Community has been a human need ever since the beginning. It was “not good” for Adam to be alone and it has never been good for any human to go through life isolated ever since then. Loneliness is a pervasive and particularly painful element of the human experience but it seems that our technologically-connected world has only served to deepen the issue of loneliness.
The Problem of Human Loneliness
According to a study published by Harvard in 2021, 43% of young people say that their loneliness has increased since the pandemic.
It’s not hard to understand why. Despite being connected with information and people across the globe through the internet, young people are getting sucked so far into the digital world that they are neglecting the true source of human connection: in-person community.
We are living in a unique period of history with unique challenges and opportunities. Unbound’s Ascend program is a hybrid online program with live, in-person components (three live student events per year). We’ve structured Ascend this way very purposefully. We recognize the incredible opportunities that the digital world offers: connecting with like-minded people around the country and across the world. Our students have a national network of peers who share their values and have an exceptional vision for being extraordinary at the things of ordinary life.
However, we also recognize the danger of relying on a screen for community and human connection. That’s why the in-person events in Ascend are absolutely essential. It’s also why we encourage students to pursue community locally in their area.
AI Revolutionizes the Digital World
As the ascent of AI (artificial intelligence) revolutionizes the digital world, we’ve asked a lot of questions about what impact these new developments will have on human community.
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Human interaction is essential in an age of AI. While AI may offer programmed responses and simulated empathy, it lacks the depth and authenticity of human connections. In-person community allows us to develop emotional intelligence by observing non-verbal cues, deciphering facial expressions, and understanding body language. Technology cannot replicate these subtle aspects of human communication. By engaging in face-to-face interactions, young individuals learn to recognize and manage their own emotions, empathize with others, and build meaningful connections based on genuine understanding.
As AI continues to develop and we apply it to more use cases in society, there will be a temptation to “outsource” community to a robot. Already, we see attempts at applications of AI technology to relational needs.
This should cause us to proceed with much caution. We must understand that we cannot “outsource” human relationships. We must understand that human community depends on more than just “intelligence” and that computers, applications, and other technologies that may be programmed to be “intelligent” are not sufficient to meet human social needs.
It’s worth remembering that Adam’s “aloneness” was not good and no companion was found for him among all the creatures God had made. Instead, he needed a human companion. Likewise, a non-human entity like an artificial intelligence cannot replace human connections or meet the need for connection.
While we continue to explore how AI can help us do our work more effectively and efficiently, we shouldn’t treat it as the ultimate solution to every human problem. There’s a sense in which we can wrongly conclude that our problems are due to a lack of knowledge. If so, then applying “intelligence”, even artificial, would go a long way in solving those problems. But our human problems are not due to a lack of intelligence or information. Therefore, AI cannot solve them all.
Developing in-person community with real humans has been essential since the beginning of humanity. It’s just as essential now. The more we trust our relationships and community to AI, the more we will suffer the unintended consequences of trying to solve a problem with the wrong tools, often doing more damage in the meantime.
Jace Bower is the Marketing Coordinator for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.