Loneliness is becoming one of the most talked about subjects of our age.
At a time when everyone has an mobile computer in their pocket, connecting them potentially to everyone on the planet, we are more lonely than ever before, seemingly preferring to message our friends rather than meet them.
This is the subject of a Guardian article today, discussing the place of Apps and services that connect people to their friends, family and community, and also connect them to artificial intelligences.
Loneliness in the UK
Loneliness is a huge issue in the UK, particularly among seniors. According to The Campaign to End Loneliness:
- 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al, 2003)
- Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone (ONS, 2010)
- Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
Furthermore, loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
Not a replacement for “real” interaction
Although the idea of using technology to solve the the problems of the social isolation and loneliness sounds like a great idea, it’s never a substitute for real-face-to-face interaction.
According to psychologist Arlene Astell of Sheffield University’s Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare.
What we need are solutions that can tackle the reasons people become socially isolated or lonely – things such as decline in physical or mental health, reduced mobility, bereavement, family living at a distance, reduced social networks, perceived lack of social support low participation in social activities
Mindings “a good example”
The article then mentions Mindings as a good example of this. Mindings was created not to replace human interaction, but to encourage interaction with a circle of family, friends, carers and community. By keeping a technology-shy loved-one “in the loop” they feel better connected (as confirmed in an independent clinical trial of Mindings). With Mindings texting notifications to the senders confirming receipt, or even a range of pre-written replies, the user is never far from the sender’s mind and subsequent conversations are richer because they “experienced” the event photographed or mentioned, rather than missing out.
The article concludes:
Technology means we are communicating differently. Used in excess, it may well provoke loneliness by replacing meaningful, tangible relationships with virtual interactions. But for those who find themselves socially isolated, it can provide an invaluable link to family, friends and the wider world around them.
Read the full article here.