It’s 6:30 a.m., as I take the bus to the Main Street station to get on the 7 train. As I put on my earbuds and scroll through posts on Facebook, I decide to look up and gaze at the commuters in the train, just to see that everyone else is doing what I’m doing: They’re all on their phones. The fact that there isn’t a single conversation going on among such a big number of people scares me. Is human interaction in this city at stake?
As much as we tell others outside of the city how great being a New Yorker is, we all know that it’s not all that great. There’s a significantly high number of robberies, assaults and other violent crimes here. I believe that these crimes have a strong correlation with a lack of human interaction in this city, as people lose a sense of identity and obligation in the community without a feeling of connection, causing more violence and less political engagement.
Also, a study of 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, Calif., found that “people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties.” Many other studies also found that lack of human interaction is as bad as smoking cigarettes, as it damages mental health.
Lack of human interaction matters a lot to me, as it’s a problem that I have too, something I realized while thinking about this piece. I realized that I don’t even know who my neighbors are, and I decided to get to know them. As I did, I grew a sense of wanting to talk and spend more time with them and saw myself feeling better in my neighborhood. I want others to experience what I experienced.
A simple solution to this problem is to just go out and interact with others. But what is causing us New Yorkers not to do so? I would hope there are ways for government to help stimulate human interaction, but how could it do that?
One approach a government could take is to decrease the price of housing in this city. As the price of housing goes up, people are either forced to work more and have less time, or to move out and not belong to their community anymore. Both scenarios are bad, as they both hinder people’s abillity to interact with others and form a community.
Another thing that a government could do is create meeting spaces to encourage more interaction. For example, Japan, a country that also struggles in keeping human interaction, has meeting spaces called “community cafes,” where it provides opportunities for relaxation. With the cafes’ therapeutic atmosphere and provisions to further hobbies or interests, all visitors are guaranteed to enjoy their time and interact with others. I believe that NYC needs meeting spaces like this, where people would be able to relax a bit with a little breather.
Lack of human interaction is the most urgent problem that New Yorkers are facing nowadays as it ruins people’s health and causes other problems to emerge. This could be addressed by lowering housing prices and creating meeting spaces. But this isn’t a problem that can be addressed by such policies and programs alone: We all have to step out and put in the effort to make the change. It’s only when everyone puts in the effort that New York would finally become a place where everything is possible.
Jong-Yeon (Ryan) Moon is a Flushing resident and senior at Stuyvesant High School who immigrated here from South Korea and hopes to become a dentist treating underserved communities.