Loneliness in the Digital Age

Timeframe: 2014-2018

Loneliness in the Digital Age (LiDA) was a three-year long, multi-disciplinary research project exploring the role of digital technology and co-creative activity in mitigating against loneliness and social isolation for groups who were particularly at risk of it. Loneliness is one of the most significant challenges facing society in the 21st century. Research by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that 1 in 10 people in the UK have feelings of loneliness, and our radically transforming society threatens to make the situation significantly worse. Increasingly large proportions of our lives are being lived online, more people are now working from home away from the social environment of the communal office, and workers are commonly expected to work away from home for protracted periods of time. The creation of a borderless Europe has also contributed to a more mobile workforce, where working away from home for periods of time is no longer unusual, especially for younger people. While much of the previous research on loneliness has focused on it being a chronic condition for some, this new breed of the ‘transient lonely’ are likely to be more vulnerable to episodic and temporary periods of loneliness and are perhaps less likely to take steps to deal with bouts of loneliness.

Over the course of this project we worked with three ‘temporarily separated’ groups: caregivers who give up their employment to look after a close relation or friend; utilities staff who work away from home for extended periods of time; and graduate students moving temporarily to the UK or away from their homes for their studies. By working with members of these communities throughout as co-designers and co-researchers, the LiDA project has been exploring how digital technologies might address these emerging social issues in a positive and proactive manner. Some of the outcomes of our collaborative work have been systems that provide structure for peer-support between informal carers and between students.