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As technological convenience increases, people engage in less direct, personal contact. It’s easier to keep in touch, but we become more isolated. Should we be concerned?

Technology grows exponentially. Shifthappens.uk estimates information doubles every 72 hours and by 2049 a £500 computer will exceed human computational capabilities. With reliance on data, cameras and the knowledge-based economy, scientists suggest that loneliness and isolation are a major problem society is storing up for itself.

Older Isolation and Loneliness

No Man is an Island

Take ‘Julianne’, a lonely-heart 41 year old writing her isolation on the internet. She‘s always suffered low self-esteem, has no partner, no children and is in a cycle of misery that exacerbates her social problems. She was an unpopular child; as an adult was prescribed antidepressants. She contemplated suicide.

She teaches, but knows few people, as colleagues socialise with their own families. Her parents are elderly; she is lonely. She’s advised to join classes, a gym, travel more; occasionally she goes on drinking binges. More technology is not her answer, but how can she connect with people?

Younger Isolation and Loneliness

A Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (2006) study indicated that childhood social isolation and loneliness increased poor physical/psychological health later in life. A thousand children/young adults were studied through socioeconomic factors, weight and intelligence up to age 26. The longer a youngster was socially-isolated from family and friends, the worse their adult health.

This at a time when medicine, food, information offer the safest, healthiest lifestyles the world has enjoyed. Man went to the moon and back, but some struggle to talk to neighbours.

In April 2010, the New York Post reported the death of a homeless New Yorker who‘d gone to help a woman being attacked, after 24 people walked past him lying in a pool of blood without doing anything to help, all recorded on CCTV.

Computers to Blame?

The Government dreams of inserting ‘common-sense and balance’ into laws, from surveillance to data protection and vulnerable people safeguarding. However, nobody can uninvent computers or dissolve data.

Some people mouse click at home, rather than appear physically in shops, banks, insurance agents and holiday outlets. Others prefer their music from electronic gadgets in a cocoon of personal isolation as they go about their lives.

One vicious circle is: small post offices close; pensions automatically enter elderly people’s bank accounts, reducing likelihood of mugging on their way home; retail business declines, no social intercourse; rural and urban isolation increases.

While some older people embrace new technology, welcome pin numbers, remote banking, online ordering, those without computer access are excluded from a microchip-driven world.

Young people hiding in bedrooms, ostensibly doing homework, is hardly new. What is different nowadays, is their social networking, games, entertainment and lifestyles are more personal and less condemning than the real world.

So the heart of the debate is this: as online takes over, where’s the human touch?

Image: Geek Guides