The image that springs to mind when you talk about “social isolation” is someone living in a rural village, without transport, unable to get to the bright lights and social whirl of the big city. Perhaps they are also elderly, and not skilled in the use of the internet for social media purposes. Perhaps their broadband is “too slow” for such things, or they have sporadic network coverage.
But social isolation exists just as much – perhaps more so – in cities as it does in rural areas. Those without a lot of spare cash often find themselves isolated, because city prices for food, entertainment, etc, are often quite high – and people in cities tend to be more insistent on “going out somewhere” than on “just being.” Those with chronic health issues, especially mental health issues, but any health condition that means that individual isn’t always well enough to manage lots of people, lots of noise, and being out and about for long periods, can also become isolated.
And, where social isolation exists in rural communities, it is often less a facet of rurality, and more to do with the attitudes of people.
I have lived in rural villages, and I live now in an urban coastal town. I have spent time in a city – when I was working, I worked in the city. I was least isolated when I lived in villages, even though, being unable to drive, I was often unable to see people, or get to events, etc.
Here are a few of the complaints about rural areas from those who exercise themselves around the idea that “better links to cities will solve everything!”
.People in rural areas are so judgemental and stuck in their ways – No. They’re concerned that things that have been generations-long livelihoods, and which involve vital skills – the skills you’ll actually NEED if all technology one day fails – are being lost. They’re sick of seeing their villages become ghost towns, either dormitories for city workers, or second-home holiday havens. They’re fed up of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, of having their accents and mannerisms and way of life mocked, as though they’re merely caricature cut-outs, rather than people with feelings.
.They don’t care about social justice! – They do. In a quiet way. A way that says “if everyone does, and gives, what they’re able, and people who have a bit more help those with less, everyone’ll be taken care of eventually.”
.It’s all about “how we’ve always done it” – Usually because individuals in rural areas know how best to do something. They know there’s no point building houses if you don’t first bring employers in – and they know that technology companies are far more vulnerable than the “boring, old-fashioned” industries, because what people expect technology to be, and what they expect it to do, moves on so quickly. They look at the chaotic-seeming lives of young people, and see people without a sense of place, rootless people trying to grow into something enduring and eternal. And they know that’s not possible.
.But casual racism and “little England” mentality! – I’ve found that to be the case in urban areas far more than rural, to be fair. Because, in rural areas, people from the next village are considered “strange”, someone with a different ethnicity really isn’t that shocking, in the grand scheme of things.
The issue isn’t “OMG, rural areas!” it’s the fact that the intelligent, fashionably socially aware individuals will run, headlong, from rural areas as soon as they can, arriving, breathless, in the city, falling (whether they can genuinely afford it or not) into its whirlpool of activity – ensuring that, yes, on the whole, the people left in the villages are those who are considered a bit “old fashioned” and “not quite nice.” But, when you step back and watch, you see that a lot of the “compassion and concern” in city circles is only on the surface – it’s a tiny ripple in an ocean of thoughtlessness, rudeness, and self-obsession: things which have no place in rural areas.
People in villages are often considered “rude”simply because they’re used to not wasting words – to city dwellers, words are tossed around like confetti at a wedding, usually to cover a lack of action. Discuss “issues” to death, and you won’t actually have to get off your backside and do anything about them – because you’re aware! You’re talking about these things! You’re having the conversations! Meanwhile, the villagers you mock and disdain are quietly, and without show, getting on and addressing the problems they see, and can do something about. They don’t set up soup kitchens and run crowdfunding campaigns – they take vegetables from their garden to the house of the family they know are struggling. They don’t set up MeetUps for unemployed Millennials (or any other age group) – if they hear of a job going, they tell the people they know who’re unemployed. If they know a person well, they’ll “put a word in.” They don’t feel the need to constantly host events – they chat to you when they see you in the pub.
No, people in rural areas don’t like people who seem superior, who “put on airs”, and who act like they know everything – rural villages have a genetic memory that goes back centuries, because, historically, they’ve always been very settled populations. They’ve seen all the fads come and go, seen all the fine speakers come undone. They’ve seen the eternal return of the same, the coming round, in a cycle, of the old ways.
In focusing on “how to make cities more accessible”, you miss the fact that not everyone wants to be in a city. If someone has mental health issues which mean they find crowds and noise stressful, why should they “have to” go to support services, events, and “social initiatives” in places that deplete them of energy? Why should people have to travel over an hour, in many cases, to get to a place of employment?
The focus shouldn’t be on “making cities more accessible” – it should be on remembering that cities aren’t the only part of a country. It should be on addressing the historical shoddy treatment of rural dwellers as a somewhat stupid breed, more like cattle than human beings, that can just be ordered, en masse, to wherever the factories or offices or tech hubs are, because “it’s a better life for them than their poxy villages.”
In the 1700s,. this attitude,and forced migration from villages to industrial centres caused a mass episode of alcoholism – the “Gin Craze.” What form will its impact take in modern times?