Deputy Mayor opens discussion on social isolation and loneliness in London. The positive or negative role of tech deserves attention.

London’s Deputy Mayor, Matthew Ryder QC, is hosting a public conversation at City Hall next month on ‘Social Isolation and Loneliness in London.’ There’s a great line up of speakers, and I hope there’s space for discussion about our interest in the role of technology and networks. Here’s news of the event, from the registration page

In a fast-paced and transient city, building relationships can be tough. We know that Londoners are more likely to experience social isolation and loneliness than people in other parts of the UK, and that the cost of loneliness on people’s wellbeing is high. This is why supporting people to have meaningful connections and relationships with people from diverse backgrounds is central to the Mayor’s approach to social integration outlined in All of Us: The Mayor’s Strategy for Social Integration.

This event will bring together key academics, policy thinkers and Londoners to share their ideas and work on this important topic with City Hall. The panel discussion will include the following speakers: Julia Unwin, Fellow, Carnegie UK Trust; David Robinson, Co-chair, Shift and Co-founder, Community Links; Rosie Evans, Director, More in Common; and Laura Alcock-Ferguson, Executive Director, Campaign to End Loneliness. This will be followed with a Q & A session on how to make public policy more relationship-centred and what the Mayor can do to address the challenges of social isolation and loneliness.

Networks are fundamental to building relationships, and tech is a potential enabler. However, as I wrote here, there’s different views on the benefits and disbenefits:

On the one hand, the innovative use of technology may help us address loneliness and social isolation, according to a recent report from iotUK. The report cites a range of interventions that can help individuals maintain relationships, or make new connections.

On the other hand, as David Robinson argues in a powerful series of blog posts about Connecting Well, the effects of technology on our economy and communities remove many of the ways that we have connected in the past:

“We have hollowed out the heart of our business with call centres, our high streets with cash points and self-service checkouts, our neighbourhoods with design that strips out interaction and our public services with carers commissioned for seven minute visits, retendered every three months. Fake relationships are as ubiquitous in 2017, and just as insidious, as fake news.

“We have been here before. The agrarian and industrial revolutions disrupted social patterns and called for new ways of behaving. Social change followed but it took a while. Now we are again in that catch up phase. If the technological upheaval that has so changed and devalued relationships is the third revolution, then this is 3.2.

“We can’t rewind the clock but nor should we accept a devaluation in the currency of relationships as the price of advancement.”

David Robinson is one of the speakers at the event, and I hope we may hear more about his ideas for a community of practice for Relationship Centered Design.

There’s a brief mention of digital inclusion in the Mayor’s Strategy for Social Integration, but nothing about the deeper issues raised by David Robinson. One role for a Networked City Community of Practice could be to address that gap.