Ben Ffrench looks at the flaws behind the all-encompassing digital age.
I was walking in Albert Park on a breezy and turbulent Sunday afternoon with my 7 year old sister. Not many people were out, but it felt great to spend time with a loved one, having not done for most of the day.
I remember it clearly; we were running around on the grass, my sister enthusiastically pulling me along. Suddenly, we stopped in front of a small flower, with white petals, and a yellow inside. I did not know what it was called.
My sister laughed at me: it was a daisy, she reminded me. Of course it was! But I had forgotten arguably the most basic, simple and beautiful flower. And this anecdote conveys the clear and growing disconnect between ourselves, each other, and nature. It highlights the clear problems that arise with the age of the internet and social media; our reality is moving online, and it’s ruining our lives. In this article I aim to expose this deeply unfulfilling lifestyle, and show how it can be stopped.
Since the rise of social media giants, beginning with facebook in 2005, our interaction and social life, has started to shift online. This has had a detrimental effect on the way we interact with others. I am aware that I might sound like an old granny saying this, but our grammar, quality of language and punctuation go out of the window when online. Emails have made communication cheap and easy; the old romantic thrill of seeing your name on a handwritten letter from a loved one has gone: in its place, cheap and quick messaging, accessible at the touch of a button, but entirely shallow and unmemorable, as our lives are turning into. I get excited when I receive a letter, because I rarely do: it’s usually just boring financial bills for parents but, then again, I never send letters.
The greatest lie of social media companies is that they make us more connected. They actually make us more lonely. When you can contact someone so easily, you see no need to meet them in person, you might want to say something to them, but you lose sight of the value of personal conversation. Important social gatherings are neglected. Why do you need to see someone, after all, when they are online all the time? Growing evidence from the University of Pittsburgh in the USA has found that those who spend more than two hours a day on social media are twice as likely to feel lonely. It also found that those who visit social media sites 58 times a week are three times more likely to feel lonely. This isn’t healthy for our relationships.
The trend known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is common on social media. How many times have you seen pictures of a party, or gathering, that you missed and wanted to go to? In reality, the people whose posts you look at are just as lonely, and trying to cover it up- but who are they kidding? We try and show that we are connected, and in turn make people feel bad or comparatively unloved. As US pastor Steven Furtick has said: “ The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone’s highlight reel.” The principle of ‘lurking’ on social media, where we scroll around but don’t engage is more detrimental.
If we want to live healthy and happy lives, we need fresh air and exercise. Social media drags us away from this, investing our time, identity and reality on a platform that is out of step with the real world. The rise of Virtual reality gaming promises to worsen this. Our lives were never designed to be on screens; they have to be in the real world. Our experiences with friends and family make us who we are, whether it’s that trip to Legoland with the family, or a simple walk in the park with friends.
My disconnection with nature exposed my overuse of the internet and social media. Seeing the creativity, curiosity imagination and love for the outdoors of my younger sister reignited my long-neglected interest and enthusiasm.
It is time to re-engage with the amazing outside world, away from the greasy pallor of a screen. I know the irony, dear reader, posting my critical thoughts on the digital age on an internet platform but it is the way to reach people now.
After this article is read, dear reader, you must turn off your internet device. Go out, for a country walk, or a trip out to town. Arrange to meet with a friend you might not normally think of meeting, plan a cinema trip, or shopping meet-up: something that involves others, and gets you out of the house.
Loneliness is something that has engulfed all of us, whether or not we realise, not in the least myself. If you, like me, are feeling in need of more social interaction, get in touch, and we will arrange something.
It’s up to us to formulate a long term digital detox. Social media and the internet can be unhealthy, and we need to fight back against the invasive pull of the screen. Only then can we fully rediscover the joys of life.