Tue, May 08, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Stories in online ‘Loneliness Project’ shed light on ‘part of being human’

The Guardian, Toronto

The screen shows a cluster of apartment buildings, some of them empty, some with the figure of a person silhouetted against the window. Click on an apartment and a story pops up on screen.

“I spent two hours alone, wandering around an Ikea, because I was too nervous to ask people to come with me,” it reads. “I ate two hotdogs and bought nothing.”

The confession is part of The Loneliness Project, an online platform dedicated to showcasing stories of social isolation from around the globe.

The result is a sort of digital antidote to the often highly curated world of social media, said Marissa Korda, the Toronto-based graphics designer behind the initiative.

“Facebook is a happiness project. Instagram is a happiness and beauty project,” the 26-year-old said. “We need more projects that talk about how life is happy, and it’s also lonely and it’s sad.”

She launched the project in October last year with a call for anonymous stories.

More than 1,400 stories soon came pouring in from more than 60 countries around the world, ranging from Taiwan to Syria to Cuba.

For those experiencing chronic loneliness — a debilitating condition that differs from the ebb and flow of transitional loneliness addressed through the project — the Web site offers resources to find help.

Some on the Web site share their stories of moving to a new place and not knowing anyone while others reel from breakups. Others detail the heartbreak of not having anyone to wait for them as they undergo surgery, or to cheer them on as they cross the finish line of a marathon. One man spoke of walking his dog alone on Christmas, the scent of turkey wafting in the air as he glimpsed living rooms filled with families and friends.

After months of reading the stories, Korda has picked up on a pattern: At the heart is a profound disconnect between what people are hoping to get from their social interactions and the reality of their situations.

“We’ve really stigmatized loneliness, to a degree that makes it really hard to talk about,” she said. “I’m also trying to show loneliness as just a normal part of being human. It comes, it goes, it’s something that we experience and it doesn’t need to be as isolating as it is.”

Korda sifts through the submissions to the Web site, publishing a handful of stories each week against the site’s backdrop of apartments and the din of city traffic.

She has spent hundreds of hours to date putting together the Web site, describing it as an unpaid labor of love that she hopes to one day expand to include other, often-hidden emotions such as guilt and failure.

While Korda welcomed the attention, she worried that much of it reinforced the idea that loneliness exists solely as something to be eradicated.

“It’s not realistic to expect that we can cure loneliness and I don’t think we should — it’s part of being human,” she said. “It’s a signal to ourselves that we want something more from our social interactions.”

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