Social isolation and what your Face-to-face/Face-to-screen ratio tells you..

Social isolation is a real problem today. And it's not all about little old ladies rattling around at home with empty nest syndrome.

Go into Starbucks and you’ll find that a third of the customers are on their own - or having a coffee with their laptops (me too – as I write this!)

But more and more evidence is building up that we sacrifice Face-to-face time for Face-to-screen at our peril. We are all in danger of social isolation.

Psychologist, Susan Pinker, (at has written a brilliant book called The Village Effect which sets out the evidence that higher Face-to-face/Face-to-screen ratios make you healthier, longer living, stave off dementia, help you recover faster from illness, help children learn better and make you happier.

The ratio

So what is your Ftf/Fts ratio? Well, you can calculate this by taking the number of waking hours you spend in front of a screen (phone, tablet, laptop and TV) and dividing it into the remaining waking hours.

When I was a kid, I was awake for about 14 hours a day and spent a maximum of one of those in front of the TV – from about 5-6pm (with my mum always keen to make sure the TV was switched off before my dad walked through the door.) So my Ftf/Fts ratio was 13.

Now it’s more like 1. I probably spend about half my working hours (or more, if I’m honest) looking at a screen.

This is a big change. And I wonder whether it is correlated with another big change over the last few decades.

The increase in social isolation

Pinker says that ‘in Britain the number of people living alone has doubled since the 1970s…A quarter of Britons feel emotionally unconnected to others. And a third don’t feel connected to wider society.’

On Radio 4’s Thought for the Day this week, Lord Sacks spoke of research that shows as little as ten minutes a day talking with someone with dementia can make a real difference to their quality of life, relieving anxiety and a sense of isolation.

But caring for others is not only good for the cared, it is also good for the carers

Pinker says Few see looking after others as therapeutic for the person doing the caring or consider community engagement as therapeutic…Yet there is mounting evidence that it is. CLICK TO TWEET

Local churches

Despite all their failings, two things our local churches do are: caring for others and community engagement. They are places designed for Face-to-face contact and the opportunity for people to engage with other people across all ages and backgrounds. They exist to combat social isolation to help all people know we are loved and valued.

In a few weeks’ time I’ll de doing a service to celebrate a new and special relationship between a lady in her seventies who is recently bereaved and the teenage daughter of her late husband’s carer, who has come to see this lady as a godmother or grandmother figure. And both the older lady and the young woman feel tremendously blessed by this relationship.

The way ahead

So, whatever your Ftf/Fts ratio – find a way to reduce it, if you can. Put down the phone, strike up a conversation at the bus stop, really listen to what your child is trying to tell you. Go to church!

And, as Pinker puts it, ‘feel your load get lighter; the hill of life feel that little bit less steep!’

Posted by Martine Oborne