By Nicole Grant
Chances are you’re reading this on the toilet. In bed after lights out? Or walking blindly down the street. We have arrived in a strange world where it’s normal to see a room full of silent friends, all with their faces locked to their phone screens.
Help! I don’t like this strange world! It’s time to get out, it’s time to break free!
I’m lucky enough to have had a childhood where my friends knocked at my door and asked me to play. Where I could escape for an afternoon and be completely uncontactable. A childhood where real memories were captured forever in my mind not falsely projected on to the phone screens’ of strangers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t deny the satisfaction of showing off a new hair do to cyberspace and watching the ‘likes’ skyrocket. I love not getting lost anymore and staying in touch with my friends has never been easier. However, something inside of me still dies every time I see that blank expression on a passerby who nearly tramples me whilst they update their news feed. Or even worse, a couple out for dinner, sat in silence, both on their phones.
It seems to me that our brains are so stimulated these days, so bombarded with information, pictures, videos and noise that we don’t recognise the benefits and necessity of silence. We have 30 seconds spare in the supermarket queue so we whip out our phone and scroll through Facebook. We use a ten minute bus ride to catch up with our emails and anything remotely interesting (or not!) becomes a photo shoot opportunity. Whatever happened to looking out of a window? Making small talk with a stranger or just taking a moment to ourselves?
We’re all aware that smoking is harmful but do we yet know the true effects of this new addiction? The addiction to distraction.
Surely the evolution of social skills in our younger generations must have taken a detour. Suddenly they have the desire and skill to share every moment of their lives with their friends and acquaintances. A Snapchat story of their entire day (the best and sexiest bits of course!), some Instagram shots of their lunch (yum!) and a Facebook status about how much fun they are having (yay!) – oops don’t forget the pouty picture, photoshopped and filtered! But can these kids actually meet up and discuss their real lives and their real life problems? It’s so easy to express yourself online but to see a friend face to face and tell them you’re unhappy seems suddenly too exposing. A little vulnerability seems just too weird – especially in juxtaposition to that perfect online profile.
“Suddenly they have the desire and skill to share every moment of their lives with their friends and acquaintances”
When I first went travelling, backpack on and brain alive with the excitement of adventure, I was safe from the invasion and pressure of social media. Smartphones didn’t exist and I would go to an Internet Cafe once a week to catch up with family online and share my news. But now, no matter where you go, you hear that same first question every traveller asks: ‘What’s the wifi code?’
Nooooooooooooooooo!! You’re on the Galápagos Islands, you’re climbing Matchu Pitchu or on a beanbag on the beach with an ice cold beer; just put your phone away and enjoy the real world! Your actual real life! The one that is happening right here, right now.
I met my husband travelling. I spotted him at a bus stop in Byron Bay, Australia and I pursued him for a full week. If I had had a Smartphone would we have still ended up together? Would I have even spotted him or would I have been too busy scrolling down the newsfeed of my Facebook page? This is how I feel when I see people out in public, alone and mindlessly on their phones. What potential future might they be missing out on? What opportunities for fun have passed them by?
“We’re all aware that smoking is harmful but do we yet know the true effects of this new addiction? The addiction to distraction”
Now I realise that in today’s mad world it has become normal to be so on the go all the time. We expect answers in seconds and results right now! I run a business and employ staff so I use my phone a lot: emailing accountants, phone calls to suppliers, uploads to the mountains of social media pages. I would have my phone with me at all times, just waiting for that emergency where I can be contacted immediately and spring in to action. Well guess what? THERE ARE NO EMERGENCIES!! A supplier has run out of something, not an emergency. Your friend needs to know what dates to book to come and see you, not an emergency. Your mum wants to know what you want for dinner on Sunday, not an emergency. Turn off your notifications and alerts and step away from the phone…
I read a great book once called ‘The four hour working week’. It talked about ways to use your time more effectively, leading to more freedom and more happiness. One of the many great pieces of advice in the book was to not be so available to people all the time. A WhatsApp message beeps through, you do not have to answer it. An email pings in, you are allowed to ignore it. The more people think they can get hold of you continuously, the more they will badger you non stop. Set aside certain times each day to check your emails and maybe one designated slot for social media. Other than that just use your phone for phone calls and even then feel free to ignore it.
Now I don’t want to pretend that I have mastered this resistance to phone slavery but I am aware of it and I do set myself device boundaries: no phones in bed in the morning, no phones at dinner and no random Facebook in supermarket queues. No scrolling when I’m walking, no pouty bathroom selfies and email reading on my terms.
I believe the Internet to be the most wonderful tool and I’m so grateful to have access to a wealth of information: political debates, breaking news and videos of cats, hoorah!
I love having the world at my fingertips but nothing can beat the world right here under my nose. The unfiltered, natural, 3 dimensional place right here in this moment. Uncontrived and full of possibilities. A world that’s not perfect but at least it’s real; that’s the place where I’d rather be.
‘The four hour working week’ by Timothy Ferris