Design, HCId, Language

We’ve become lonely, it seems

Jim Campbell
It sometimes seems feels like we can have anything we want, especially as it comes to information, shopping and now even tasks. Google it, get it on Amazon prime, send it to Taskrabbit. And there are mountains of ways to touch base with people we love (and also the people we just kinda like). I’m writing this to introduce an open topic and conversation.

We’re spending more time heads down than ever before. Hands to keyboard, finger to swipe, eyes to screen. It’s a remarkable tradeoff because we get to feel like we can have whatever we want, whenever we want at the cost of becoming screen zombies.

The New York Times posted an article today about the new slew of apps that help us find and discover people we know and people we could meet. Have we become so lonely that we need computers to help us do something as primal as sharing presence with other people? Why these apps now? Are the apps easier to build, are people needier for people, has it become more difficult to find people we love being with?

Finding friends online
Facebook, Twitter, Email and Instagram have specifically helped me stay tethered to people I care or want to care about. Sure. But they just as well create friction and false senses of closeness that do not replace natural interactions among people. I’m not sure we’ll ever create a technology that an replicate the experience of being physically near a person. But I do believe travel and city design will make it easier, faster and cheaper to be near people.

Finding love online
Online dating has become the second most common way to start a relationship, second to meeting through friends. I’m debating whether or not dating has become more difficult and how that’s related to technology because it also is inclusive of cultural and gender norms.  I’m in the throws of reading Marriage, a History that so far suggests in the last half decade our communities have put more pressure on our partners and marriage than ever before in history.

What next?
I’m not sure we’re lonelier than before? Studies have shown that people do retreat to their computers and social communities when they’re most sad (and I think lonely). So whether or not we’re net lonelier, looking back, it will sure seem like we were and we’ll say, what changed, what was the variable? More screens, less skin and bones.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at ninamehta.com.