Is Technology Making Us Lonely?29th January 2019
The loneliness epidemic is frightening, but what is it that’s making us so lonely? Many people believe that technology is contributing to the problem. Recently we’ve been researching the effects of technology on the loneliness epidemic. We’ve found:
- There are people who believe that technology contributes to loneliness
- There are those who believe some people want to isolate themselves and technology is only an extra enabler.
- Others think we have control over whether we choose to let technology contribute to our loneliness
- While some believe that technology is helping to cure loneliness, particularly in the elderly, when it helps to connect them with family and friends far and wide.
The jury is out.
There is a divide between those of us who support technological intervention in making us mentally healthier and those who believe it’s making us more depressed, anxious and mentally ill. My conclusion is that technology can both make us lonelier and help us to alleviate loneliness depending on how we use it.
As I write this, I’m sat in my home office. I’m in my home office because I’ve chosen a job that means I work from home without a community of workers around me. I like it this way – mostly. I’ve tried working in open plan offices, but it doesn’t suit me. There are times when I feel more social and crave such interactions, but I quickly dismiss the idea remembering that, on the whole, I’m happy with my setup.
That’s the thing with loneliness or any emotional state for that matter. It’s personal, subjective and it changes, frequently.
It works similarly for consumers as it does for employees. Some days we want to get things done quickly and efficiently by dealing with a ‘no nonsense’, ‘no chit-chat’ machine; other days they want to be able to talk to someone about a complex issue.
People need to have the option for people or technology to give them the customer or employee experience they want and need, and this may differ day to day. A lot of companies now offer great digital automatic tools to aid customer and employee experience – but technology can only do some of the work; we’re human, and we need human interactions too.
The depth of relationships matter.
Although we need variation with the interactions we have – human and technological – the relationships that truly make a difference to our experiences of loneliness are those with depth. The interactions we have at work or in a consumer setting aren’t necessarily the ones we need to stop us from feeling lonely and disconnected. We don’t all have our best friends, or even good friends, at work so those interactions may not necessarily be fulfilling.
We need to mix it up.
When people take breaks at work to connect with people – either in their working environment or through their online social networks – it may be because they feel a need for some deeper sense of social interaction. It may also be because their work isn’t stimulating them, but that’s a topic for another day! Either way, people need to disconnect, whether from work, technology or face-to-face contact, to reconnect. Variation in our interactions is what energizes us. If we make the employee and the customer experience something that speaks to all of our human needs, we are likely to be happier.
We don’t need to (and can’t) remove technology from the equation; it’s too ingrained in our lives and, even with the negatives, it also brings many positives. What we can do is to make sure that our interactions are equally technological and face-to-face, and that they are regularly interchangeable.