Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good – New York Times, 23 March 2019, Nellie Bowles
No Screen Status
“Life for anyone but the very rich — the physical experience of learning, living and dying — is increasingly mediated by screens.
Not only are screens themselves cheap to make, but they also make things cheaper. Any place that can fit a screen in (classrooms, hospitals, airports, restaurants) can cut costs. And any activity that can happen on a screen becomes cheaper. The texture of life, the tactile experience, is becoming smooth glass.
The rich do not live like this. The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction — living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email — has become a status symbol.”
Through the WI lens
A few years ago, when Shiny New Things like iPhones and iPads were all the rage, the idea that people would consider using technology as an indicator of social deprivation might have seemed ludicrous. But it’s a sign of the dystopia tech has ushered in that this scenario has come to pass. This NYT article reports that, while poor communities are given on-screen avatars to comfort them and provide company, the rich are increasingly prepared to pay a premium for real human contact. Partly, that is perceptual: “Facebook is Facebook whether you are rich or poor”; and in part it is based on mounting evidence that time spent online is unhealthy. Kids who spend more than two hours a day looking at a screen get lower scores for thinking and language; so naturally, wealthier parents pay to send their children to schools where they get a screen-free education.
Growing reliance on technology to deliver social care seems inevitable given the demographic shift towards an ageing population; and technology is sure to play a key role in delivering education and other services because of its low cost and efficiency. But it can’t fully replace human contact; while the value attached to ‘human’ experiences such as personal massage is only set to grow, wellness services in future will need to have a human element to deliver the wellbeing people seek.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”