[FOUNTAIN]Ah, look at all the lonely people

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[FOUNTAIN]Ah, look at all the lonely people

The Chinese classic “The Mencius” has much to say about solitude. It says that children who lose their parents when young, the childless elderly, old men without wives and old women without husbands are the loneliest people in the world. This reflects a time when early death, from wars and disease, was much more common.
As civilization developed and lifespans increased, one might have expected there to be fewer of these four kinds of solitary people. But it is not the case. Children often grow up without their biological parents because of divorce. Parents are abandoned by impious children. And many old people are alone because they got divorced in the twilight of life.
According to an article in a recent issue of the U.S. magazine Atlantic Monthly, the number of lonely people is likely to increase in the future, as lifespans get even longer. The article characterized the phenomenon as a “death shortage.” The economic power and social status of youth will diminish; consequently, young people will be increasingly reluctant to get married and have children. The death shortage will hence lead to a shortage of children, which will aggravate the aging of society even more. One way or another, there will be more solitude.
Of course, this is not bad news for everyone. New businesses might spring up to accomodate the solitary ― a “solitude industry” that helps people get used to lonliness and even packages it to make it seem attractive. This is different from the “silver industry” for seniors.
A solitude industry is already emerging in Japan, where, for instance, a cantaloupe-sized watermelon has been developed for people living alone. Some construction companies have gotten attention with a new type of floor plan, with no children’s rooms but more closet space. Many new ideas targeting the lonely have appeared in the home appliance industry.
But there are those who might lose their jobs because of the death shortage. The Atlantic Monthly article was accompanied by a big illustration of the Grim Reaper drinking alone in a corner at a party, as elderly people danced and had fun. In the future, the Grim Reaper might be the loneliest of all.

by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is the head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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