Will the high-tech cities of the future be utterly lonely?
by Jessica Brown
Maciej Bledowski / Alamy Stock Photo
Humans are inherently social animals, and our health suffers if we’re cut off from social ties. So it’s no wonder the so-called loneliness “epidemic” is being called a public health crisis. But as we sit on the cusp of massive technological advances, the near future could exacerbate this growing problem.
Loneliness can happen to anyone. It is indiscriminate of age, country, and social status. In Britain, more than one in eight people say they don’t consider anyone a close friend, and the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades. A large proportion of the lonely are young; almost two-thirds of 16- to 24-year-old Brits said they feel lonely at least some of the time, while almost a third are lonely often or all the time.
One pervasive source of our loneliness is technology. While it offers an easy way to keep in contact with friends — and meet new people through dating and friendship apps — technology’s omnipresence encourages shallow conversations that can distract us from meaningful, real-life, interactions. Researchers at the University of Essex found that having a phone nearby, even if we don’t check it, can be detrimental to our attempts at connecting with others. Smartphones have transformed post office lines from a chance for some small-talk with the neighbors to an exercise in email-checking, and sealed the fate of coffee shops as nothing more than places of mutual isolation. And technology will only become more ingrained in our lives.