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Wherever you may be reading this, I truly hope you are not lonely and alone

Opinion

The rise of technology, including the latest threat Artificial Intelligence, is forcing us apart and fuelling a global epidemic of loneliness, writes Madonna King

Print article

So many of the promises made to us, as smart technology marched over the horizon, have now proved to be a lie.

Do any of us really have a paperless office?

Do we value the contents of an email, as much as a hand-written letter in the mailbox?

Have we won back time, and an ability to do more in less of it?

Is our work-life balance better, because of the mobility offered by smart technology?

No. No. No. No. Technology, whether it be via our smart phone or social media apps or household appliances, has just cheated us out of more time.

It’s also robbed us of the very social connection it promised so wholeheartedly.

Let’s just take our smart phones, as an example.

This was a new way to connect, to build communities and to bind us together. Families. Suburbs. Cities. And strangers across the globe.

But what is the evidence we are now seeing as a consequence of its use across generations?

Babies using smart phone and tablets, as pacifiers. Toddlers, too shy to let go of their parents at childcare – but happy to play by themselves in the sandpit.

Primary aged children, robbed of both physical exercise and thinking time, as well as the ability to stop, and simply breathe.

Teenagers with an insurmountable addiction to a screen that drives friendships and opinion in equal measure. Schools that are now actually delivering breathing lessons to anxious children.

We are studying online. Finding a date online. Buying everything we need online. Succumbing to the 2023 disease of comparison, where social media accounts encourage us to constantly see how our lives never quite measure up to those on we see on screen.

Young mothers brexsting – a word coined to describe texting and breast-feeding simultaneously. What will be the impact of that, long-term?

Parents who don’t understand why their teen has stopped talking to them, but know – with the press of a button – their teen is able to produce a map showing the location of every one of their friends.

Plenty of grandparents, who cannot fathom a world of wifi and touch screen, of devices and apps, of television on demand, music in the pocket and instant gratification.

Does any of that really equate to a deeper or more generous connection?

This week, a report answered what we are seeing playing out in our own workplaces and homes, and schools.

We are all becoming increasingly lonely, and those most digitally connected are the most lonely.

One in three of us feel alone, but shame and embarrassment means we eschew the opportunity to seek help or talk about it.

This study was comprehensive, involving 4000 Australians aged 18 to 92, but it was in the young adult cohort that the findings were most devastating.

Almost one in four young adults reported always or often feeling lonely. And 27 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds reported a social media addiction.

The health impacts of that are unfolding, as we talk. Those who feel lonely are twice as likely to have chronic disease and 4.6 times as likely to have depression.

The State of the Nation report makes for sober reading. The lonely are 4.1 times more likely to have social anxiety, and more than five times more likely to have poorer wellbeing. Men and women suffered equal levels of loneliness.

This is not just an Australian phenomenon. The World Health Organisation recently announced loneliness and social isolation as global public health priorities.

“Following in the footsteps of the UK, Japan, USA, Sweden and Denmark, we need to put loneliness on the national agenda,’’ the report says.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who has promised a bigger budgetary focus on well-being, should take heed of the recommendations, which are simple and practical.

Build a better understanding of the problem. Normalise conversations around loneliness. Empower communities to help each other. And establish a peak body.

Not often enough, an issue pops up that the political divide can agree on. This report provides that issue – as well as the blueprint of how we might change the lives of children and parents and grandparents, across the nation.

And I’m not alone in thinking that.

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