Loneliness is described as a mental health crisis, a pandemic, with serious physical and psychological consequences. In 2018 the UK became the first country in the world to select a Minister for Loneliness. The US, Germany and Switzerland may follow suit. In the wake of another pandemic, Covid-19, the problems of loneliness have accelerated. By April 2020 half the world’s population were in lockdown, with social isolation and social distancing becoming the new normal.
Despite widespread concern about lockdown loneliness, there has been little discussion of its meanings – of the differences between loneliness and isolation, its sensory effects, the benefits and limits of social media, and the ways in which loneliness is experienced differently according to circumstance. Or, conversely, when loneliness might even be beneficial. Exploring the meanings of loneliness across times and cultures, Fay Bound Alberti asks what history might reveal about lockdown loneliness during, and after, Covid-19.