How do our choices about isolation impact the health and happiness of our families and children? This is a complex question, worth serious thought. As we try to protect our loved ones from crime, disease, toxic chemicals, terrorist attack and other threats, the decisions have consequences.

Many families in America lead very isolated lives. First-world health standards in foods regulation, sanitation and medicine isolate my family from a ton of bugs that most people encounter around the globe.

While there are great things about isolation from pathogens and parasites, it is a double-edged sword. Studies have shown that Americans and Europeans have weakened immune systems and other vulnerabilities compared to people in developing nations who are exposed to these bugs. Some diseases and allergies in industrialized nations are now treated effectively with the help of exposure to parasites or pathogens, to activate immune responses!


How isolated should we be?

Not many of us choose to cut off contact with all our neighbors, much less live in a cave or abandoned missile silo. But some do. Ultimately, how isolated the family should be is a choice up to each of us. There are no easy answers.

Many of us live lives of social isolation from neighbors, family or coworkers, because in modern society, it’s relatively easy to ignore those nearby; I’ve lived in the same suburban neighborhood for over 16 years, yet I don’t know a single first name of any one of my neighbors.

Many choose to isolate their children by home schooling them, avoiding the influence of teachers, students and text books outside the family. In fact, home schooling has become a trend. I have friends, neighbors and one of my own children that home school their kids.

Wire strippers cutting a data cable

Of course the biggest isolation challenge for most of us is the web. Our phones, computers and connected TVs put us in potential contact with a world of information, communication, entertainment and most of the hackers, stalkers, scammers and terrorists on Earth.

While identity theft and having our kids recruited by Isis are scary risks and growing, the web has become nearly essential. There are not many of us willing to “cut the cord” to keep the e-bogeyman out of our lives. In fact, most of us are trending toward more web access at home, in the office, and wherever we can go with our smart phones.


Family isolation options

If we are to live with the risks of the internet, why not use it to help with our isolation measures?  The opportunities for isolation choices on the web are massive.  Most of us have one or two ‘top-of-mind’ risks that call for priority in isolation action. If credit card fraud, identity theft and attacks on our devices are the principle concerns, there are a wealth of products and services that offer help. If our fears revolve around that creepy guy down the block, or our insane ex-spouse then a contractor or security service may be worth a look. Lets check out isolation options individuals and families are choosing in 2017:

  1. Alternative homes– mobile, remote, underground, floating or high security options offer ways to put distance or other barriers between an entire living space and perceived threats.
  2. Panic rooms– also known as ‘Safe rooms‘ are secure spaces within a home or office that provide isolation from attack or disaster; some are just large enough to wait out a tornado or home invasion, while others can sustain a family for days or weeks.
  3. Secure our data– software, services and systems to protect data, identities, PCs, reputations and digital money (is it all digital now?) are common choices for people like me who’ve experienced credit card fraud, ransom-ware, computer viruses or other digital attacks.
  4. Microbial barriers– protection from pandemics, seasonal flu and other bio-hazards is possible with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on the furnace, in our car or on our faces.

    Sleep pod interior, bed & TV

    Munich airport sleep pod

  5. Mini-barriers– for individuals, beds, faces, foods, etc. are used to avoid allergens, noise, insects, microbes, toxic particulate and other problems from pet dander to nuclear fall out; these can include sleep pods, survival modules, mosquito nets, gas masks, gloves and many other devices.
  6. Escape vehicles– from spare ATVs or snowmobiles to speed boats and armored cars, vehicles that offer protection, isolation and escape are available and sales are up.
  7. Disaster bunkers– storm shelters and military bunkers have a long history, and residential fallout shelters have been around since the 1950s. Today, hardened, isolated havens for weeks or months of protected living are still options for those who fear the worst. It is even possible to buy condos in a former missile silo!


Isolation choices change lives

Where and how we live makes a difference in who we are and what we become. The trend of younger generations to depend more on the web for social mobility and less on a car results in migration back toward city living. This movement away from suburban areas that captured former city dwellers for so long in the past is an amazing trend with real consequences. The jury is still out as to what that urban growth trend will mean politically and economically, but the ecological consequences could be very positive.

Just as many are choosing to live in cities, others are returning to rural and small town life, as they adopt careers that allow them to work anywhere. Today, where we live is generally a lifestyle choice more Oval silver house on stilts with fold-out stairs open to personal preference than ever before.

How and where we live also impacts how and what we feel must be isolated for that life to be safe and manageable. More creative shelter and survival options are available and more are chosen than ever before.

The social consequences of the physical move to city life coupled with continuing migration to virtual association and communication is as hard to predict as the changes that followed migration to suburbia after world war II.  All these lifestyle changes bring a degree of isolation separating older generations from those they reared, while requiring new forms of isolation, yet to be developed. How will all this impact young children of today or aging parents in retirement is an unfolding story. If you have theories on where this is headed, please share them in a comment below.

Photo credit: x-ray delta one via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: tomislavmedak via / CC BY

Photo credit: nan palmero via Visual Hunt / CC BY

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10 thoughts on “Family Isolation in the 21st Century – Good Choices?

  • By Kimi - Reply

    I stumbled upon this article and thought it had some interesting points. My son was born 15 weeks early and a lot of information I read was to keep him isolated (especially during flu season), but both my husband and I were employed in the corporate world, so daycare was the only option at the time. Since our son was exposed to many different people and kids at an early age we feel his immune system was able to keep up better than if we isolated him. I also feel that his engagement with other kids is also helpful with his emotional and intellectual well being. However, as technology continues to advance we do find ourselves more isolated from society. Thanks for the great read!

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for your comment. Lots of medical issues require isolation or antibiotics or both, based on established (historical) wisdom. Premature babies are major occupants of isolation units (isolettes) that provide a controlled environment meant to be closer to conditions in the womb than otherwise possible, and to avoid microbial exposure. I’m sure this approach saves many struggling infants, but it may stunt the growth of many other immune systems as well. I think there is a good chance you’re right about your son’s exposure in daycare. Probably healthier for him than for you and your hubby, as daycare, like school is a great place for little ones to pick up the latest bug from the other babies and bring it home to mom and dad. Thus everyone in the household get’s new exercise for the microbiome and immune system.
      Thanks again for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts.

  • By Paige - Reply

    I enjoyed this very interesting and cutting edge topic and loved how you explored it in a new way I hadn’t considered.

    My choice to live in the forest where there is room to breathe fresh air and grow my own food was a decision that wasn’t based in fear although when fear of the current and future conditions of our world come up, the distance between my family and town in addition to the emergency servival systems I am putting in place, do give me a little piece of mind.
    That said, what would life be without community? We learn, laugh, grow and even struggle best when we do it among fellow real life humans. When it comes down to it, we choose a home where we have space for our family, where we are buffered from the chaotic bustle of the city but where we aren’t isolated and can access the community events with ease. I feel people do best, in thrive or survive mode, while living with the support and involvement with others daily, while outside and aware of their earthly presence and not just positioned safely behind their laptop or phone screen.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Well said, and I agree! Thanks for your thoughts and kind words, Paige.
      You seem to have put more thought into your shelter decisions related to isolation in the woods than I’ve put into mine in the ‘burbs’. It sounds as if your decisions around family isolation with community engagement are a good example for the rest of us. At least those of us who are not anti-social or in witness protection.
      Thanks again for joining the discussion.
      Steve T

  • By Manika- Nia - Reply

    When I first read this what stood out to me was the weakened immune system of Americans and Europeans. I am American and my partner is from the UK and both of us have spent the last 5 months in Thailand. We each have fallen ill (mere colds and he had food poisoning) and I certainly think it has much to do with isolation in our respective countries/parts of the world. It is very interesting to consider isolation and how it will apply as we steadily move forward as a people and living in the age of technology and toxicity will bring with it many different forms and ways to be isolated. Do you believe that we will become more connected or isolated as we progress?

    • By SteveT - Reply

      I appreciate your situation, as I’ve had similar experiences in my travels. I think most of us from the developed world who’ve made visits to Asian, African or Latin American regions have at least experienced Traveler’s diarrhea (TD) and often have dealt with more persistent or serious illnesses. Our institutional protective isolation leaves us ill equipped for travel without paying a price for weakened immunity.

      The question of how we are transforming as a people is a very interesting and complex one, I think. I doubt that the mandate for microbial sanitation in most industrialized countries will change significantly any time soon, and while such practices may grow more common in the developing world, this will likely be a slow process, so the TD situation will continue for decades at least.

      On the other hand, as a people we are both becoming more mobile and getting more inclined to travel digitally at the same time. For many communities this has contributed to moves toward so-called “self-segregation” where people move to areas where they live near people with similar politics, religious beliefs or ethnicity and away from those that differ from themselves. This seems to be happening in our physical and digital/virtual worlds at the same time, but the consequences of it are tough to predict.

      This isolation by beliefs trend is causing political, social and communication challenges beyond those that history has taught us about. Chaotic, violent and novel changes in society have shaken up institutions and baffled those in government and other roles who are supposed to deal with problems in society. It remains to be seen if civilization will rebound from these trends to a path of greater tolerance and diversity or return to our ancient tribal, feudal ways of a more primitive era.

      I suspect we will see a mixture of these changes, fueled by our evolution as technical and digital beings, and by the actions of the naturally tribal creatures that we are historically. The opportunistic actions of politicians and media hacks who choose to harness the fears and tribal tendencies of a populace for power or money won’t go away any time soon. This will lead to many kinds of ethnic, political and tribal isolation, I believe; whether social or governmental tools will evolve to deal with this “balkanization” form of geopolitical and social isolation remains to be seen. Hopefully it won’t take another Rwandan genocide or a nuclear holocaust to shake the world order into a better place, but we will see.

      No matter what else happens, technology changes, social media and the evolution of people into a techno-biological species will mean new and different ways in which we isolate ourselves as individuals, families, groups and classes. I can’t imagine predicting how it will end up except to say that change in our isolation is inevitable. It should be fun and a bit terrifying to see how it goes.

      Thanks for bringing it up, Manika-Nia. I hope we hear more from you soon.

  • By Dira - Reply

    It is an interesting topic. Like you mention it is a double edge sword. I do understand the reasoning behind it and for certain things it could be helpful but complete isolation is not good either. We are already very divisive and this I believe if taken to the extreme will make it worse. So it has to be very clear that these isolation options are “options” we can have but the channels of communication and interaction with other people have to remain open.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      I fully agree. Isolation is a powerful tool, but it must be used with care. We may remove our shoes religiously at the door to isolate our carpet from microbes we carry in, but should we also remove our pants? I don’t, but others may choose differently.

      Protecting ourselves from microbial contagion, digital attack and political strife is good reason to erect a few barriers, but not for total isolation. Humans are social animals, so most of us are poorly suited to the life of the hermit.

      Thanks for elevating our discussion, Dira. I hope you will join us again.

  • By Phildora Perez - Reply

    Stephen, although isolation has its benefits when you to rethink, gather your thoughts, develop and create something new that everyone can benefit, or just plain relaxation. I feel you must strike a balance in life and allow a full range of beautiful emotions have a chance to develop into something unique and beautiful.

    I believe too much isolation let’s say between the elderly and the millennials would be catastrophic. You would no longer feel the need to be your brother’s keeper or helper. And, viewing others from an isolated point of view is what caused wars, disagreements, hatred, bitterness, anger, and self-centeredness in the first place. No one would give–only take. Compassion would be out the window and we would become a piece of machinery with a very small heart.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      We are in full agreement, Phildora. When it comes to lifestyle, isolation is best used carefully and with restraint. At times, it can rescue us from information overload or save us from epidemic flu, but it can also block much of life.
      I think the greatest danger is in the convenient isolation of the digital clique offered up in Facebook and other social media. If we isolate ourselves from viewpoints different from our own, we are doomed to narrow thinking.
      Of course isolation between generations as you mention is an old and persistent problem that we should be solving, not making worse.

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