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Like Loneliness

Maaike Roozenburg is tackling urban isolation and loneliness in her latest social design project that penetrates taboos and makes people feel safe admitting that they don't always feel as connected as they'd like.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 30-08-2012

Loneliness is a tough subject.  It’s too often presented as utterly uncool and the fault of those who have not managed to acquire a decent group of friends for themselves.  It’s a taboo topic.

“I think how we deal with loneliness says a lot about society,” says designer Maaike Roozenburg.  “We live in a risk society.  We have a lot of liberty – we can choose what we do, where we live, how we live … We can choose our friends, out city, which is all very new.  People did not live like that even 50 years ago.  And the problem is that it just doesn’t work out for a lot of us.”

Society used to be guided by more regulated social structures - the church, the village, the family all offered facilities that kept people feeling secure and together.  

“And once you cast that off, life became more about self-responsibility,” says Roozenburg.  “You make your own choices then you take responsibility for them.  I think it is because the choice is yours that loneliness has become so taboo to talk about.”

Research shows that many people at one time or another feel lonely and it mostly has nothing to do with how many friends one has, or how wide of a social network a person moves in.

Roozenburg delved into this topic whilst working on a project for the Ministry of Health a well as some private health care companies.  This year she wants to transform her findings into a series of social design events.

“The Ministry deals with this issue in a very conservative way,” she says.  “They call in sociologists, graph makers, book designers and strategists.  Then they make a slogan and a poster, but I am not sure if that really reaches people. I want to do something more public that recognizes that loneliness is very common even before it becomes an official statistic.”

Her point here is that loneliness is a problem long before it becomes visible.  “People see the elderly alone and understand that they must be lonely,” Roozenburg says, “but it is much more subtle than that.  Research shows that 30% of Dutch people say they have been lonely at one time or another. And that is a lot.”

And it is people aged between late teens and 40s who are the fastest growing group of people experiencing loneliness.

Roozenburg has just launched the LikeLonely Facebook page.  She chose Facebook because it just the sort of self-conscious forum where you see just how desperate people are to seem happy and successful.  Rarely do we see updates of a simple, “Damn I feel lonely today.”

“People only show the positive,” Roozenburg says.  “They show how many friends they have and how successful they are.  Nobody ever admits that they just have no clue what to do.”

The LikeLonely page is quickly evolving into a way to create a new image for loneliness using the networked structure of social media.  On September 7th, 8th and 9th, Roozenburg will physically realize the results of the page in a secluded place in the dunes during the Great White Open in Vlieland.

Loneliness is a part of life that can acknowledge by clicking like.

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