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How Social Reading Can Help Fight Our Loneliness Crisis

Books and Loneliness
The Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently highlighted "underappreciated public health crisis" that affects us all. Cigarette smoking in the United States has dropped to a historic low, but Dr. Murthy has decided to confront another daunting opponent: loneliness. “Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders," said Dr. Murthy.The good news is that reading together can help you feel less lonely.

What are the signs of loneliness?

While the struggles that Dr. Vivek Murthy identified are far from being new discoveries, as Harvard's Robert Putnam first identified this impending crisis 25 years ago in his essay "Bowling Alone," the fact remains that loneliness is an ongoing issue that is, unfortunately, growing.According to loneliness expert John Cacioppo who has studied the phenomenon for years, the lonely feeling can be contagious

"It is actually stunningly simple as a mechanism. In one study we looked at people’s connections, every three to four years. This process happens over time. Let’s say that you and I are neighbours. I have become lonely for some reason and you are my friend. As a suddenly lonely person I am now more likely to deal with you cautiously, defensively, as a potential threat to me [because you might leave and add to my pain], and you recognise that so we are going to have more negative social reactions. And over three or four years we are more likely to stop being friends. So that is one less confidant for both of us."

Potential prescriptions to address this issue were made by experts like Cacioppo and Putnam - such as service-learning programs, more interactive cultural and artistic endeavors, and technologies to reinforce face-to-face interactions.

What do you do when you feel lonely?

While these prescriptions are most definitely a great place to start, I believe it is critical to find a place for people to come together virtually, thus providing a strong sense of community and belonging. Finding a healthy online community can reduce loneliness while being more accommodating for individuals who cannot attend social gatherings - regardless of the reason. At the same time, Dr. Vivek Murthy cautions us in another recent Surgeon General's advisory, "Social Media and Youth Mental Health." The effects of social media can be dangerous for anyone, but especially young users:

Children and adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is concerning as a recent survey showed that teenagers spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on social media. And when asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse.

That said, we've also seen the rise of social reading in virtual communities, a healthier social media practice with many benefits. By now, many will be familiar with the powerful influence social media has had on the reader community - including readers, writers, booksellers, publishers, and so on - across the globe starting in 2020. Thanks to the pandemic, people rekindled their love for reading or discovered a newfound love of reading while picking up a book from a dusty shelf to ward off boredom. Of course, booksellers' sales skyrocketed, reaching numbers that marked history. Basically, Booktok (as well as Bookstagram and Booktube, but primarily Booktok) changed the lives of billions of people in multiple ways. Being a reader was once so strongly associated with multiple stereotypes, stigmatized, and, if we're being honest, judged - quickly making someone who was already lonely feel even lonelier. That being said, finding a community of readers before Booktok was not always easy, especially for those who preferred staying home or struggled with social anxiety (or those of us that lived in super small towns with no such communities in person). Social media made finding a community of accepting, like-minded people much more accessible. People could post reviews of their favorite books and instantly find someone else who shared similar opinions, creating a connection and, most likely, a new friendship. A simple 30-second video could kickstart hundreds, if not thousands, or new companies - my experience as a Booktoker is proof of that. Of course, with the ever-growing popularity of Booktok, being part of a book club became something people were a bit more excited to share rather than feel embarrassed about the fact and keep it to themselves. This encouraged people to share their thoughts, which in turn helped fight off social isolation and, of course, loneliness.

How can books help when I feel lonely?

Social reading creates a common room for the reader community. On Fable, members can follow other members and their reviews, thus initiating conversations and creating new relationships. And the best part? Members can read together in book clubs - and I mean this in every sense of the word, you can read the same ebook with your book club members.Members can create or join book clubs on Fable, which already initiates a crucial sense of community, support, and belonging, removing much social anxiety. To make things even better, club members can read and annotate their book club book together in the same ebook, meaning they can see other members' thoughts, reactions, and annotations should they decide to annotate in social mode. All of that said, Fable can be a crucial tool to battle social isolation for those of us who find ourselves most comfortable and happy in our own spaces. Don't get me wrong, having some social interactions in your lives is essential, and there will always be pros and cons to social media platforms, but Fable finds itself right in between. It's not the same as in-person book clubs but has all of the same community elements, if not more, and while it does have the social interaction of other social media platforms, it's so much more than that. 

How social reading helped me

Let me wrap this up by talking a bit about my personal experience with Fable before I even started working here. I'd been posting on social media for over a year and LOVED it, but was looking for a better way to get closer to my followers. I wanted us to feel like a family, not just me being "that girl on TikTok." Which is when I found Fable. Against popular belief, I'm not all that social in real life. I feel much safer and more comfortable at home, so I tend to avoid going out or having to go to busy settings where I'll need to socialize - it drains me so much, even if I'm there for just five minutes. That being said, when I found a way to moderate a book club online on an organized and fun app, I was so incredibly happy. Fable has become an outlet for me and so many other readers to share their love of books, talk about them, read with others, and find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in loving that one book. For all these reasons, I genuinely believe Fable to be a great place to start for anyone who deals with anxiety or lives in a smaller area to find their community, connect, and ward off loneliness. 

Keep reading on Fable

The Fable app is built for social reading, with tools for sharing highlights, comments, insights, links, pictures, and videos as you read together.We also make it easy to launch your free book club. With our platform, you can host every aspect of an online discussion at a single destination to reach readers and build safe online communities regardless of location or time zone.
Start your own book club today!
You can also discover your new favorite book by exploring thousands of book lists on Fable. It’s easy to make your own list as well!
Make a great book list.
Just finished reading a book and have the urge to share your thoughts with the world? It’s time to write your review! You can also import your Goodreads reviews to your Fable account!
Rate and review your favorite books!

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