An App for Loneliness

Here is an article warning of the loneliness-creating effects of technological progress.

It is interesting, in parts, and exceedingly annoying in others.

Some thoughts:

First, the economic angle. The article mentions the possibility that people won’t be able to secure employment, since robots will “do everything”, and suggests that governments might feel compelled to regulate companies, requiring a certain percentage of employees be human. This would be a mistake (as are all government interventions in the marketplace) because such a requirement would unnecessarily burden firms with additional costs which would result in either the firms raising prices, lowering quality, or ceasing to exist. Most firms operate at the margin, which practically means that most firms are on the verge of closing down–not necessarily go bankrupt; some firms close down because the owners realize they can get a better return doing something else. Another point about the economic angle I want to mention relates to the author’s statement: “As tech companies develop creative solutions to make cities more efficient, we can only hope they’ll be mindful to the effects of change on city-dwellers’ wellbeing…” I infer from this statement that the author thinks technology companies somehow impose their products onto their customers. The opposite is actually true: companies spend large amounts of time and resources trying to figure out what consumers want. If a firm is fortunate, it manages to create a product that fulfills needs and/or wants that the consumers didn’t even realize they had. Check out Chapter 7 (beginning on page 33) of this book for further consideration of technology and employment.

Second, the government angle: the author quotes people who imply that the government will need to step in to “preserve” important social infrastructures such as “parks, community centers, cafes, and shops“. Unfortunately, any government action to “preserve” such places will eventually result in their banishment altogether, because government actors respond to different incentives than market actors. I suggest Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities for information on how cities’ citizens create their society organically, without government involvement.

Third, the missing angle: Not once does the author, or anyone she quotes, mention two elements of society that can do more than any government program to alleviate loneliness: the Family and the Church (or some religious community). Both institutions are voluntary in nature (more so for the Church than for the Family, perhaps), so they are excluded from the discussion by people who feel the need to arrange the lives of others “for their own good”. But as an actual solution for loneliness, both the Family and the Church are much more effective than public parks.


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