Even in the modern era of tablets, laptops, and smartphones, the president insists that human contact is still critical.
President Michael D. Higgins called out to people to make the time to meet up talk if they were to tackle Ireland’s crisis of loneliness. He spoke about the crucial need for physical interactions and “human connection” in the digital age.
The 9th president of Ireland, who is also a poet, was speaking at Dublin’s Convention Center on April 13, 2019, during a celebration of 175 years of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Higgins pointed out that human contact was now more crucial than ever since society was now dealing with a huge loneliness problem.
“How we meet and speak with each other matters a lot,” said the president and that “we live at a time where more and more of our interactions with others are encountered in a digital space, be it laptops, tablets or phones,” said the president. Indeed, more than ever before, we now have more opportunities to connect through technology. However, even as we are in the most interconnected period in human history, we are also lonelier than ever before.
Higgins pointed out that despite all the great technological advances, human contact is still something that defines us as a race. Whether it is through conversations, face-to-face interactions or simply just taking the time to have a chat with someone, human contact defines us as a people.
In his speech, the president highlighted the positive impact of technology, most notably the internet, but then also indicated that a purely digital life presents challenges. He further agreed that there is no denying the practical and positive contribution of the digital world, particularly for those who constantly struggle with balancing work and family commitment on a daily basis.
Research consistently shows that loneliness can lead to various illnesses and a 50% increased risk of early death. Research has shown that simple acts, such as holding the hand of a loved one, cuddling, or visiting friends and family are just as important to our well-being as drinking more water and exercising. Some research indicates that loneliness is even more dangerous than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul had a day of thanksgiving to mark its foundation anniversary in Ireland. Other guests at the function included Regina Doherty, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and Brian Cody, hurling manager for the Kilkenny senior team.
Mr. Higgins said that people were facing a myriad of challenges in Ireland and that their lives are affected by “low income and the effects of debt, unemployment, educational disadvantage, poor health, relationship breakdown, bereavement, addiction, violence, loneliness, disabilities, overwhelming caring responsibilities, and other challenges.”
He also pointed to the growing rich and poor income inequality gap and said that “Despite the measures that may suggest an improvement in our economy, there are still too many people in Ireland struggling, too many living in consistent poverty.” The president insisted that this has to change.
In 2018, the World Economic Forum highlighted Ireland’s soaring wealth inequality, placing it eighth out of 30 countries in its Inclusive Development Index. According to the report, Ireland was still facing “high income inequality and soaring wealth inequality” even though the median living standards had risen moderately.
Just last month alone, the number of homeless people crossed the 10,000 mark for the first time in history. The Department of Housing revealed that there were about 6,480 adults and 3,784 children and dependants who accessed emergency accommodation during the week of February 18th, 2019.
The Fr Peter McVerry Trust even disputes these figures and says they are quite modest. The Dublin-based charity trust, which was set up to reduce homelessness, drug misuse and social disadvantage, points outs that these figures did not even include the people sleeping rough, the ones couch-surfing, homeless people in hospitals and prisons, those in direct provision centres, and domestic violence refugees.
President Higgins indicated that there was a great need to continue to make Ireland a more equal place to live and work in where caring for each other, our children, older people, and people with disabilities is a core value and one that is equally supported. “We need to make Ireland a place where individuals, families communities can participate fully in work and society, and where a strong economy helps to support the kind of society that we wish to live in,” the president said.
The president’s overall message seemed to propose that, even in an increasingly digital age, we can beat loneliness, one conversation at a time.