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The human condition is inextricably linked to our ability to connect with the world around us. From the people we share meals with to the voice on the other side of the phone, humans are psychologically, emotionally, and physiologically wired to connect with one another. 2020—which has been marked by a global pandemic, economic instability, and societal reckoning with racism—provides a stark reminder of what happens when meaningful social relationships are disrupted.

Yet, as lockdowns and physical distancing have limited our ability to interact in person, human resilience finds its way. Coupled with advancements in technology, people have found novel methods to connect despite the physical distance—such as Love is Quarantine, TikTok cloud raves, virtual happy hours, QuarantineChat. As the timeline for the pandemic drags on and certain daily interactions remain shifted online, the idea that technology will play a core role in our future connections and relationships seems inevitable. To prepare for this, it is imperative to explore the degree to which technology may influence an individual’s emotional, psychological, and behavioral well-being.

The following report is the beginning of a journey to understand the relationship between social connection, technology, and loneliness. In an effort to deepen our understanding, Aspen Digital and Facebook formed this collaboration to support and engage with the various communities who best understand this topic.
Our intent is to listen and learn.

Why does this matter to institutions such as ours? In many ways, we converged on this topic from separate paths. Aspen Digital’s purpose is to bring about social change through the responsible stewardship of technology. Facebook's mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. Addressing loneliness and the associated feelings of disempowerment and disconnection is core to achieving both of our goals. How loneliness is defined, experienced, measured, and mitigated in a digital environment are some of the key questions we explore.

The following report features three main parts. Part one provides context and background scientific study on the concept of loneliness. Part two dives into key learnings drawn from a series of in-depth discussions we held with researchers, academics, clinicians, and technologists during three closed-door roundtable sessions and one public panel, all held in the summer of 2020. Part three offers different approaches and considerations for designing and developing technologies in this space. The report concludes with a set of recommendations for a variety of stakeholders, such as the tech industry.

While questions remain, the aim of this effort is to complement existing research, catalyze a community of interest, and influence the design and build of products, tools, and services that support human well-being.

Aspen Digital and Facebook thank each of the 2020 roundtable participants for their time, expertise, and candor. We recognize the tremendous amount of work that is already being done, and we value your perspectives in helping us further our understanding. Most importantly, we hope that these conversations will promote cross-sector collaboration for the field at-large.

Thank you, also, to Dr. Kristine Gloria, our rapporteur, for capturing the various dialogues, debates, and nuanced view-points of participants. As typical of Aspen Institute roundtables, this report is the rapporteur’s distillation of the conversation. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of each participant in the meeting. Finally, we would like to thank Beth Semel, Program Manager, and Carner Derron, Marketing and Communications Manager, with Aspen Digital for their work on the roundtables and bringing this report to fruition.

Vivian Schiller
Executive Director, Aspen Digital
The Aspen Institute
Naomi Gleit
Vice President, Product and Social Impact
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