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Impact of Technology on Social Isolation

Discuss about the Impact of Technology on Social Isolation.

Social isolation is the complete or near-complete state of lack of interaction between a person and community. Loneliness is the state of an individual when he/she is alone and feeling sad about it. The feeling of loneliness and social isolation can lead to severe problems for old peoples. There are multiple adverse effects of social isolation such as anxiety, fear of dying alone, suicide, mental and physical health issues. There are various reasons which cause social isolation to old peoples such as scattered family, chronic health condition, the death of a partner, or diminishing sight or hearing ability. Many experts believe that information and communication technology can assist in reducing the social isolation and feeling of loneliness between old peoples. This report will analyse the use of technology as a potential solution for eliminating social isolation in old age peoples. Further, the report will evaluate the role of ICT in connecting old peoples and the challenges that could obstruct the effectiveness of technology in impeding social isolation.

Social isolation is lack of contact between a person and society; it is different from loneliness which is a temporary lack of connection with human beings.(1) A large number of old age peoples suffer from social isolation due to several factors, such as lack of hearing or seeing ability, scattered family, the death of a partner or other. In Australia, around 15 percent of the population is more than 64 years old, and a large number of such peoples are living in social isolation.(2) There have been several types of research conducted over the issue which strongly suggested that old age peoples are suffering from social isolation.(3) There are numerous adverse effects of social isolation such as anxiety, fear of death, suicide, the feeling of loneliness and mental and physical health problems.(4)

The old age peoples are most vulnerable to social isolation because of various barriers such as the inability to travel, no social support, loss of friends or family and failure to get help in case of emergency. In the previous decade, an array of technological advancement has transformed the process of people interaction.(5) The personal communication procedure has been revolutionised by the internet communication systems such as email and social media networking from multiple sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and much more.(6) With the help of modern internet communication technology government is providing their service to peoples, the technology assists in faster and easier access to the public services through digital means.(7)

Barriers in Use of Technology

Younger generations use most of the modern internet communication technology; the studies have provided that old peoples are largely excluded from the benefits and revolution of the technology. More than 70 percent of the old peoples have never used the internet or web-based services.(8) Many studies have provided that there is a clear relationship between social exclusion and digital exclusion. As per Kevin Johnson, the latest technology trends are both exciting and relevant for example the high-speed internet connectivity provides users more natural, effective and efficient method of communication and collaboration.(9) The revolution in video-based communication is helping peoples, which are millions of miles away, interact visually with each other. Effective implementation of these technologies can assist in the reduction of social isolation in old peoples.(10) 

There are multiple issues regarding the use of technology for reducing social isolation in old peoples. For example, lack of home internet access,(11) low awareness regarding potential benefits of technology, lack of marketing towards old people’s interest,(12) complicated design,(13) cost and security issues. Many experts are skeptical regarding the implementation of technology to reduce the social isolation in old age people for example in public sector deployment of technology in social care makes old people feel more left out or disconnected because the face to face interaction is changed by monitoring systems. Tunstall Healthcare Group has researched on telecare, and they speculated that because families and friends are reassured due to the installation of telecare system, they become less interactive with old peoples.(14) Many theorists also argued that technology is eroding the links between society and it is reducing the social capital.

There have been multiple cases where old peoples have died due to social isolation or feeling or loneliness. As per a story covered by Piotrowski in 2014, Natalie Jean Wood was found dead in her apartment, and she died more than eight years ago.(15) The surprising thing is that none of their neighbour or any other family member has contacted her in this period of eight years. This news story shows the actual truth of social isolation in old people and its negative impact; there are several ways ICT can be used to avoid these situations. The ICT should be installed in retirement homes, hospitals and nursing care to reduce social isolation and feeling of loneliness in old peoples. For example, retirement homes can provide tablets to old peoples and teach them how to operate such devices; the older adults can use such tools to connect and communicate with their family and friends.(16)

Example of ICT Use

ICT can also be installed in nursing homes and home care for communicating between patients, healthcare professionals, and family members. The ICT is reducing social isolation, and it also assists in getting professional advice. The real-time monitoring devices can be used in home care to continuously monitor the activities of old people and provide the necessary assistance.(17) Another example of ICT use is creating emergency alerts which send notifications to nursing staff regarding any emergency with the patient. Most of the technology did not reduce the part that is not provided in the role area. The old people can easily use such devices to connect with family and friends along with the nursing staff.

The findings mentioned above provide that social isolation is harmful to the health of individuals and old age people are especially vulnerable towards them. The implementation of ICT can assist old people in communicating and interacting with other peoples who benefit in reducing social isolation.(18) Using video, audio or chat based applications can help old age people to interact and communicate with each other and their family and friends. The internet allows old age peoples to stay in connection with others and it enables them to communicate with others. For example, email is an efficient way of communicating than a phone communication because it provides regular contact with friends and family. The internet is also beneficial in reducing the geographic distance between peoples.(19)

The popularity of social media sites has proliferated in past decade; it allows peoples to connect with each other throughout the world instantly. The older adults can use social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, to reduce their social isolation,(20) but many experts have suggested that it is difficult for them since most of the old age people have diminishing eyesight. Smartphones can be used by old people to reduce their social isolation and loneliness because it provides multiple options for communication to them. For example, older adults can use smartphones to watch movies, music, call, video chat, instant message, social media, and much more.(21)

The standard operating system of a smartphone can be confusing to understand by old peoples. Therefore, they can use ‘intouch system design’ that provides a simple and compatible operating system which is easier to use. The modernisation of artificial intelligence technology can improve the interaction of old people with technology since it is a voice-based system. The old age people can use their voice to send and receive messages and perform other tasks well. The AI assistance can be connected with smart home and appliances, and it can change the setting of homes, for example, old people can ask AI to increase the temperature, turn on the heater and perform many other actions.(22)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the social isolation and feeling of loneliness can have an adverse impact on the physical and mental health of peoples. The old age people are most vulnerable to social isolation because they have diminishing hearing & seeing ability, scattered family, the death of a partner and other reasons. The case of Natalie Jean Wood surprises me because it shows the dangers of social isolation, and it demonstrates how people can forget another person who is related to them or their friend. This case illustrates the dark side of loneliness and social isolation and how people can be so careless that it can take their lives. Now, peoples should spread awareness regarding the social isolation and its impact on the mental and physical health of peoples. The implementation of information and communication technology can assist in the reduction of social isolation in old peoples, and it can improve their overall life. Peoples can use internet, smartphones, monitoring devices, tablets, and other ICT machines to reduce the social isolation of old people and improve their daily life.

References

  1. Cornwell EY, Waite LJ. Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults∗. Journal of health and social behavior. 2009 Mar;50(1):31-48.
  2. 3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics. 2015 Dec 17. [cited 2017 Oct 29]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/featurearticlesbyCatalogue/7A40A407211F35F4CA257A2200120EAA?OpenDocument
  3. Magnusson L, Hanson E, Borg M. A literature review study of information and communication technology as a support for frail older people living at home and their family carers. Technology and Disability. 2004 Jan 1;16(4):223-35.
  4. Iliffe S, Kharicha K, Harari D, Swift C, Gillmann G, Stuck AE. Health risk appraisal in older people 2: the implications for clinicians and commissioners of social isolation risk in older people. Br J Gen Pract. 2007 Apr 1;57(537):277-82.
  5. Jung EH, Sundar SS. Senior citizens on Facebook: How do they interact and why?. Computers in Human Behavior. 2016 Aug 31;61:27-35.
  6. Hawn C. Take two aspirin and tweet me in the morning: how Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are reshaping health care. Health affairs. 2009 Mar 1;28(2):361-8.
  7. Bertot JC, Jaeger PT, Grimes JM. Using ICTs to create a culture of transparency: E-government and social media as openness and anti-corruption tools for societies. Government information quarterly. 2010 Jul 31;27(3):264-71.
  8. Zickuhr K, Madden M. Older adults and internet use. Pew Internet & American Life Project. 2012 Jun 6;6.
  9. Bolton M. Older people, technology and community: the potential of technology to help older people renew or develop social contacts and to actively engage in their communities. Independent Age; 2010.
  10. Baecker R, Sellen K, Crosskey S, Boscart V, Barbosa Neves B. Technology to reduce social isolation and loneliness. InProceedings of the 16th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers & accessibility 2014 Oct 20 (pp. 27-34). ACM.
  11. Blaschke CM, Freddolino PP, Mullen EE. Ageing and technology: A review of the research literature. British Journal of Social Work. 2009 Mar 20;39(4):641-56.
  12. Eastman JK, Iyer R. The elderly's uses and attitudes towards the Internet. Journal of Consumer Marketing. 2004 May 1;21(3):208-20.
  13. Oudshoorn N, Rommes E, Stienstra M. Configuring the user as everybody: Gender and design cultures in information and communication technologies. Science, Technology, & Human Values. 2004 Jan;29(1):30-63.
  14. Doughty K. Extending the Role of Telecare and Assistive Technologies in Supporting Vulnerable Groups in the Community. InThe Home and Electronic Assistive Technology Workshop”, York, March 16-17 th, 2004 2004 (p. 43).
  15. Piotrowski D. Coronial inquest hears testimony about the lonely life of 'the woman Sydney forgot', Natalie Jean Wood. NEWS. 2014 February 6. [cited 2017 Oct 29]. Available from: https://www.news.com.au/national/coronial-inquest-hears-testimony-about-the-lonely-life-of-the-woman-sydney-forgot-natalie-jean-wood/news-story/a99d9665f618e5a0c45ff117cb62dcd9
  16. Otjacques B, Krier M, Feltz F, Ferring D, Hoffmann M. Helping older people to manage their social activities at the retirement home. InProceedings of the 23rd British HCI Group Annual Conference on People and Computers: Celebrating People and Technology 2009 Sep 1 (pp. 375-380). British Computer Society.
  17. Eveborn P, Rönnqvist M, Einarsdóttir H, Eklund M, Lidén K, Almroth M. Operations research improves quality and efficiency in home care. Interfaces. 2009 Feb;39(1):18-34.
  18. Prendergast D, Garattini C, editors. Aging and the digital life course. Berghahn Books; 2015 Jun 30.
  19. Garattini C, Wherton J, Prendergast D. Linking the lonely: an exploration of a communication technology designed to support social interaction among older adults. Universal access in the information society. 2012 Jun 1;11(2):211-22.
  20. Unwin PT, editor. ICT4D: Information and communication technology for development. Cambridge University Press; 2009 Feb 9.
  21. Neves BB, Franz RL, Munteanu C, Baecker R. Adoption and feasibility of a communication app to enhance social connectedness amongst frail institutionalized oldest old: an embedded case study. Information, Communication & Society. 2017 Jul 11:1-9.
  22. Pollack ME. Intelligent technology for an aging population: The use of AI to assist elders with cognitive impairment. AI magazine. 2005 Jun 15;26(2):9.
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