I often wonder, these days, how people coped before the invention of portable, internet-ready technology and wi-fi. It seems people can’t go more than a few minutes without checking facebook, twitter and other social networking sites. People, it would seem, are desperate for social connections and that’s one of the truly fantastic things about social networking; people can connect across vast spaces; lonely and shy individuals can make friends more easily; minorities can seek out like-minded people. But, there’s something kind of tragic about ignoring the very real daily social interactions in favour of online social interactions.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s possible to be “addicted to the internet” and I certainly don’t buy into the hype that the internet and social networking is destroying our children’s abilities to socialise. The problem here isn’t technology. It’s us.
There’s not really any excuse for burying your nose in your phone as your significant other tries to share their thoughts with you, or for ignoring your children who are trying to talk to you as you take photo after photo of them to upload. There’s no-one else to blame as you sit opposite your friend who has come to spend time with you as you barely glance up to interact. The internet; facebook; twitter; whatsapp… none of them have magical addictive properties. The blame for being disconnected from reality lies solely at your feet.
It’s understandable. Life is stressful. Social interactions can be draining and sometimes you just want to tune out and mindlessly stalk people on facebook. Maybe you’re involved in an interesting text conversation that you don’t want to put on hold, or would feel rude ignoring. Perhaps somebody is calling you and you know they’ll be expecting you to answer.
But isn’t that the problem, too? Sure, we need to take responsibility for not being present and connected to the now. But we also need to take responsibility for the expectation of being able to reach somebody whenever, wherever. This expectation is, whether we realise it or not, quite stressful for everyone involved. For anyone who has stepped away from their phones or the internet for any period of time, the relief and tranquillity can actually be quite startling. The headspace, that we often think the internet provides, is a welcome break from the constant connection and expectation of social interactions with others. The irony here, that we so often miss, is that it is this level of “hyper connection” that makes normal social interactions more stressful and tiresome. And so we escape back into the internet.
Fortunately, the answer is a simple one. Just put the phone away… the world around is you is much more interesting without it and your friends and family will thank you for it.