The Silent Tech Epidemic
Over the past 30 years, through the Internet and the all-embracing impact of social networks, we have participated in a “connectivity” revolution. We are truly globalised. Yet we are unaware of the serious consequences that this radical change is having on our lives, redefining who we are and how we value ourselves as human beings.
The United Nations predicts that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 . Economic considerations are often key to such decisions. However, more densely populated cities do not necessarily result in greater opportunities to build meaningful relationships.
One of the paradoxes of cities is that even if you are surrounded by people there can be a no lonelier place. A 2013 survey by ComRes found that in London 52% of people are lonely . In Tokyo, the largest megacity on the planet, friends are hard to come by, so you can find one at rent-a-friend agencies. In the US, a troubling 2018 survey from the health care provider Cigna , which charts social isolation using a common measure known as the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale, concluded that almost 50% of Americans sometimes or “always” feel alone. And an incredible 13% say that zero people know them well. The survey also demonstrates that loneliness is worse in each successive generation. Vivek Murthy, ex Surgeon General of the US, wrote “during my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness” .
Today loneliness isn’t just a social issue. It’s a legitimate public health threat. Urban living raises the risk of depression by 40% . In 2010, Brigham Young University published a shocking study which concluded that weak virtual social connections can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 15 years . That’s like smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The smart city approach can provide us with solutions to urban issues, “where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business” . Yet, the current smart cities approach focuses on “efficient” services, ignoring and possibly even amplifying the critical issues of social well-being in cities.
Smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) will increase the level of automation of services and simultaneously shift many of our activities into a more isolated sphere. Consider the ability to use a smartphone application to order your groceries and have them delivered. Quite convenient yet also void of human interaction, especially once autonomous, connected vehicles are providing the delivery service. While devices are more connected, people are becoming less connected with each other. Although no panacea exists for achieving happiness, scientific research and common sense tell us that happiness is achieved through “real-life” relationships and sharing with others .
Face-to-face connections build trust and understanding in a transparent relationship where belonging, sharing, empathy and a feeling of “real” existence result through all 5 of our senses. Human communication skills are essential to creating and maintaining relationships, and the quality of one’s relationships has a direct impact on the ability to succeed both personally and professionally. Our emphasis on IoT as a device-centered experience, from smartphones to robotics to artificial intelligence devices, fails to account for how real people benefit in building relationships. Instead, of interacting with the people around us, near or far, there is a tendency to use technology to interact. Two thirds of teenagers report that the Internet has decreased their desire for face-to-face communications with their friends .
Today, a large part of our identity is defined by our digital twin, our social networking profile, which can be designed to show our best face, not necessarily who we really are. The value we give ourselves as human beings is fast-becoming superficial, based on how many “followers” we have notched up, the number of people who have read our blog, or “liked” our latest photo.
It’s imperative that we plan for an Internet of People (IoP) that provides products and services to enhance the ability of urban dwellers to connect with others, sharing interests. As we have built a global community, we have neglected to keep an eye on the needs of the local community. As we build Smart Cities, we need to consider the main asset of any city and that is its people. As we traverse an urban environment to shop, live and work, we concurrently miss opportunities to interact with others; we have become more fearsome and apathetic in building relationships. Technology hasn’t supported the Internet of People to date, only the Internet of Things. And that needs to change by creating new tools to put balance back into how we build and maintain relationships.
Here is a recent example of how we might approach meeting such needs. HoozAround™ is an innovative mobile application genre that is intended for use in urban environments for a multitude of purposes in building and maintaining interpersonal and business relationships (www.hoozaround.com). This smartphone application is driven by user profiles (social or business), personal preferences and interests, and uses wireless technology to continually scan the environment within a 70-metre radius to identify potential ‘matches’ to others who have shared interests. Upon a match, the only option is to engage in physical interaction to expand the face-to-face relationship. This approach enables one to take advantage of the limitless opportunities to connect with others in an urban context - opportunities that are currently missed.
Starting in 2019, a project called The Internet of People Cities Initiative is being launched on a global-scale, using the HoozAround™ technology, to develop strong face-to-face networking within cities. An innovative smart city approach to bringing about social well-being. It is being piloted in collaboration with the IEEE and selected smart cities in Europe, Africa and the US. These cities are engaging in the initiative in order to enhance human connectedness to benefit the local population and visitors as follows:
- Within social communities. The initiative will address the loneliness issue in urban populations; for immigration it will establish a network for them to acclimate within the community, helping them integrate into society.
- Within business. The initiative will provide face-to-face B2B networking for local business people, creating a new stream of commercial opportunities; business visitors can also join this network on arrival in the city, giving them the opportunity to connect with each other and local businesses.
- Within campus. Improved interaction amongst college students, especially international students, who often arrive without a local support group; such a tool can help students assimilate based on common interests.
We have all seen the disruption that has been caused by smartphone technology through innovation, economic opportunity, and interpersonal communication impacts. While the technology space will continue to transform the way we live and work, especially through the smart cities initiatives and Internet of Things, we will watch the HoozAround™ technology and Internet of People Cities Initiative pilots carefully to see if we can begin to achieve more balance in how we meet the Internet of People requirements to maintain our sense of humanness within our global society.
- The 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), https://goo.gl/tQ8W3W
- Report: Campaign to End Loneliness, COMRES, UK, 2013, https://goo.gl/5kD6FH
- Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, 2018, https://goo.gl/2qmqb7
- Work and the Loneliness Epidemic (Harvard Business Review), September 28, 2017
- The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, https://goo.gl/dmWaFy
- Perspectives on Psychological Science, Brigham Young University, 2010
- The European Commission, What are smart cities?, https://goo.gl/EVrusQ
- Jenny Santi, The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories & Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving, 2015
- The Impact of the Internet on Teenagers’ Face-to-Face Communications, Nuhu Diraso Gapsiso, University of Maiduguri, Nigeria
Rebecca Hammons has extensive technology industry experience in establishing and leading software quality assurance, product development lifecycle services, and project management teams. Strengths include technical leadership, process improvement and automation, predictive analytics for software, and strategic planning. Dr. Hammons has worked for Ontario Systems, Apple, Raytheon, Tivoli Systems and Wang, in addition to several niche software firms. She is a Certified Quality Manager and Certified Software Quality Engineer with the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and a Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner with Scrum Alliance. Dr. Hammons received her Ed.D. and M.A. from Ball State University and her B.A. from Michigan State University. Her current technology industry research interests include Slow Tech, Burnout Theory, Internet of Things/Smart Cities (UX and Elders), and Gold-Collar Workers. Dr. Hammons thrives on leading organizational change initiatives and coaching individuals and teams to reach their full potential.
Joel Myers is a leading technologist specializing in the creation and development of innovation technology solutions in the communications and management of services in Cultural Heritage – Tourism, and Business, Social and Campus Networking for Smart Cities. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with an important portfolio of government agencies (at national and local levels) developing and managing the world’s first commercial video-guide service for a historic site, at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. He has also worked with museums and art libraries, such as digital photo-archiving of the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); The Frick Art Reference Library (New York); and the Courtauld Institute (London). Worked also with cultural monuments and historic cities, developing 3D modelling with international universities, such as UCLA and the Polytechnic of Milan, for projects such as “3D Ancient Rome” in partnership with Google Inc., California (the first historic city to be viewable on Google Earth – visited by 72 million users worldwide in the first week of launching in 2008); with the Government of Qatar; and with the Super-intendency of Pompeii. His company is currently pioneering a cutting-edge “People-Centric” approach to Smart Cities called The Internet of People Cities Initiative, that is a global drive to bring people truly “together” within a city, face-to-face, using smartphone technologies as a facilitator. A founding group of city members on a worldwide scale is currently being developed to both pilot and lead initiative within Europe, the US, India and Asia. The work carried out by Joel Myers has been published in international newspapers and journals such as the BBC, New York Times, Hong Times, the Hindu Times, Wired, and Forbes Magazine.
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