Over the last weekend my wife said words to the effect of “society is now working in such a way that we scarcely have contact with our neighbours but we invite complete strangers into almost every aspect of our lives.”
The more I thought about it the more it has resonated with me. I don’t know how many people enjoy long chats or drinks or BBQs with their neighbours any more. As a kid, it was an almost weekly event where families in the street would get together, the children playing under the sprinkler or backyard sports, whilst the parents relaxed over a cool drink or cooking a snag.
In many suburban communities those days seem long gone, with too many not knowing the name of their neighbours let alone socialising with them.
And yet, as we become more isolated from those closest to us, we open up ever more of our lives to complete strangers.
Social media is a prime example where almost every aspect of what people eat, drink, do and experience is shared with ‘friends’, many of whom you may never meet. We dial random drivers to take us home and deliver us food. Our habits are tracked by big technology companies.
The ‘gig’ economy takes the historical service professional into the realm of anyone with access to an app who we will then invite into our home or business to assist us.
At the most basic level, rather than call upon your neighbour to borrow his ladder, you can now ask a complete stranger to rent you one without even leaving home.
Such an approach has opened up a world of opportunity for the entrepreneur and the consumer. It has lowered prices, delivered new services and provided employment to many, and yet we scarcely reflect on what it is costing us along the way.
No matter how beneficial technology is, human nature still craves human interaction. The process of walking to the store and talking to the cashier is a much more satisfying experience than simply ordering your groceries online. It may not be more convenient but, starved of that human contact, it may be that people actually lose a bit of themselves or empathy for others.
Humans are innately social creatures and thrive off human contact and familiarity. A random selection of strangers might offer us convenience but it may also prove to be a poor substitute for getting to know those closest to you.