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Technology and Social Isolation – A Growing Concern

Technology and Social Isolation – A Growing Concern

By Susan Williams

I was in the grocery store the other day and overheard an interesting conversation between an older customer and a checkout clerk.

The store had just implemented a self checkout kiosk. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s basically a checkout counter where customers scan the products themselves and pay through either their credit or debit card.¬†Of course the store is interested in promoting this new checkout approach. It doesn’t cost them any labour as the customer does the work of the checkout themselves.

As the clerk was trying to promote the use of this new option, I heard the older person reply, “no thank you. I really enjoy having someone to talk to when I buy my things“.

This reminded me of another example of a similar situation that was shared during an event on technology and aging that I attended.

One of the older participants shared that going to the bank was a social activity for them. They enjoyed going to their local branch. The people there knew them, welcomed them and asked them how things were going. However they were starting to feel some pressure to start paying their bills online or use an ATM rather than a teller. They shared that even though they could probably learn how to do this, it would be the social interaction that they would miss the most. Going to the bank was a reason to get out of their house and go and see people.

To take this one step further, have you recently traveled on public transportation or flown somewhere? How many people did you see that didn’t have headphones on and looking down at their device? Did they seem interested in engaging or talking with anyone?

As I reflected on the conversation at the grocery store and these other situations, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that as new technologies are being introduced, are we seriously considering the social implications to our society.

As we have shared many times before loneliness is a significant concern not only for the elderly but actually for all people. So as much as new technologies may be good for business, do we need to slow down and consider the social implications as well?

But here’s the bigger challenge – how would we actually even do this?

How would we tell a business that we don’t want them to implement something without this social consideration being built into the equation? Would people actually be willing to boycott or pay more for a service in order to make this point?

So as I left the self service checkout kiosk, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe I was part of the problem. Am I so quick to accept the new technologies being introduced that I don’t even consider the bigger social implications?

This much I do know. I’m now looking at things slightly differently and wondering how this is going to affect us all in the long term. If these technologies are taking away some opportunities for human connectivity, we need to definitely replace these encounters with something else.

After all, we all need someone to talk to.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.