims
There are reports of men and women not wanting to work alone together anymore and I can’t say I blame them.
I am not saying that sexual harassment should not be taken seriously, but I have been in the position where someone actually asked me to lie so their sexual harassment claims against another person would stick. I knew nothing about the situation so anything I said would not have been accurate.
It is a tough issue because you want to believe people when they say that something terrible has happened and is acting upset. If someone makes a claim that they are harassed or sexually assaulted then there should be a proper investigation immediately by law enforcement. Sexual assault claims shouldn’t be handled by school administrators with no law enforcement involved like it sometimes was at the college I attended. That was wrong then and it is wrong now.
You need facts and proof if we are even going to pretend to live in a country where everyone has a right to a fair trial. If someone is found to have falsely accused someone of a crime like sexual assault then there should be consequences for their actions as well so people learn to not use claims as weapons against someone.
I have actually had workplace sexual harassment rules used against me. When I worked as a marketing events coordinator at a mall in Alaska I was told to dress up for my post even though I had to do a lot of work on ladders. I had two maintenance and janitorial employees that had to answer to me and then there was a boss that was over me. That was the hierarchy. One of the employees was a man in his 50s and I was only 23.
Well, one day I was asked to take a look up a ladder that went out on the roof. The older fellow looked up my dress and then went to management and said I had made him uncomfortable. I was the one that got in trouble and had that on my record, not the older fellow that didn’t like having to take directions from a younger woman and proceeded to tell other people that worked with us about what I had on underneath.
He was a Union worker and I was just some young girl that shouldn’t have gone up that ladder to do that job regardless of being asked to do it. Just for the record, when I wore things like overalls or other gear more suited to my job, the ladies at the other businesses would complain that I didn’t look professional enough despite my predecessor wearing very grungy clothes quite often. I couldn’t win. The only thing that saved me was the other employee that was there telling the truth about what happened. That didn’t keep it from going on my record and counting as 1 strike towards getting fired.
My point is that there are a lot of problems with workplace harassment and rules and I don’t know the answers but I do know that what is going on now is not working out well for anyone.
We apply the rules of today to the actions of the past. This is a mistake.
I am reading “Permanent Record”, Edward Snowden’s memoir at the moment. He is the same age as me and a lot of his memories of growing up in an age where are lives are not well documented really resonated with me. He talks about how when we were kids we could say stupid things on the internet in chat rooms or message boards and we could do this without fear of it coming back to bite us later. Basically we were allowed to make mistakes, learn, and grow.
Now everything we say one year may cause us harm in various areas of our lives a few years down the road.
I would never want to be judged by some of the things I said as a young kid because some of the adults around me thought that way and I was just repeating what I heard. It is terrifying the way society is applying the rules of today to actions of the past. This is essentially saying that even if you change and become a better person, grow up, and learn, you are still bad or wrong. So what is the use in changing and being better if we can never shake the baggage of saying or doing something that hurt someone’s feelings no matter how much we have done to make amends?
This dynamic also encourages people to not talk and explore different viewpoints with others because they don’t want their words used against them.
That is not freedom. That feels more like social purgatory.
The American State Of Fear
Despite overall crime being at an all-time low, Americans often live in a constant state of at least mild paranoia and fear. In fact, it is such an ingrained part of our lives, we don’t even notice it that much or at all until we take a step back or have someone else point it out. I wrote an article about how a lot of Americans are walking around on the edge of panic. We are often in a state where a single motorcycle backfiring can send us into a stampede that harms and injuries.
The news and media are constantly reporting on the bad and not so much on the good. This bias makes for good rankings but what is it doing to the collective state of mind of Americans?
So do you have a group for a long emergency?
I have stressed to people over the years that isolation is part of living a homesteading life and getting a lot done with your time. People are just not going to drop by and visit you all the time if you are living very far outside of town or if you are working a lot. If you are a younger person than you are really out of luck because most folks under 40 are not homesteading or concentrating on the long term. There are some but they are scattered enough that chances are you are not going to be friends with many of them.
People ask about neighbor or group support during a long emergency and while I love the idea of a group that is supportive of each other and that works towards common goals, the truth is that a lot of people in groups live so far away from one another that during a real SHTF moment, they might as well be on the moon.
My Isolated State
I handle isolation fairly well but it still sometimes gets to me. Overall I kind of like my isolation but I know I am not the typical person in this regard. I grew up in an isolated town with under 300 people. The North Cascades of Washington State in the 1980s and 90s would seem like the stone age to someone that has never known a non-digital world. My husband, Matt grew up in North Carolina and lived isolated until his parents moved to town when he was 10.
We built our own house on the side of a mountain while in our 20s. Isolation was always part of the game but we had no idea just how isolated one could get even living 4 miles from town. When you are clearing acres of overgrown land, building a house, working a job, and taking care of elderly family members, you don’t exactly have it in you to go running out to socialize.
Matt and I spend a lot of our time raising grapes in the hopes of having a winery business one day. I write 40K words or more a month and we also have our sheep herd to look after. He does all the photography for my articles, listens to my rants and discusses topics with me. I can rely on him to do some gear tests and projects too.
There is always a lot to do and so much more that we both wish we could get done. We bury ourselves in our work and find joy in life despite our isolated state.
With Fall here and Winter approaching we have considered what projects and work, we need to get done before and during the colder months. We have also considered entertainment. I have hoarded up more than 20 books to study and read over the winter. Matt likes to build things and recently made a few knives. I plan on writing a lot and getting some books out there.
Matt and I are really looking forward to our first Babydoll sheep lambs being born in March and April. The breed is new to us and a joy to have.
At least part of the isolated state in which he and I live is our choice for sure. We have tried to create a life up here on our piece of land that makes us want to “be here” and not “there”. Some people need more socialization than others and clearly are not getting it through technology and the modern world.
Things are getting pretty crazy out there folks, We are all in for quite a ride. If you or someone you care about is experiencing feelings of isolation, depression, and other concerning thoughts, please seek help and encourage loved ones to seek help as well. By supporting one another we can get through these trying times.
Wishing you the best from the mountains of North Carolina,
About the Author: Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband, Matthew, in a house they built. They have a small steep slope vineyard, raise sheep, and grow gourmet mushrooms. Since 2017 she has been proud to write for Backdoor Survival. Samantha learned the foundation of preparedness on the banks of the Skagit River in the North Cascades of Washington State while being raised by a single father who saw heavy combat in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. At 16 she moved with her dad to his home state of North Carolina where she worked on some farm projects before attending Warren Wilson College and graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Sustainable Forestry. After college, she and her future husband spend a few years in Ketchikan, Alaska before returning to North Carolina and moving into a small 1970s Holiday Rambler camper on 11 acres of family land given to her by her father. This is when the adventure of building a house and farming began! Over the years her articles have appeared in various homesteading magazines such as GRIT, Back Home, Backwoods Home, and Countryside and Small Stock Journal. Her writing can also be found on Lew Rockwell and The Organic Prepper. Her husband, Matthew Biggers takes all the original pictures used in her articles and occasionally writes a few himself! While writing for Backdoor Survival, Samantha became friends with the original founder, Gaye Levy. They discovered they had a lot in common, including being born and raised in the same area. They talk often about prepping and life in general. Although Gaye has moved on to writing and managing her site, Strategic Living, she continues to offer more support than she realizes! Gaye no longer writes or owns Backdoor Survival but you can find many of her posts still on the site today.Education: Samantha was homeschooled starting in the 7th grade. After graduating from Freedom Christian Academy, a through the mail homeschool based in Kentucky, she was accepted and attended Warren Wilson College located in beautiful Swannanoa, NC. Warren Wilson is a work college with only 800 students. While there she worked on a variety of work crews but spent the most time on the Natural Resources Crew (NRC). The crew was responsible for maintaining many miles of trails, running an on site sawmill, providing the school and faculty with firewood, and managing 650 acres of Appalachian forest. Other duties included growing and selling Shiitake mushrooms grown on logs harvested from the college forest. She graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2005 with a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Studies with a Concentration in Sustainable Forestry.Interviews:Homesteading and Preparedness With Samantha Biggers of Backdoor Survival, The Prepper Website PodcastAn Inside Look At Bulletproof Backpacks, ABC AmarilloHow To Prepare Your Emergency Survival Kit, HealthlineArticles For Other Publications:Forest Management For The Farm, GRIT Magazine January/February 2013Raising Dairy Calves For Meat, Countryside and Small Stock JournalCanning Chickens For The Pantry, Backwoods Home Magazine, May/June 2012Samantha Biggers can be reached at email@example.com