Overdosing on Digital

June 2024

People have a need to speak and meet in-person.  During the pandemic, when this need was taken away, people sought out ways for direct interaction.

Many have programmed themselves to go through their day on autopilot.  They wear earbuds and listen to music or podcasts while selecting groceries in the supermarket.  They sit in their chair playing Wordle, Quordle and Octordle with a level of efficiency once reserved for work.

With the advent of self-checkout in so many stores, we can easily get through the day without interacting with a single individual.  Deliveries are left at the door to be retrieved after the vehicle has departed and never having to thank or converse with the driver.  Not being in the proximity of or speaking with a single individual has become easy with the automation that comes from digital technology.  New technologies promise more of the same.

This is the future many of us are moving toward and embracing.  The conveniences of technology come at a cost.  Loblaws is testing automated and driverless delivery vehicles.  Staffing shortages are likely to be addressed through automation.  Shopping apps will soon allow you to browse store aisles before placing orders from your couch.  Efforts to reach a person, increasingly, end in failure as employment for people disappear.  Each evolution of automation and digitization takes us further away from interacting with people.

During the pandemic, people were desperate for human interaction.  Holiday rituals, work, entertainment and school were all done in isolation despite the prevalence of Zoom.  Some described this as the “new normal”.  Anything and everything we need to do was conducted on the phone, computer and internet from the comfort of our home.  Yet everyone was miserable.  We had forgotten that what we need is not digital technology.

Miniaturized screen images are no replacement for people or reality.  Spend too much time indoors looking at electronic screens and we feel the need for diversions.  During the pandemic this meant long walks, baking, puzzles and outdoor activities.  Outdoor dining became popular, and any excuse to talk with someone while outside.  We stood on sidewalks and met in the park, brought lawn chairs into parking lots, and walked for hours in the snow.  We set up heaters in garages and invited friends to visit.

In our high-rise communities we did the opposite.  We encouraged isolationism by closing off access to common areas.   Elevators were restricted to one or two people at a time.  Meetings were, and continue to be, conducted virtually when most really want this loneliness, isolation and virtual nonsense to end.  Long after restrictions have eased, some high-rise communities choose to perpetuate this unnatural situation by restricting the ability for individuals to socialize and congregate.  Some communities remain unwilling to conduct meetings in person despite the damage it causes to communities and individuals.

Personal conversations, not through electronic devices, are essential to our development.  Without direct interactions we struggle with more substance abuse, diabetes, heart disease and suicide.  Our high-rise communities have lost the collaboration and smarter choices that come with in-person meetings and socializing.

What we need are real experiences.  Meeting in person, group activities and opportunities to socialize need to take precedence over virtual experiences.  Its time our high-rise communities revert back to the open communities they were intended to be.