Loneliness is one of the most significant challenges facing society in the 21st century. Research by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that 1 in 10 people in the UK have feelings of loneliness, and our radically transforming society threatens to make the situation significantly worse. Increasingly large proportions of our lives are being lived online, more people are now working from home away from the social environment of the communal office, and workers are commonly expected to work away from home for protracted periods of time. The creation of a borderless Europe has also contributed to a more mobile workforce, where working away from home for periods of time is no longer unusual, especially for younger people. While much of the previous research on loneliness has focused on it being a chronic condition for some, this new breed of the ‘transient lonely’ are likely to be more vulnerable to episodic and temporary periods of loneliness and are perhaps less likely to take steps to deal with bouts of loneliness.
The LiDA project has two overriding aims:
- first, through qualitative and quantitative social science research to map the experiences and responses to loneliness in groups of people that could be considered as ‘at risk’ of these episodic periods of loneliness;
- and second, through collaborative design and creative methodologies, to prototype and evaluate digital technologies that help these groups of people manage periods of loneliness by harnessing empathy for, and with, others.
Through the course of the project we are working with four ‘temporarily separated’ groups:
- caregivers who give up their employment to look after a close relation or friend;
- utilities staff who work away from home for extended periods of time;
- international students moving temporarily to the UK for their studies.
Along with these three groups, we are also hoping to conduct some research with migrant workers moving to the UK to seek seasonal employment. By engaging with members of these communities throughout as co-designers, the LiDA project will establish new ways of using digital technology to address these emerging social issues in a positive and proactive manner. We will also look to explore what commonalities these groups have in how they experience and manage moments of loneliness in their everyday lives, and examine individual differences in how the home, the workplace, and the objects and people surrounding our participants influence these.
How is the project funded?
The LiDA project is one of several projects funded through the EMoTICON network, which is funded through the following cross-council programmes: the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (led by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)); Connected Communities (led by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)); Digital Economy (led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)); and in partnership with the: Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl); and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).