The Coming Plague of Technological Loneliness
Our reliance on consumption instead of connection is killing us.
If loneliness is part of the human condition, technology with mobile addiction is upgrading it. If loneliness is like a primeval warning sign, social media addiction is making human connection like an endangered resource.
If internet connection is phase one of advent of technological loneliness, an AI-human interface capable of understanding our emotions will be phase two and it’s coming soon.
A Warning Signal Out of Sync with Technology
For some of us, living on our own where acquaintances and friendships lack real intimacy, is just the new normal. A world where partnerships and family, are overwhelmed by a deluge of time spent online and an ultra-competitive market economy that suggests we are fiercely individual and not communal beings.
What if all of this technology and ambition is leading us into a state where we might be at risk to die one day of loneliness? Indeed we are starting to realize as a species the health risks of a fake internet, virtual connection and the risks of our newfound mobile addiction.
We Live Lifestyles of Consumption
Let’s just admit it, we consume by habit. A routine of checking favorite apps. Yet something doesn’t quite feel right inside, like a hunger or a thirst, that we just can’t seem to place going dry. We are missing out on the most valuable human resource, that most primary resource of them all: connection.
What happens when artificial intelligence becomes sophisticated enough to offer us emotional companionship, psychological ubiquity and simulated understanding? Why would we settle for human interaction?
Already you can see the signs, generations of people who think the internet is real and for whom most of their free time is spent online doing something somewhere, usually on their mobile smart phone. For some of them, nearly all of the time.
Immersion with a Disconnected Internet
In the brilliant movie, Her here is the existential dilemma, we are creating new kinds of immersion that are not fundamentally human. Imagine an operating system (OS) that is your one true friend, it might be the inevitable path that the likes of Google Assistants, and Alexa voice assistants of the world are leading to. (Huawei for instance, shares this dream).
Yes, we know what loneliness feels like in 2019. We know it like the back of our hand, of ours, days and weeks going unnoticed in a world preoccupied not even with itself, but with its virtual self.
The Mental Health Risk of Growing up with the Internet
We are no longer selves in a tribe, the virtual tribe has indeed swallowed up our own individuality as well. This takes different forms for different people, different genders, different but similar experiences. An Urban sprawl of mis-connection and fake internet distractions.
Technological loneliness is set to increase. The tale about the relationship between humans and technology and the dangers to our mental health are only now beginning to come to light. Loneliness is now agreed to be considered more dangerous than obesity, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle or working too much.
Silent epidemics are taboo, they are also the casualties perpetuated by companies making $Billions on consumers: Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon to name a few.
Rise of the Infotainment Behemoths
Our data and our loneliness will have an “average revenue per user” for these tech behemoths. Interesting then, that these companies are going into healthcare too. I guess they know there’s further profit to be made upon our suffering — and not just our convenience.
If millions of years of evolution have shaped us into creatures who need social bonds in the same way that we need food and water. In just a decade we’ve become mobile addicts that barely question if technological addiction or technological loneliness exists.
As Millennials and Gen Z are aging they are finding themselves in a peculiar society where it’s harder to meet people, harder to date, harder to actually enter into spontaneous human connection, period.
Oddly in many cases we are just giving up, having less sex, having less long-term relationships, meeting less — a steady decrease in face to face interaction.
And yet we increasingly find ourselves isolated. Loneliness is no longer a powerful enough driver to break us out of the silos created by modern life. Many of us are not even aware of our loneliness condition, just only that our new normal is leading to peculiar mental health issues such as anxiety, existential blues, a poorer quality of sleep.
We have a hunch that something is not quite right in our relationship to the universe. In our place in society, it doesn’t feel quite as rooted or meaningful than perhaps we feel it should.
Something is missing between the OCD of internet checking.
Loneliness is the new Normal
Whether you want to blame it on ruthless capitalism, internet mis-reality, immersion, rugged individualism, or all-out addiction to things like social media, video games and time spent online, loneliness whether you like it or not, is increasing on a global scale in most places in the world.
It’s hard to escape the death-chill of loneliness and hard to quantify the sociological and personal scope of the problem. Loneliness has become ubiquitous to technological life. We become more mechanical, our routines continue to have more touchpoints with machines and AI, than actual human beings.
If internet connectivity has connected us to our new-found loneliness, what will an AI that is able to read and respond to our emotions do to us?
Like our insatiable love of high-calorie foods, our love of the internet and its dopamine-reward loops of YouTube, Netflix and mobile notifications eventually wears us down.
Technology to Fill the Void
Consumption may not be the end-goal of human civilization, and yet, the mysterious sense of connection missing in our lives — to a higher source or to each other might be strangely elusive for many of us.
Technology assists us to fill that void with yet another kind of consumption. When internet consumption is your baselines, your set-point no longer can easily remember what real connection feels like.
It’s hard to compare our collective loneliness against that of previous generations, the internet has created a bubble where we can loosely participate in some anonymous game, of quickly changing pieces, you can barely even call them information, more like memes or brain candy. Yet the fake internet doesn’t give us real connection or real brain food.
The trouble is that chronic loneliness doesn’t just make you feel terrible — it’s also terrible for you, it can lead to states that will kill you. Loneliness will not only lower your life expectancy, it will reduce your quality of life. Some of us suffer from chronic loneliness, like others among us suffer from anxiety or depression.
There’s no shame in being less resilient to the discrepancy of how we perceive the connection we have to the degree of connection we’d hope for. Being loneliness for an entire lifetime, isnt’t just sad — — it’s fatal.
The Dangers & Costs of Loneliness are Worse than we Thought
Loneliness elevates our risk of developing a range of disorders on a biological and cardiological level, and doesn’t just increase our risk to things like suicide, dangerous behaviors and mental health vulnerabilities.
It destroys our connection to meaning in our lives on Earth. It inhibits even our capacity to socialize successfully. Loneliness is like living with chronic pain, you don’t see it but it’s slowly killing us on the inside.
Left untended, chronic loneliness could account to a huge $ economic cost of all future healthcare and related maladies. When we invented the internet, we didn’t think it might lead to poorer mental health! How could that be?
Yet with the advent of technological loneliness, the very companies that will disrupt healthcare with data are the very companies that profit from our personal technological loneliness to buy more iPhones or buy more goods from Amazon, or spend more time talking with our Google Assistant, or spend more time on Instagram where they (Facebook) make their profits with mobile advertising.
Technological loneliness may even create virtual bullying and trolling on sites such as Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Discord or in virtual video games like Fortnite.
The Anonymous Internet & Connection Escapists
A lonely soul surfing the internet anonymously has no ethical frame of reference, their online activities could simply be their silent and unheard cry for help gone unheard.
If the internet makes us sick, it could also turn us into attention bots, anonymous watchers or worse. The silent repetition of behavior online that only makes the wound deeper.
As we harness technologies that could help us live longer, we aren’t harnessing tech that will improve the quality of our lives. Since the internet arrived, there’s every reason to believe that the quality of our lives has actually decreased.
It’s not by chance Gen Z are meeting less face to face and having less sex. Is it by choice or is something else at work? As new generations are raised on increasingly sophisticated levels of artificial intelligence, how will their humanity be warped?
The need for connection will still exist, but the object of gratification is likely to have a progressively a less human interface.
If loneliness is the signal that something is not right, will we as a society find ethical ways to address it or turn it into yet another condition to exploit, like so many mental health labels for pharma and a dehumanizing healthcare industry?
Technological loneliness might have begun with Millennials, but it’s not likely to end with Gen Z’s entry into the world.
A loneliness pill is likely not the answer, neither are technological solutions to something technology has augmented and made much much worse.
There is a perverse fraud in the world and we are a silent victim, due to no fault of our own…
Exploitative App Capitalism
If we could successfully reduce the alarm system in the minds of lonely individuals, would that help them find meaningful connection that enrich their lives?
In a world where Tinder and Facebook are designed to be addictive without actually connecting us, one has to wonder at how much worse technological loneliness might get.
Artificial intelligence will be used to exploit our loneliness, just as it will be used to profit from our sedentary lifestyles, reliance on consumption as a replacement for real intimacy and addiction to an internet that is fundamentally not real.
Just as thirst is a signal that you are dehydrated, loneliness is an indication that you are already suffering from a lack of connection. What if we aren’t learning the social skills and providing or creating the contexts and environments to truly connect?
A Sociological Dilemma
What if the quality of our platonic, family, romantic and work relationships are all in decline? Would the science ever back up the feeling?
What if society is sick, and we are just feeling the blunt trauma force of being unable to correct a symptom that is all around us? A bizarre symptom of an Internet apocalypse. An evolutionary dead-end a virtual reality?
Is technological loneliness a symptom that is ubiquitous to our so-called connected smart cities full of people, but is it simply a tolerable decline in real human connection?
We shouldn’t just be preparing for retirement, we should be psychologically preparing to age alone. According to the data more of us are likely to experience this than at any time before in the decades ahead.
Technological loneliness is real and it is not just a risk to our mental health but to our economy and how we create meaning in the 21st century. As we navigate our lives it is a growing obstacle to our well-being.
Google appears to have censored this article due to its implications to its services. Though easily found on Bing, Duck Duck Go, Yahoo, etc…
This article was inspired by and repeatedly paraphrases an article by Laura Entis. Published on a Sunday at 9:00 am EST.