top of page

Loneliness, Misogyny and Technology

Inspired by Noreena Hertz’s The Lonely Century, Urvi Agarwal, Founder and writer at Perspectoverse, inquires the extent of technological penetration into social ethics and interactions. She discusses how technological ‘cures’ loneliness and exacerbates it simultaneously.

Today, with the advancement in research and technology; people are dependent on robots for the human sensations of comfort, convenience and reassurance. Yesterday, Mr. Davis used a broom to sweep the floors; today, a robotic vacuum cleaner does it for him. Till 20 years ago, we proofread our documents before turning them in; today, a software designed to do exactly that, does it for us. Until recently, to buy a piece of furniture ideal for our living room, we used to visit enormous stores just to get a feel of them before settling; now, we very conveniently use AI to picture them in our rooms.

However, something we often overlook is the fact that a number of people depend on robots for feeling of belonging and love. Before trying to understand how an organised mess of metal and wires help us feel accepted; it is important to understand why we look for acceptance in the first place. To put it simply, our generation is lonely. In Noreena Hertz’s ‘The Lonely Century’, she expands on the idea that most individuals live feeling isolated and alienated not just by their relatives and friends, but also their social communities, Nation and Nature. This feeling has only grown during coronavirus isolation and nationwide Lockdowns.

In pursuit of mere comfort and solidarity, people resort to a number of ‘getaways’ which range from ‘shrinks’ and socials, to drugs and alcohol. Somewhere in the middle, (Hertz and I would argue that this is right at the end) are Robots.

With the ‘tech boom’ over the past 20 years, rapid investment in Research & Development and growth of dynamic (arguably, irrational) consumer interests; Robots and Artificial Intelligence have diversified from being industrial aid. Somewhere along the way, we started depending on them for comfort, love and solidarity. We started to place all of our trust in the metal boxes, hoping that that would give us the compassion no one else did.

The practice however, was and is rather counterproductive for it figuratively buries the social etiquettes of the individual in question. The fussy behaviour of a child was associated with them not having been left alone with 'their' Alexa. Even young toddlers rely on such gadgets more than their parents. Reports show that children start throwing tantrums when their devices are taken away from them. People with Alexas in their homes are more likely to use foul language and be abusive.

The unacceptable behaviour may stem from the fact that Smart Speakers do not require the user to say the words ‘please’, ‘sorry’, or ‘thank you’. All questions and directions end with periods as well as question marks; but they all carry commanding tones.

Think about this; what do these have in common- Cortana, Xiaomi Mi, Alexa, Siri? The default audio speaker for all of them is the programmed voice of a woman. Imagine, a group of male scientists who sat together and decided to create a Robot whose purpose was to ‘serve’ and ‘do your work for you’, which could not say No, and had the Voice of a Woman. Sound familiar? Well that is exactly the case. All the devices were created by men working at Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and so on. All the devices have the default voice of a woman. All the devices must do what they are told, cannot say ‘No’ and only reply with answers along the lines of “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that.”

Seems like an accurate symbolisation of normalised misogyny in our society today; except that the symbol is real and so is the problem it fosters. Surveys and intensive research find that some men hurl insults and abuse at the robot and receive a passive answer in return. The response to a drunk man yelling all sorts of derogatory slurs is "I would blush if I could". That is, in fact, the answer encoded in Alexa’s ‘brain’.

There is no way to describe the situation other than an unfortunately deliberate action taken by males in search for validation and plaster to fix their injured vanity. Even though Amazon has started including male voices in their directory, the option is only available in certain regions of the world and the default is still female. Even though Google has added a setting which asks people to say ‘please’ while using Google Assistant, the setting needs to be activated.

Respect, Consent, Intellect and True Empathy. For humanity to emerge as one from its patriarchal misogynistic default, those four values are all we need. Technology was, and still is, a most glorious invention, arguably the best. Must this marvel also become just another tool for human-spread terror and injustice? It is about time we ask ourselves: Can we let technology and scientific development direct our social behaviour and psychology?

Written by: Urvi Agarwal

Illustrated by: Ayushi Banerjee


2nd February 2021; Hertz, Noreena; The Lonely Century; Sceptre Publishing

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page