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Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Loneliness and the curse of technology

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THE news that Lloyds, NatWest and other banks are to close more than 80 branches this year comes as no surprise. The drive to internet banking (and with it a cashless society?) has resulted in 4,700 branches being shut since 2015. 

Together with Post Office closures, this has transformed the way we handle our financial transactions and indeed our lives. To encourage this, bank apps have been pressed on customers and branch visits with their endless queueing made ever more of a mission. For us, the client, it becomes about giving in – not having to make the effort, the gradual appeal, once you grasp the technology, of home banking. But the thing is, and it strikes me as one of the most important aspects of being alive, that as individuals we need to make the effort. Without effort what kind of life do we have, what do we become?

Everyone must agree that labour-saving developments over the years have taken away the drudgery, danger and monotony of many activities that our ancestors had to bear, and that there have been positive advances through inventive technologies. Where the tipping point arises, however, is when such advancement ceases to deliver the means for a better quality of life and instead ushers in an ‘inhuman’ world where we no longer interact socially, depending on one another for friendship, life enhancing conversation, working relationships and the satisfaction of doing a job well and feeling valued.

It is on the elderly and those living alone that the impact of  computerised technology and its misguided enforcement is most clearly visible: a brutal shaping of society for the worse. If we ignore the effect on the most vulnerable group in society, we set the seal on a dehumanised world across the board. Our existence will no longer be human in any true sense of the word.

I have an elderly neighbour, a widower, who is beset by loneliness. His visits to the supermarket are about the only social contact he gets. Most of his day is spent in front of his TV, not because he’s watching the mind-numbing programmes, but because this box with sound and pictures keeps him company. 

We know that loneliness and the psychological effects which stem from it lead to many other ills, both physical and mental: recent research is showing a direct link between loneliness and dementia, see here and here.  

The neighbour’s son, who visits him once a week and in many ways is a good son, never tires of telling his dad that modern technology is wonderful. He tries to persuade him to buy a smartphone and regales him with the benefits of immersing himself in everything that modern advancements have made possible. ‘Dad, if only you realise it, you need never have to go to a bank branch again and queue to be served. In fact you don’t really need to be bothered with cash any more with the risk of being mugged or losing it. You can order all your shopping from your armchair and have it delivered to your home. You can even have all your meals ordered and delivered ready to go in the microwave.’

What the son abjectly lacks in his total conversion to the digital age is empathy, the ability to see things as if you were in the other’s

shoes. All this harping on from the son is a nightmare to his dad. He loves going to the bank and chatting to people in the queue. He knows the staff and in some cases their families. His trips to the supermarket are punctuated with meeting other customers, many of whom he knows and those he doesn’t he can get to know just by being friendly. For him these ‘outings’ are occasions and a much-needed escape from his isolation at home. It is for them that he gets up and gets dressed. Doing everything through a computer with no human involvement is anathema to him. The son cannot understand why his father does not want to make his life easier. In the place of effort is boredom, isolation, ill-health and a life not being lived at all because of the lack of human contact.

The irony of course is that as the son ages, the same fate faces him when he discovers that his Facebook friends, his Twitter chums and his Instagram followers are no substitute for the warmth, touch and physical contact of real people. By then, of course, he may well have lost the ability to communicate with other humans in any meaningful sense. Computer technology taking over every aspect of our lives could well be hell on earth and the isolated elderly are telling us this now.

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Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins
Harry Hopkins is a furniture designer/maker who loves to write.

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