(Opinion) In a world seemingly smothered by iPhones, Facebook & Instagram, South Australians were forced to take a break from it all as wild weather caused a state-wide blackout including the loss of cell reception for most users. Somewhat surprisingly, the overwhelming response was one of positivity, with people avidly sharing their non-tech experiences, paradoxically maybe, through social media the next day. For an evening, the constant electrical noise was muted & replaced by authentic communication resembling times past where candlelit dinners, uninterrupted conversation & early bed times were commonplace.
British research suggests that some age groups (young adults in particular) are spending around a third of their waking hours glued to their smartphone. According to Facebook, over 100 million hours of video is consumed by users daily – & this is growing at an astonishing rate. More than ever we live in a world where our work, enjoyment, & even further, our identities are tied to our devices. Inherently there are so many advantages to the technological advancements we’ve made over the past few decades; seemingly impossible barriers have been obliterated with everyone having a voice via social media, worldly connections are common & online business is flourishing, however there are also disadvantages.
Having spent the first 18 years or so of my life without any strong influence of social media, the development of clear, authentic person to person communication was a necessity & has been a hugely advantageous asset to carry into the modern world. Actually, it may even be a more stark benefit than ever before, simply due to the sheer lack of this skill throughout the entire Y generation. Some of us have severely lost the ability to communicate effectively in person – & it’s having an impact. Communication is one of the most important factors of life, safeguarding us against the development of mental illness, helping us to achieve our dreams & goals in business & life, maintaining marriages & family ties & so much more! The very words community & communication have the same origins – in Latin referring to sharing.
Some might argue that we still communicate, just in different ways. And this is true, certainly, & the benefits of staying in contact with that English couple you met for a day whilst traveling Sri Lanka via Facebook may be kinda cool & interesting, but that transition from acquaintance to ‘friend’ never really happens online. There is a thick barrier there when we communicate electronically – we miss that intangible ‘thing’ that we feel when we’re in the same room as someone else; that energy that either keeps us coming back for more or let’s us go our separate ways. I think we’re living in a society where that energy is lost – sometimes, though, a blackout saves the day & wakes everybody up from their electronic trance.
I’m an all or nothing kinda person. For me, I don’t want to talk on the phone, I don’t want to FaceTime, because the missing ‘thing’ is even more apparent when you’re looking at someone & there’s that artificial conversation going on but you just can’t quite feel it. It makes me uneasy & distractible. I prefer the convenience of text & email until I can be with the person face-face, which is preferred over all. In fact now for as many podcasts as I can, I insist on an in-person experience, rather than a Skype call, because of this very problem. And you can quite literally feel, or at least garner from listening, the difference between an in-person interview & a Skype call. I’m not saying that my way is the right way, I’m just sharing how I approach the potential problem; by having a high valuation of person-person experience & prioritising this above an artificial setting where practical.
I’ve been taking the same approach to my ‘after work’ hours. Rather than sitting on the computer watching Pablo speak so damn eloquently into his sat phone, i’ll demand a walk of the family. We’ll have a kick of the footy, or at the very least I’ll read a book. And I completely understand that it’s hard to break the habit of going to your phone – it’s very easy to think that glow & buzzing notifications are important attention seekers – & often it takes some time without the phone to actually realise that you’re really fine without it. I bought a Samsung the other day purely because I want to be as confused as all shit on my phone. No more iMessage, no easy navigation either; a convenient inconvenience with the consequence of me spending less time on my device.
As a Gen Y, I feel like I can talk about this quite easily. At least with some internal perspective on tech & why it’s become so prevalent – but again, I could be wrong – there’s no hard data here – just speculation. I think the youth of today, & heck, even the older peeps, are looking for an escape from their current reality. And I think we desire that escape because we’ve been lead to believe that our lives should just be one big highlight reel, full of tropical beaches, business wins, six-packs, clean eating & successful nights on the town. Maybe social media has perpetuated this problem, but we’ve also grabbed at the idea pretty readily regardless of where it came from. What people are missing, in my view, & forgive me for sounding so cliche & like I’ve just read a meme on my FB feed, is that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
This is not a new phenomenon either. Philosophy has been talking about living in the present Vs always living in the past or future for thousands of years, it’s just nowadays we don’t look into the future or past via our imaginations, we look into them through our smartphones.
One of the greatest quotes I’ve heard on the topic comes from the film Hector & The Search For Happiness & it goes something like this;
“Rather than being obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, we might rather enjoy the happiness of pursuit.”
So back to the point & the final lines of this soliloquy…
I believe we’re approaching a time where people are craving authentic, person-person interaction & experience. I also believe that technology is not going to go away, & it’s not going to stop, & that it’s actually an amazingly beneficial part of society (I mean, you’re reading this on a computer or phone right?). But as with a lot of things, it’s not the thing that’s the poison, it’s the dose. The less we rely on technology as the experience itself, & the more we use our technology to enhance our authentic, real life experiences, the better off we’ll be. How that will look I don’t know.
All I know is that I’m so excited to explore this route a little more in the future where hopefully, it doesn’t take a power blackout for people to realise that turning off their phone & looking up into the smiling faces of those around them is a really nice thing. Good job everybody.