He held his phone close, eyes searching for privacy. The man scarcely noticed the subway riders around him, nor the 90-year-old artist sketching his hunched frame from across the train. In the seven decades since Alex Katz first drew the outlines of commuters on New York City's early-morning trains, the chattering riders and newspapers had all but gone. In their places were people who rode alone together, the light in their eyes reflecting the glow of their phones. In his cover art for New York magazine, Katz hints at a profound change drawn across America over the course of his life, one that has profound implications for us, our communities, and our politics.
America is increasingly a lonely nation. The proportion of American adults who say they are lonely has increased from 20 percent to 40 percent since the 1980s. Roughly 43 million adults over the age of 45 are estimated to suffer from chronic loneliness. The unmarried and the uncommitted to community report higher rates of loneliness, with the causality likely being a two-way street. Prosperity has afforded our independence from neighbors and networks, as the Social Capital Project of Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) found, but the relational and emotional collateral damage has fallen hardest on those least able to afford it. Put another way, an isolation of affluence is indelibly marking modern society.