Isolation and Impersonal Interaction in a Digital, Post-Pandemic Society

What Happens to Human Health, Cooperation and Trust with Increased Isolation and Reduced In-person Social Interaction?

Human life is becoming increasingly digitized, resulting in historic levels of isolation and impersonal interaction. We meet over Zoom, shop online, have food delivered to our front door, and our children play video games or watch Tiktok videos for as many hours as they can get away with. The trend toward digitization was already robust when along came COVID-19. COVID-19 brought about the most massive change in how humans live, work and socialize in modern times. From lockdowns, school closures, social-distancing, and working from home, the interventions used to try to stop a virus had not only immediate consequences, but also set up a new normal. Even as the pandemic has abated, we still conduct as much of life as possible via digital interaction. Of course the digital world has provided extraordinary advances and tools for research, economic activity, and innovation etc. Yet throughout evolutionary time, human interaction has involved the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. What happens when human interaction involves only a fraction of the senses?  Or when humans significantly reduce the number of in person interactions in the course of their daily lives? How will social media and AI, which are likely both a cause and an effect of less in person interaction, exacerbate challenges of human isolation? Using interdisciplinary analysis, what can we learn about the effects of reduced in person social interactions (network size and interaction frequency), and efforts to instill cooperation and trust in humans who are increasingly isolated?

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Lydia Hopper
Johns Hopkins University

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