Leader comment: How to maintain a decent society in our online world

Robots, the internet and the transition to a zero-carbon economy will dramatically affect human society. (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Robots, the internet and the transition to a zero-carbon economy will dramatically affect human society. (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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News that the number of high street premises where people can gamble, get into debt or buy alcohol has reduced will be celebrated by some. However, it is likely this is more a sign of our increasing shift towards an online life than any sudden increase in Scotland’s general probity.

Problems that once were public affairs are retreating behind doors.

Picture: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

Picture: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

With the death of the high street as we know it appearing almost inevitable, towns, cities and villages risk losing their focal point, their gathering place.

An online gambler is harder to spot than one who visits the bookies every day; continually borrowing money by filling in a form on a website is less daunting then walking into a shop to ask for a loan; alcohol can now be easily ordered with the weekly shopping.

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Concern over the internet’s effect on our life has lately been concentrated on social media. Technology designed to bring people together seems to have the opposite effect for many, increasing loneliness and the risk of depression.

Removing the need for direct human contact may at times be useful, it may save time and money, but along the way we could lose something intangible but important – a sense of community.

And there are other major sources of upheaval in the way we live.

Some of the talk about the “rise of the robots” may be over-blown, but it is possible that many jobs will no longer need our involvement in the near future.

READ MORE: David Brooks: Taking on the three evils of Big Tech

Whether everyone who is made redundant by technology will find another career to occupy their time and pay the bills is unclear. And, on top of that, the world is moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy in what some describe as a Second Industrial Revolution. If it has anything like the impact of the first, there will be winners, but also losers.

Managing all this change falls to our politicians and it will be difficult, particularly given the need to deal with more immediate concerns and political crises. The UK Government is, quite rightly, focussing much of its energy on Brexit.

But we need to find a way to live in a new and very different age that gives everyone the best chance possible for a happy and fulfilled life.

Margaret Thatcher once controversially declared there was “no such thing as society”. If we are not careful, we may find out what that is actually like.