The recent announcement that NatWest Bank in Wanstead is closing caused dismay in the local community.

The last bank on the high street gone - they used to be numerous. Then, came the news that ticket offices are to close at railway stations across the country. If you have a problem, where do you turn?

What of disabled people needing help?

There seems to be a de-peopling process going on across society.

Supermarkets have been endeavouring to force customers onto self-service check outs for years. Many people have stubbornly refused, preferring to be served by a real human being.

Post offices have been shutting down across the country - some migrating into shops.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Paul Donovan is concerned that the rapid automation of everything will leave many people isolatedPaul Donovan is concerned that the rapid automation of everything will leave many people isolated (Image: Paul Donovan)

The advance of technology has meant that fewer people are needed to provide these services. A lot is now done online. 

The Covid pandemic saw automation accelerate in its application. A lot of shopping moved online, with deliveries coming to the door. Helpful in days of lockdown.
The move from cash to credit cards also accelerated.

Today, a number of businesses will not accept cash - whether this will last as they miss out on business remains to be seen.

The worrying thing is what about the human being in all of this.

There will be job losses but there are also people who don't want to or can't do everything online.

What about people who still like to talk face to face with someone rather than communicate by phone?  Lonely people who may look forward to some interchange with fellow human beings at the bank, post office or supermarket.

People cannot be allowed to be cut off because they don't want to go online.

What modern society is creating are soulless oceans of loneliness. We saw how damaging this can be to mental health during the pandemic.

The advance of artificial intelligence is likely to accelerate the automation process further, so what can be done?

Businesses would argue they are there to make money, not provide some sort of social service.

However, some acknowledgement that not everyone wants to be forced online, away from people would be helpful.

If all the jobs go, what happens to the people?

Some businesses might consider swimming against the tide. New staffed banks providing in-person services. The demand could be there - people may flock to them along with other businesses, however, they would  have to be supported by customers.

Whether any of this can happen remains to be seen. What is for sure is that not everyone wants to sign up to the brave new world of automation. It makes many feel increasingly isolated, anxious and insecure.

There needs to be some sort of middle ground found that puts the well being of the human being as the central concern.