It's worth reiterating a few points. As I've noted before -
loneliness is not the same as isolation - it's an unwelcome form of isolation which has social (and by extension economic) consequences;
loneliness is not age-related (the Gulbenkian Campaign to End Loneliness is focused on people in old age, and I fear this serves to perpetuate the social dismissal of the issue among other age groups);
loneliness is quite separate to the sense of belonging or not belonging to a place; and
the way we address it could be influenced by the power of social media in strengthening and sustaining local connections.
There seems to be a widespread assumption that loneliness is increasing. The Mental Health Foundation's excellent report last year suggested as much but does not seem to confirm it. I think we should be alert but sceptical.
As it happens, with a little time to do some catching up over the past few days, I've managed to read one of Keith Hampton's recent papers, on the relationship of internet and mobile phone use to network size and diversity. Among the points made with characteristic thoroughness are the following:
reports that social isolation has increased significantly in the USA since 1985 seem to have been exaggerated and in fact isolation may have declined; and
there is no evidence that the use of internet or mobile phones diminishes the size or diversity of people's core networks. Specific uses of social media were found to have a positive relationship to network size and diversity.
The Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness programme includes a question about new media, but JRF's approach to technology has always been tentative, not to say reluctant. It would be good if they would grab the initiative in this case, and really open up the potential here. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the evidence on local online channels gives us plenty to go on.