Technology: The Lifeline For The Socially Isolated

With every week that passes I grow increasingly upset with the world, so trying to change it for the better simply makes sense. The idea of somebody suffering in solitude, lacking meaningful connections in their life, is something I cannot abide. People need to be social. We are fundamentally dependent on others, and social interaction should not be reserved for those that fit perfectly into the ‘norm’.

Whether it’s a day out enjoying nature with friends, a trip to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster, or dining out with family, there are many ways in which we interact socially with others. Though the unfortunate truth is, whether due to long-term illness or other factors, not everyone has the capability or opportunity to foster these connections, which can be extremely damaging to their social development. Technology can change this.

Social connectedness is a known protector against loneliness, and technology can play a key role in addressing this by enabling people to stay connected and empowered. The advance in technology is often blamed for the decline in real, face-to-face socialising, but for those unable to, these platforms can offer a much needed lifeline.

While the development of social networks, such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, have completely changed the ways in which we communicate and allow us to maintain more relationships than ever, it is argued that this form of communication is less meaningful, and lacks the genuine intimacy humans crave. However,  John Cacioppo, the world’s leading expert on loneliness, suggests that although online contact can sometimes increase loneliness, these sites can be valuable tools if they are used to develop offline social connections:

“If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact, it increases social capital.”

It may be unhealthy to turn to social media as a substitute for actual encounters, but if internet sites are used to organise a football game, a community meet up, or a conversation, they can be a healthy way to maintain and build social ties. For those with long-term illness, technology can offer a vital solution to isolation by overcoming barriers to social connection.

For children and adolescents who are unable to physically engage with their peers, be it at school or during extracurricular activities, technology can help to advance both their social and educational development by allowing them to maintain a presence even when absent. We started working within this market before we had any idea exactly what product we were going to create. The hospitals, schools, parents, and children told us first-hand that this was the main challenge they faced, and we thought of a way of solving this problem.

The technology to tackle social isolation, and enable educational and social development, has always been there – someone simply needed to utilise it. Personally, I couldn’t understand why something like No Isolation’s AV1, a telepresence robot to help children with long-term illness, wasn’t on the market already. Sadly, there are a lot of engineers who don’t want to make something useful, they want to make something cool, but the tech that really helps people is the most practical, and is therefore without doubt the most essential.

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