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She argues that humans need face-to-face contact, as they need air and water.We have evolved for it, to the extent that those surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends who regularly gather to eat—and, crucially, gossip—live an average of 15 years longer than loners.An Australian sociologist investigating community responses in the wake of the 2011 floods in Queensland found relations in “a precarious balance”; neighbours were hesitant to intrude even in emergencies—leading the scholar to conclude that “we are less likely than ever to know” our neighbours.Quite right, too: A recent poll of 2,000 Britons found a third declaring they couldn’t pick their near neighbours out of a police lineup.

Increasingly, we live alone, even while maintaining vibrant social networks with like-minded souls, especially online.

For decades, Americans and Canadians have been steadily less likely to vote, to play bridge, to volunteer, to invite people over for dinner, to join parent-teacher groups or local organizations the way previous generations did—from the Rotary Club to bowling leagues.

Family remains strong, possibly because, in the solo age, even very close relatives are not living under one roof.

Between the mid-1990s and 2008, the percentage of Americans who reported eating at least once a month with relatives with whom they didn’t live rose from 52 to 59.

Over a longer period (1974 to 2008), the percentage who spent an evening socializing with neighbours tumbled from 44 to 31, while the percentage who never did so rose from 20 to 30.

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