For the past 18 months it feels as if every meeting and conference around loneliness or social media has highlighted the use of social media and robots as the answer to loneliness. But is it?
If you are isolated and lonely with few friends, do you think emailing will make you feel less isolated and lonely? If you have few friends now, how will you get all these people to email to? Will you feel comfortable going on mass media sites (which do get hacked)? If you have never met these people, how do you know who these people are? On email you can say anything about yourself, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth – look at adults pretending to be a teenager to groom children. So how do you know you can trust these so called new friends?
Although social media obviously does have a useful place in people’s lives, should it be the major focus for communication with others? Is it better than having a chat on the telephone where you can laugh with people? Are computers or tablets better than being able to talk face to face and even touch people and shake their hands? To me it would emphasize the fact that I was really isolated if my only way of making contact was through a machine.
And what about robots? In Japan and, I think, in some English universities, robots are being developed to undertake a range of ‘Care’ duties – do you want to be cared for by a robot as your carer, even if it can speak? Do you think it will make you feel human or more a member of your local community or will you feel even more isolated?
Robot cats and dogs – we know that having pets can be helpful for feelings of wellbeing and especially stroking cats but of course pets are not for everyone. Robot cats and dogs will have a furry feel and respond to you but you don’t have to feed it or take it for walks – I suppose you could just ignore it for days if you felt like it. So who are the target markets? Is it people who don’t like pets or is it for people who have always had pets but now can no longer care for a pet? And if you have had pets in the past – would a robot cat or dog be enough to give you feelings of wellbeing if you stroke it?
Yes – there may be place for these new technologies which will enhance some people’s lives but as an answer to feelings of isolation and loneliness? To me it emphasizes just how isolated and alone you are. Humans need to interact with humans and animals that are alive – not made from steel.