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A little more conversation a little less action

  • 17 April 2023
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  Reading may be a solitary habit but readers are usually more than happy to evangelise about their latest ‘find’. Sometimes the best thing about a bit of quiet reading is a louder dissection of the plot, author and characters. Librarians can be useful in recommending similar kinds of books and authors, but you have to find one that has time for a chat.

In the quest for more efficiency, my local library, as with many other places, has become automated. Taking out books is simply a matter of scanning your card, putting the books on the pad to register the books, and requesting an email of the transaction, which is completed when a couple of animated figures pop onto the screen and wave goodbye.

It’s a simple and workable system, but as I find myself waving goodbye to the animations it occurs this automation means there is one more place where casual interactions between people have been eliminated.

Bit by bit, automated system by automated system, we’re in danger of forgetting that society is made up of people. We order and pay for takeaways online and can have them delivered without really speaking to the person who delivers the food, we head to the automated checkout at the supermarket, working from home may mean we go the whole day without physically talking to anyone. Perhaps it’s not surprising that staff in customer-facing roles are finding interactions have become more fraught. We’re losing the ability to recognise that people are not automatons – that they have thoughts, needs and emotions separate to our own.

In tandem with this lack of consideration for others has been an increase in loneliness.

According to the longitudinal Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey (Baker 2012) around one-third of Australians will experience loneliness at some point.


'Sometimes a smile and a good morning to the staff in the bank, pharmacy, coffee shop can make all the difference to their wellbeing, and to yours.'  

Loneliness and social isolation are increasingly being recognised as significant public health and wellbeing issues. An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report said in recognition of the problems of loneliness, federal, state and territory and local governments have provided varying degrees of funding and support to programs to address the social isolation and loneliness of Australians.

In The Netherlands, a