WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) authored an op-ed for The Bulwark on the epidemic of loneliness, why it should matter to policymakers, and policy solutions Congress should pursue. Despite being more connected than ever through social media and virtual communication, Americans are experiencing higher levels of aloneness (fewer social contacts) and higher levels of loneliness (feelings of isolation), and Murphy argues that the modern neoliberal American order has exacerbated these trends.

Murphy highlighted the two most significant factors contributing to America’s epidemic of loneliness. On technology and social media, Murphy wrote: “First, for all the promise of technology to more seamlessly connect us to peers and new friends, it has in fact left many Americans—especially young people—feeling more alone than ever. Put simply, we have learned that digital communication cannot replace the value of in-person experience… Further, the use of social media, which once seemed to promise an antidote to loneliness, can create resentments that further breed feelings of isolation.”

On the second factor driving loneliness, the erosion of local communities: “Personal meaning often comes from the groupings we create or join, and connection through institutions helps us construct an identity and sense of purpose. It’s both the connection and the meaning derived from group identity that matters. But many large trends have badly weakened local institutions. Among them is globalization, which has drained local economies and diminished the local cultures that facilitate connection, identity, and meaning.”

Murphy laid out potential policy solutions decrease American isolation, starting with legislation to rein in Big Tech: “First, why not acknowledge that the consequences of technology’s unstinting advance are not value-neutral, and steer technology companies toward products that breed happiness, not anxiety and loneliness? I know this sounds like a herculean task, but there are already efforts underway to better protect children from the dangers of online addiction by increasing the minimum age of children that technology companies can target with their products. Other legislation seeks to increase social media and tech companies’ legal liability for the damage their products are doing to our kids.”

To revitalize local communities, Murphy proposed: “A new strategy of economic nationalism—working to bring key industries with good paying, full-time jobs back to the United States—is a good place to begin. In western Connecticut, citizens proudly called themselves citizens of the Brass City, the Silver City, the Hardware City, and the Hat City. Identity and meaning were created by an association with the industrial character of places because those jobs paid wages that could sustain an entire family—generation after generation.”

Murphy continued: “Ensuring that one full-time job provides an adequate living wage would, in and of itself, help these institutions by freeing up more time for Americans to participate in non-work activities…But we need to do more than just create additional free time. Federal, state, and local government should consider more direct subsidies for community institutions, civic groups, and local newspapers, in addition to reining in the neo-monopolies that put so many local grocery stores, booksellers, and the like out of business.”

[T]oday, social isolation threatens devastating consequences for the social fabric of our nation. It will be some time before we understand all causes of, and treatments for, this growing catastrophe. But talking frankly about the crisis, its consequences, and potential solutions, is a vital first step,” Murphy concluded.

Read the full op-ed here.