Perhaps this relates to human history. Mass urbanisation is a relatively recent development; if the history of human existence was squeezed into a single day, the Industrial Revolution did not occur until almost midnight. For much of that time, humans lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers; cities may just overwhelm the senses.
Ms Hertz points her finger at two more recent developments. The first is social media. The internet has led to much cyber-bullying (although it has also been a source of companionship during the lockdown). And people glued to their smartphones spend less time interacting socially. But Robert Putnam noticed a tendency towards solitary activity in his book “Bowling Alone”, published in 2000, well before the creation of Facebook, Twitter and other distractions.
The second culprit cited by Ms Hertz is “neoliberalism”, which she defines as a “minimum state, maximum markets” approach. But it is hard to believe that state retreat is as decisive a factor in the loneliness pandemic as she suggests; after all, in 1990 the government of the average advanced economy spent 42% of GDP, and the proportion is the same today, according to the IMF.
Some changes in behaviour are down to individual choice. Before the pandemic no one was stopping people going to church or taking part in sports. They simply preferred to do other things. Indeed, one reason for the decline in communal activities is that men choose to be with their families rather than head to the bar; American fathers spend three times as much time with their children as they did in the 1960s. That is surely a welcome development.
So recreating a communal society may be difficult. When the pandemic ends, people may relish the chance to be with their neighbours and colleagues for a while. But the trend is clear. Technology means that people can get their entertainment at home, and work there, too. It is convenient but it also leads to loneliness. Society will be grappling with this trade-off for decades to come.