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Does Technology Make Us Lonelier?

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Artificial Companionship

As a society, we’ve largely come to rely on our technology and devices to fill in for connectiveness and community. We assign human attributes like names to digital assistants or even vehicles. All the while, we’ve become increasingly attached to the artificial and more detached from each other.

Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General warned that loneliness has become an epidemic beleaguering our modern society. Science of People outlines here a detailed compilation of research around today’s surging loneliness, with studies such as this illustrating how loneliness isn’t a problem exclusive to a single demographic—it can affect us all, regardless of age, sex, or income.

The rise of technology’s ubiquitousness at the same time as society’s escalating loneliness begs the question of correlation. It’s a topic discussed above in this TED Talk by research assistant and student Henry Williams. Many of us are almost instinctively drawn to the conveniences and luxuries of modern devices—fancy vehicles, the newest smartphones. Yet happiness tends to originate not from our trinkets, but our interpersonal relationships.

Making matters worse is that this isn’t new information. The impact of technology on our ability to build and maintain relationships has long been warned of, as seen below in this early Big Think video by Professor John Cacioppo. Research suggested more than a decade ago that when we use technology in lieu of human interaction, we begin our first step towards loneliness.

Sadly, we’ve probably all beheld the common sight of someone fixated more on their smartphone than the person next to them at a restaurant or other public setting. Maybe this is true for someone we know—or even ourselves. When we ignore those closest to us for the sake of our shiny trinkets, we unconsciously inch ourselves farther away from each other.

At the same time, technology lets us message and video chat with faraway loved ones. Therein lurks its potential to foster greater human connectivity. It all comes down to vigilance of how and what we use it for.

When we use technology to nurture human connection instead of replace it, we find ourselves increasingly happy, connected, and, consequently, less alone.

“Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”
― Sherry Turkle

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