Growing old… and lonely

Last month, a friend sent me a YouTube video. I found myself enthralled by it. It made me laugh and moved me to tears. It’s of an old man in his late 70s and a cheerful chap half his age driving around having a chat and singing together.

They get out at various points and look at the sights and end up in a pub having a sing along with a hundred or so locals. The tour is of the elderly man’s home town and he’s mobbed by people everywhere he goes, as he takes a trip literally down memory lane. In fact, the memory lane they first stop at is one called Penny Lane.

Has the penny dropped? If it has you’re probably one of the almost 30 million people who’ve now seen Paul McCartney driving around with James Corden in his most famous episode of what he calls Carpool Karaoke.

The songs Paul McCartney wrote in the Beatles are still magical. They bring joy and sadness. At one point on this mystery tour through Liverpool they end up in the lounge room of his original modest family home.


Paul casually sits at the piano and gives a beautifully impromptu rendition of When I’m 64. I first heard that song when I was 13 and it made me think about what it must be like to be old. I’m 64 on my next birthday and so it’s taken on a whole new meaning.

Paul wrote it when he was just 16 and it shows how he had a prodigious ability to create songs about the human condition. He didn’t just write silly love songs; he wrote songs about loss, longing and loneliness.

In this Carpool Karaoke we hear him sing Let It Be. He tells James Corden the story of how his mother, Mary, had died and he was suffering emotional turmoil. She came to him in a dream and said “It’s going to be OK. Let it be.” It was at this point I found myself awash with emotion.

James Corden also has tears well up in his eyes. He stops the car, wipes them away and tells Paul the song was his late grandfather’s favourite, and adds he wishes he was here to sing along. Paul quietly and reassuringly says, “He is.” It’s an extraordinary moment.

This short film shows how important it is to be connected with the world emotionally. As they drive through the streets of Liverpool they sing the line from Eleanor Rigby: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” I suddenly thought of the growing problem of loneliness in supposedly highly connected society. The technology we thought would bring us together is holding us apart.


Social media didn’t exist in the 1960’s when Paul McCartney wrote his classic hits — hits that still resonate. He didn’t have his head bowed over a phone. He was directly connected with his family, his friends and, through them, to the world.

It’s clear he’ll never be lonely. He’s now 76 and when people meet him on this back to Liverpool trip, they feel as if they know him. They know him through his music.

We may have more opportunities to meet and connect than ever before but, sadly, loneliness is on the rise. Teenagers now connect on social media. And it’s not just teenagers.

One of the biggest groups on Facebook is the over 40s and it’s starting to replace face-to-face friendship. But connecting on line is one thing; connecting in real life is the real thing.

Sporting and social clubs are reporting a drop in membership. Meanwhile mental and physical health problems are on the rise.

A study recently conducted in the UK found loneliness was equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It tracked almost half a million adults over 7 years and found isolation and loneliness raised the risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those people who are more socially connected.

They now have a minister responsible for fighting loneliness and they’ve found every pound spent fighting loneliness saves £3 on health costs.

An Australian survey published in July this year found the number of friends that people say they have has halved in the past 13 years. It’s a similar story in the USA.

The late University of Chicago Professor John Cacioppo was a leading expert on loneliness. He too recognized the life threatening consequences. In 2014 he gave a talk at the American Academy of Sciences that said extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14 per cent.

He and his colleagues showed the impact of loneliness is nearly as strong as disadvantaged socioeconomic status, and it has twice the impact on early death as obesity!

Canadian psychologist Susan Pinker also says the two strongest predictors of a long life are not exercise and diet but close relationships and social connection. Pinker says we now spend more time online than any other activity (including sleeping) and warns this does not serve us the same way face-to-face interactions do. “Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future”

So we do indeed get by with a little help from our friends. TJ  


Loneliness is an emerging trend that will grow more powerful over time. Technology is a major reason why… face time is increasingly replacing face-to-face time. Immersed in our technology that connecters across the globe, we are increasingly, and unconsciously, dismantling the need for regular human contact.

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