There seems to be a new catch phrase to describe our addiction to the digital world. ‘We are not addicted to our devices, but to information’.
It’s a catchy little phrase, but like the gadgets themselves, it’s a gimmick. For the most part, it’s not real information we’re addicted to. We are infobating. It’s not current affairs that are causing us to look at our phones every few seconds. More often than not, it’s ourselves, reflected in the approval of others. It’s the comments on our own Facebook page, the replies to our tweets, the ‘Likes’ on our photos that cause us to disengage from our present company to tune into someone else in our phone.
Despite the time saving devices, we seem more stressed and somehow have less free time. We’ve created unnecessary tasks, we fill time in a rabbit hole that ultimately leads to nothing constructive. Like Alice’s Wonderland, it’s an exciting adventure, but it is also isolating us from the actual people around us.
Online we create an edited persona, not intentionally. But we share a fabulous image of ourselves, and that is validated constantly by well-meaning friends and virtual strangers. It is easy to fall in love with this online version of ourselves. It’s a better version, purely because it only exists at moments of our choosing. We can post photos that are 10 years old, or talk only of the great things we’ve done. We can give compliments to others, validating their choices or scroll on past when they anger us. We live vicariously, if you will, by the interactions of our online personality.
In days gone by, people would work late to avoid going home to an unhappy marriage or stay out drinking to avoid thinking about problems at work. Now we can do the same avoidance at our workstation or in our kitchen, in full view of others. We are addicted to a panacea, an avoidance of our problems, but it comes at a cost.
If we fill our lives up in this digital wonderland, we don’t have to be left alone with our thoughts. We can distract ourselves with the latest Facebook outrage rather than think about our reality. The irony is, this process of stepping away from our lives to relax can encroach on our real relationships. We spend so much time with our thoughts down the rabbit hole, that we lose meaningful contact with our real life and the people in it.
If you are midsentence and someone starts laughing at a message flashing on their phone, you give up talking to them. You rarely continue the story when they finally ask “What were you saying?”. I have sat in restaurants and watched couples where one person continues to check their phone. You can see the disappointed glaze washing over the other person’s face.
When you go through a difficult time, the online world can be a wonderful crutch to help you through it. It can be supportive, a safe place to hide, a breath of fresh air when a situation is overwhelming. However, there’s a huge cost if it continues for too long, grows too large or you become too dependent on it. Ultimately that will lead to more unhappiness, and the addiction spirals as you retreat even further into the online community.
If we are gaining all our self-esteem in the online world, we are probably neglecting our relationships. While we throw our attention to the people in our digital realm, we’re not present with those physically near us.
Emotions and relationships can be difficult. The online world is a panacea to that. It’s an ego-stroking environment that’s appealing, a place where you can vent anger without repercussions, where you can present half truths to paint a better portrait of yourself. You can step away from a discussion at any time if it becomes too difficult. You can block and unfriend anyone you don’t like, without giving reason. It’s very easy to be seduced by the superficial.
Handhelds and wearables distract you, so you’re never truly present. I am good at putting my phone away when my partner comes home at the end of the day but I will check my phone endlessly when I’m with the kids. This is a disservice to them. They won’t broach a difficult subject if I’m tapping away on my phone. People need the opportunity for the conversation to occur. It’s those moments our obsession with our gadgets is stealing.
As the world becomes more reliant on technology, it is important we model a behaviour to our children that demonstrates while it’s fun to enjoy the benefits of social media, it does not operate separately to our real life. We can’t have one persona online and expect those we live with to see us differently. We must know that every action online ripples into our daily life. Isn’t it time we put as much thought into our daily interactions as we do to our Facebook page?
What have you done recently to be more present?