Since 1945 there has been growing concern about what has become termed an »epidemic of loneliness.« The post-industrial economy was thought to be dissolving what was left of traditional communities, threatening a wholesale erosion of inter-personal relations. It was feared that more and more people were unable to make meaningful connections with each other. The attachment of the term »epidemic« to loneliness indicated the scale of the moral panic, and a growing inclination to medicalize the condition. Remarkably the occurrence of a real pandemic has not prevented the misleading use of the term epidemic to describe failures in sociability. In fact, Covid-19 has shown little increase in loneliness, as people have deployed established means of coping with diminished interpersonal contacts. It has, however, caused a growth in the desire for solitude, as large sections of the population were confined to over-crowded homes. Whilst there were victims of intense loneliness, for many more the Covid-19 lockdowns were a variation in the journey through life, making the most of both time alone and time in company.
David Vincent is Emeritus Professor in History at the Open University and an Honorary Professor of History at Keele. He gained a PhD at Sidney Sussex College Cambridge and became Lecturer in History at Keele University in 1974, leaving as Professor of Social History and Deputy Vice Chancellor in 2003 to take up the post of Pro Vice Chancellor (Strategy and External Affairs) at the Open University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Arts. He was a Visiting Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford 2004–2011, and of Wolfson College, Cambridge, Michaelmas Term 2015. He was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge, 2015–2017. His research interests span working-class autobiography, the role of literacy in popular culture, and the cultural history of privacy. His most recent books are: A History of Solitude (2020), Privacy. A Short History (2016), and I hope I Don’t Intrude. Privacy and its Dilemmas in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2015).