Home Engineering The dark side of technology
Technology-Driven Social Isolation
Isolation driven by technology
Technological advances are inevitable, often desirable and beneficial, but inevitably acquired at a cost. There will always be many people who cannot follow, understand, or cope with the new version of the world, and for them technology may mean social isolation, inconvenience, and unemployment. In the following sections, I will give examples of how perfectly good technology impacts and isolates various groups of people. This is despite the fact that the changes are often promoted as being of benefit to the very same people who are struggling. Good intentions and reality do not always go together.
It is easiest to consider three different age groups, starting with those at school or teenagers; the next bracket includes those in mid-life who expect to be working; and the final group I will euphemistically call elderly. Actual age definitions depend too much on physical and mental ability to be more precise. There are also very large differences between the rich and poor, and the region or nationality where people live. In the UK, for example, there are strong regional differences for health, wealth, and life expectancy. These are only partially linked to technology.
For all of us, our first hurdle was to start with caring, intelligent, rich parents. If we were fortunate in that respect, then from on it was probably easy to move into to a well-paid career. These social advantages will not only offer a comfortable lifestyle but also increase our life expectancy. Indeed, there is a simple pattern that progressively higher average income, for similar jobs, results in progressively longer life expectancy and better health. Money is not the only factor, as those with independent control of their lives will survive noticeably longer than equally paid people who were totally subordinate in their work and life. The differences can be as much as five years. Diets, local attitudes, and genetics all play a role. Whilst it is possible to look at trends, there will be many people who do not fit into the broad patterns.
There are similar difficulties in estimating how much influence and change in society is occurring as a result of technological progress. It is possible to compare different groups of people, and monitor factors such as life expectancy, income, physical fitness, and health. These are often closely interlinked. They may be confused by changing lifestyles and the overall state of both the country and the world.
Therefore government or academic studies will frequently draw very different, or even totally opposed, conclusions. The benefits of technology will totally dominate the perspectives of some, whereas others will recognize that benefits for some are invariably bought at a cost to others. Here I am taking a narrow view of looking at difficulties that result in social isolation. In terms of numbers, perhaps only 10 or 20 per cent of the population are financially, physically, or socially disadvantaged, or actually suffering from the various new technologies. However, in the UK, this means real people on the scale of 5 to 10 million (i.e. a number equivalent to the entire population of Greater London). Therefore my concerns are real, and should not be ignored as being just a problem for a few per cent of the country. I am using the UK as a model, but clearly the same factors apply worldwide.
The three age groups I will discuss each contain roughly one third of the population. Young means up to the end of the teenage years, the middle group are those likely to be involved with work and employment (including employment as housewives or other home-based roles). ‘Elderly’ is a rather emotive term and a matter of attitude as well as age, but, at least for the UK, this probably mean those who are retired, so are older than their mid-60s. This is a positive view, as in some countries ‘elderly’ technically starts at 40 (or less). Even now, many people will remember when 40 was termed ‘middle-aged’; conversely, based on their activities and mental attitudes, many in their 70s do not yet think of themselves as elderly. Concepts of life expectancy have also changed. For example, in Hong Kong, those born in 2016 are projected to reach 84, so many will reach the twenty-second century.
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