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Technology is not all bad for our health – it helps combating loneliness

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Posted June 15, 2019

We have love/hate relationship with our everyday technology. On one hand it is great – it provides us with an opportunity to keep in touch with our loved ones, get the news and entertainment. But on the other hand it disconnects us from the real world and makes us lazy. Now scientists from the University of York found another advantage of our electronics – it helps fight loneliness.

Everyday technology helps people distract themselves and connect to those who are not near.  Image credit: Victorgrigas, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Loneliness is a huge concern for public health. More and more people feel disconnected from their surroundings and they just feel lonely. It is not just a complex feeling – it is also a threat to one’s mental health. But maybe technology helps? Scientists looked at data collected from 445 people over two years. Average age of the participants was 44 and over 50% of them had been homeless and experienced poor mental health. Scientists decided to take a closer look at the connection between loneliness and everyday technology. They hoped that smartphones, computers, TV’s and tablets help people to combat the feeling of loneliness and avoid mental health effects associated with it.

Researchers found that technology can have a positive influence on the life of someone who is lonely. In other words, tech that we surround ourselves with helps us feel less lonely. This is especially true for those who are at the peak risk – people with poor physical and mental health. For example, elderly often feel lonely, especially once their spouses pass away. Housebound people are also at great risk of loneliness because they cannot even leave their homes to at least experience being surrounded by people. For example, TV shows help people distract themselves as well as observe some social situations. But it does much more than that.

Internet helps people finding friends and even dates. Smartphones now allow having face-to-face conversations. Games connect people of various ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Technology attacks loneliness directly and people enjoy it. However, not everyone can afford it – for some everyday tech is still a luxury.

Scientists think that policy makers should promote internet and tech use in the population that is at most risk of becoming lonely. Tim Leech, CEO of Wavelength, a  loneliness charity, said: “The research shows a statistically significant relationship between technology usage, a reduction in loneliness, and an increase in self-rated health. The results of this study should lead to a greater recognition of the valuable role technology can play in fighting loneliness, alongside other forms of support”.

People should also take these results to heart. If someone in your surroundings is lonely, one thing you can do about it is provide them an access to technology. It could be a TV or a smartphone. And if you are lonely yourself, you can seek new friends online. New age of technology provides a lot of opportunity for that.

 

Source: University of York

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