Phasing Out the ‘Human’: Can Technology Cure Modern Loneliness

December 12, 2017

Think about some of the relationships in your life: your mom, your dad, your pet, your partner…Whether its a tinder fling or someone you are deeply in love with and want to share your life, relationships meet a psychological need for everyone.

Of course, humans have certain physiological needs too, like food, water and shelter as well as the existentials in life that keep us fulfilled and engaged. Without the former, our bodies would die, and without the latter, our souls would become stunted, failing to grow, ultimately killing us… inside. At the end of the day, removing relationships, means removing sanity. It means getting rid of love. It means no more sex—which we know is a pretty important factor in the continuance of humanity.

I like you…

We know that relationships are essential to our survival, but what have we done to keep these relationships alive? What have we done to make sure humans have healthier, richer relationships so humanity isn’t at risk of extinction?

We did what humans do best. We moved forward. We advanced. Every 100 years, our technology increases by 1000 percent, leading to improved communication with those we have relationships with and a higher chance of connection with those we’ve never met. Think about the life changing breakthroughs in communication technology.

Let’s start with fire.

Fire may not be the first thing you think of when talking about technology or communication, but imagine yourself as a primitive human in the untouched wilderness for a moment. It’s dark. You’re in survival mode. Your belly is empty and all of a sudden, a fellow Neanderthal conjures up this warm, glowing, beautiful source of light and shares it with the rest of your tribe.

You’re witnessing a social innovation bringing people together for entertainment, comfort and survival. It’s a source for resting, cooking, dancing, laughing and story-telling—all of which help to improve relationships.

In the glow of the fire, Neanderthals go from acquaintance to friend. As such, fire can easily be argued as the first technological innovation that fosters a better relationship.

Since the first fire, we’ve come up with ways to bring people closer at a more rapid pace. From the printing press, the telegram, the telephone, cars, planes, the World Wide Web, and most recently, the influx of social media platforms. Facebook has roughly two billion monthly active users all sitting around their modern camp fires” telling stories, sharing moments, maintaining and growing relationships. We’re all still cave women and men trying to survive and entertain, we now just congregate around a slightly more complex source of warmth.

Do you like me?

In addition to relationship maintenance, we’re also seeing humans use tech to create relationships with non-humans. Sure, people need interaction, but not necessarily human interaction. This isn’t a brand new concept, this is happening. This is the fictitious character you fall in love with or vomit hate for in a television series or movie or even a podcast. This is the video game character you attach yourself to, making intricate relationships that were all designed by other humans. We’re inserting ourselves into these lives made possible because of technology.

Even when you are having an interaction with another human, is tech obfuscating the relationship? When you text someone you’re not really having a human interaction. At least not in the traditional sense because for better or worse, talking to someone without hearing their voice or reading the signals on their face or even seeing the imperfections in their handwriting has become the new norm.

And if these non-human, tech induced interactions have already become the new normal, then maybe technology can be used to create genuine relationships for humans. That is, a relationship that comforts and inspires and grows alongside its partner.

Consider the strides in artificial intelligence. It might be some time before we get to the days of machines being indistinguishable from humans, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create a relationship through tech.

I don’t mean one of those life-like” dolls that inevitably emits an eerie emotional response from unfamiliar onlookers. Because when a robot is realistic, but still distinguishable that it’s artificial, our empathy for it drops dramatically into the distinctive dip called the Uncanny Valley.

Of course, science fiction movies like Her and 2001: A Space Odyssey have explored the relationship between humans and technology, and the possible, negative, dystopian outcomes, but Skynet isn’t taking over and John Connor isn’t the last hope of the human race. Technology is still about progress. It’s about improving the world we live in.

The idea of falling in love with something that was created by another person, something that’s not a physiological creation, not human birthed, will certainly seem offensive to most, but if you couldn’t tell the difference, would it matter? If this relationship could provide empathetic companionship for the aging widow who lost her partner, or save the sanity of the astronaut drifting alone in outer space, we’ve ultimately used technology to cure loneliness.

SEE ALSO: What YML is doing to help reshape early education learning in a screen-obsessed world>

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