Recently Nikolas was interviewed for a short documentary on Isolation and technology by Glen Brauer – the Founder & International Coordinator of Meaningful Discussions . As always, they sent questions in advance and I wrote some thoughts before the interview. Here are those thoughts.
Are you surprised that there’s a loneliness epidemic in many large cities around the world?
Not really. Isolation and technology are too comfortable bedfellows. As cities get larger, and mobile devices become extensions of ourselves then people are becoming more solipsistic. They are choosing to live in their own bubbles.
It’s harder to connect when people are moving so fast and we have forgotten to say ‘good morning’ to each other.
Do you believe that the loneliness epidemic will get worse or better within the next 5-10 years?
We need an intervention. Technology interfaces and Algorithms have taken hold of so many parts of our lives – social connections, transportation, the workplace, our homes, and even connections to our families. This is a major cause of isolation.
FAGMA has replaced the old control mechanisms of the church and state.
Thinking way beyond 10 years – do you believe that it is inevitable that we will innovate our way towards a future where having meaningful connections is the norm, perhaps even making loneliness a very rare thing? If so, what’s it going to take for that to happen?
True technical innovation is to get technology out of our way as we go about our lives. Today’s interfaces crave attention and are hungry for data. As systems get more autonomous we will find ourselves with more time for creative pursuits and experience-based jobs. This will mean building deeper connections with other humans. But, we will need help.
I truly imagine that there will be government and private agencies that will help people reintegrate into ‘normal’ society where we do connect, are interested in each other, and do reestablish the community.
People are making many hopeful predictions about the potential of AI including curing cancer and other diseases. Do you believe that AI will help us to build more meaningful connections with each other and reduce isolation? If so, how?
I believe it really could. Maybe it could predict loneliness and depressive episodes and help us intervene as friends, lovers, family members, or neighbours? Maybe it will allow us to have a deeper sense of awareness based on how we communicate and act every day?
But, it will be in a constant struggle with the AI and algorithms that are trying to wrestle for our attention and dollars.
Why don’t we as humans tend to incorporate more moderation, wisdom and good etiquette when we embrace a new technology?
Because we sign away control. We are gamified by the platforms we sign up for. We are told exactly what to do and with whom. Advertisers then intercept our communications and insert themselves in the messages.
And, it’s been happening for a long time. Edward Bernays persuaded the Sufragettes – a righteous cause – in 1929 to march in the Easter Sunday Parade in NYC and hold them aloft like ‘torches of freedom’.
In 1923 women only purchased 5% of cigarettes sold, in 1929 that percentage increased to 12%, in 1935 to 18.1%, peaking in 1965 at 33.3% (source: Wikipedia)
That is what is happening today with every product imaginable.
Do you see a trend of certain companies, countries or certain areas of the world taking a more proactive approach to embracing technology to build more meaningful connections?
Africa for payments using feature phones. In fact, feature phones lack the ability to highly game our lives. They are utilities. They are useful.
Basic phones – like John’s Phone out of the Netherlands – is bringing back teh right usage of technology for communications. You can make calls on it only. You cannot even hold a memory bank of numbers, unless you write them down in the little book that accompanies the phone. I love technology like this. We could even call it – ‘slow technology’
Many people are aware of famous tech innovators such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates & Steve Jobs but social innovators are not nearly as well known. Why do you think this is the case?
Social innovators don’t crave the limelight. Name 10 Nobel prize winners. These are people too busy doing good to want to be seen doing good.
Why is it that most films and TV shows tend to depict a dystopian future versus more of a utopian future?
In every good story there needs to be awful things, suffering or death before a positive or negative outcome at the resolution of the film.
Kurt Vonnegut has 8 rules for short stories – “ Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
It’s as simple as that. Even though that makes me a little sad.
Nikolas thinks deeply about this subject and can bring it to your conference as a discussion point. Contact him to discuss.