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A Complicating Energy

I never knew I needed you: the detrimental effects of isolation and the importance of strangers

This summer marks a jolting return to socializing with friends, family, and seas of strangers. On the street, in museums, in restaurants, and in theaters, many people are faced with a painful contradiction: we want to be around one another more than ever, but months of isolation have made us hostile, exhausted, and even pained—probably more than most of us are willing to admit. Isolation affects the body in a similar way to stress, and in the wake of the pandemic, it’s difficult to distinguish between the two. Yet even before COVID-19, loneliness and stress were epidemic in societies that organized themselves out of interdependence in the name of efficiency and individuality.

In the July issue of Harper’s Magazine, the poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert writes about her own experiences during the pandemic (a “slow-motion crisis of the self”) and the scientific evidence that supports our need for all forms of human interaction. In this week’s episode of the podcast, Gabbert candidly speaks with Harper’s web editor Violet Lucca about her essay and our collective struggle to recover from the lockdown.

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June 2020

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