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Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

The following key learnings are drawn from a series of in-depth discussions held with researchers, academics, clinicians, and technologists during three closed-door roundtable sessions and one public panel, all held in the summer of 2020.

There is no strong evidence that indicates levels of loneliness have increased globally during the pandemic.

Despite initial expectations of COVID-19 physical distancing requirements potentially sparking an increase in loneliness, we do not have evidence that mean levels of loneliness have either increased or decreased throughout various world regions during the crisis. However, certain populations (vulnerable populations and life stages) are more likely to experience loneliness (before and during COVID), such as younger adults, people who live alone, and people who have gone through major life events.

When designing tech for people who are experiencing loneliness, precision is key. Technology companies can focus on the general population but can also consider the specific experiences of certain subpopulations when designing and developing products.

Loneliness is shaped not just by individual factors but by social constructs and the environment in which we live.

While much of the scientific literature points to the biological and psychological factors that contribute to loneliness, it is critical that we also recognize and give weight to the social, political, and economic factors in play. The question “Whose loneliness matters?” requires a deep reflection on the power structures that give rise to feelings of loneliness, particularly in marginalized communities. To mitigate the experience of loneliness requires responsibility and accountability of all stakeholders, such as governments, civic institutions, and tech companies.

Technology is one piece of the puzzle. Technology solutions should be developed in concert with other key stakeholders. Moreover, one role technology companies should play is to consider how power dynamics may manifest in the products they design and build to help people navigate feelings of loneliness. The same technology that can help people in times of loneliness can also simultaneously alienate them (e.g., the use of online comments to bully others).

The impact of social media on loneliness demands further study.

Scientific evidence on the causal impact of social media on an individual’s subjective well-being, such as feelings of loneliness, is sparse. There continues to be significant questions around metrics and measurement tools as well as gaps in data, which has challenged the efficacy of certain results.

The research picture is incomplete. In order to build better digital tools, further investment in research must be made, both financially and collaboratively, with other researchers.

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