“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
Honoré de Balzac
Karen Dolva, co-founder of the No Isolation company, tackles different kinds of loneliness. So far she has taken it upon herself to help children with longterm illnesses and seniors. But she also challenges the tech industry to rethink the way to create and design products. After her inspiring talk how to do this, we met with her and talked about loneliness, the tech industry and what’s the best food to share with a lonely person!
So far you have created products that help children and seniors. What other fields of loneliness would you like to explore?
K.D.: New Moms are a very exposed group. Refugees and especially young refugees that have to live in reception camps instead of being integrated into the country and its society that they arrive at. And then you’ve got dementia patients, that are an enormous group. On our list on what to fix would also be inmates and especially inmates that are in families. How do children feel when Mom or Dad have to be away for a long time? So you’ve got quite a number of different groups and different angles that are more exposed to loneliness than others. And the biggest one might be: City Loneliness. Fairly young people 20-50, living in cities and not having those close relations.
Do you think technology could fully abolish loneliness?
K.D.: Technology can make it a lot easier for everyone. If we start really looking at problems first and then developing super specialized tools. But technology isn’t more than a tool. So we need to make tools that enable conversations and if we make those tools easily accessible, then yes, we can take loneliness down to a bare minimum. But someone will always be lonely. Unfortunately.
Do you think that pressure to always having to be available can increase loneliness?
K.D.: No, I think accessibility and really talking to people are two different worlds. The fact that we always need to be accessible to everyone, isn’t ruining us. It’s that the tools that we are using are only built to make us accessible and to shorten the amount of time we speak together. Internal communication at work or messaging apps are to shorten the conversation. It’s about efficiency and to get your point through as quickly as possible. The fact that we are always accessible is not a problem itself but the fact that we rely on tools that want to make us only that is a big problem.
Do you sometimes feel lonely as a woman in the male dominated tech industry?
K.D.: The women in tech ratio is just miserable. Although at my current company, there are about 40% women. But before when I studied computer science and was in the start-up world, it was way worse … the tech start-up field is particularly deprived of women. There is way too few. But I personally have never felt lonely being a girl there. I have great people around me but I certainly can imagine how it can feel lonely.
What would you describe as the worst kind of loneliness?
K.D.: It’s when no one else can guess that you are lonely. That is what makes the city loneliness particularly painful because when you look at teenagers or young people moving to university, it looks like they are always engaging but no one’s there for them at night. There is no one to call on Saturday. That kind of loneliness where everyone else assumes that you have a very reliable network but you don’t. It’s costing society a ton of money, because it makes people depressed and that leads to more loneliness. That is a vicious circle. All loneliness is painful. But it takes quite a lot to admit that you are lonely even though you’re surrounded by people.
What meal would you cook to share with a lonely person?
K.D.: It would depend a lot on the person. We’ve got some cultures that are really good at sharing food, so instead of just preparing one dish for the table … maybe cook something Spanish or Indian or Mexican. Something you share, where you don’t get that one plate that’s just yours. Something where everyone just digs in.
What uses could you imagine for the AV1? For example children in war zones, who cannot attend school?
K.D.: We have been asked this question quite a few times. And I always have the same answer: we built it for one specific use case. I would love to work with children in war zones, but I wouldn’t take AV1 there and see if it fitted because that goes against absolutely everything I believe in. If we are developing anything for the kids in the warzones that can’t go to school, then we actually need to go there and be with them for a quite a while to understand what we are actually dealing with. Maybe we will end up building something that resembles AV1 but we can’t assume that. That’s what’s wrong with how we look at tech today, because we are like “hey we got this great solution, let’s use it for something else.” and then you mess up completely because you don’t realize that the next group had completely different obstacles and troubles. So I would imagine that they have completely different needs. Maybe the curriculum is the most important thing and then I would make a platform. So I wouldn’t use AV1 for anything than what AV1 is meant for.
Dan Chen raises the question if intimacy can be recreated without humanity. What do you think?
K.D.: I have no idea. I’d love to see that someone tries and see the results. I’m not convinced but I’m super interested in seeing where it ends up.
What piece of advice would you give to a lonely person?
K.D.: We know now that what you need is qualitative not quantitative relationships. So I would strongly recommend that you have 2-3 people that you can rely on. It is not about you talking to someone all the time, it’s more about knowing that there is someone to call anytime. So I would go and see who are the closest 3 people I have and maybe tell them “I need you to depend on, we should spend more time together!”. If you don’t have those 3 people then join charities or initiatives to meet people because we see that through initiatives you form friendships. So, join things and force yourself, because if you are lonely you will be less likely to want social connection. People need to get out there and find people that are there for them.
Picture credits to: Thomas Suchanek
Timar Ivo Batis