You’re out for dinner with friends, but nobody’s talking.
Everyone’s eyes are firmly glued to their phones. They’re catching up with the group chat, idly scrolling Facebook, tweaking photos for Instagram, reading emails, and replaying their own Snapchat stories.
It’s a familiar scene among us so-called “millennials” and those younger than us.
We live in an unprecedented era where technology has the ability to connect us to the rest of the world. Whether it’s access to information, content or other people, we have Wikipedia and Google, WhatsApp and Facetime, Netflix and YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Distance and time are no issue; one touch of a button and we could be talking to someone on the other side of the globe or catching up with the latest in world news.
Technology helps us to keep in touch with distant friends and family, rally people for a cause and bring together people who are otherwise quite isolated. But, as Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility, and the temptations of the dark side of social media and instant messaging can be overwhelming.
What are some of the pitfalls?
You’re contactable 24/7. Which means it’s much harder to enjoy the moment, because who knows when you’ll get that urgent email you’ve been waiting for or a late night call from your boss.
Self-esteem can be tied up into things that are ultimately trivial and worthless. It’s easy to misread the signs and find yourself repeating completely self-destructive thought patterns over and over again:
I don’t have enough Instagram followers – why does nobody like me? Nobody’s liking my Facebook status – do people even care about me? I’m not matching with many people on Tinder – am I ugly?
When it’s laid out bare on the page, these thoughts look ridiculous, irrational even. But in the minds of many millennials and teens, it’s an absolute reality of life. And these insecurities can stop people from actually having a healthy social life.
We can cultivate a completely online life. We choose what to post, what to hide and we can crop out anything that doesn’t fit with the image we want others to believe. And sometimes this online life comes at the detriment of actually having a real life.
We could even live our entire lives online if we wanted to. On the extreme side, there’s the case of South Korean parents who left their own child to die as they raised a virtual child in an online game.
In reality, we haven’t really evolved that far from our hunter-gatherer ancestors and in some ways, our bodies and minds haven’t yet caught up with what technology makes possible.
We’re not designed to sit down all day, but many of us work 9-5 in an office, sitting and staring at a screen. We’re designed to feel connected by physical human touch, but we often enter into long distance relationships connected only by telephone calls and an annual visit at best.
We’re able to do things we’re not naturally equipped to do. Relationships can be built over text, but for humans, nothing beats the real thing. Technology should be used to facilitate, rather than replace, human interaction.
As opposed to piling up hundreds of matches to boost our egos – Tinder at its core allows people to meet in real life, where a real relationship has the opportunity to grow.
Facebook can remind you of an old friend’s birthday so you can reach out and send them your wishes, then meet up for a drink.
And sometimes, it’s just a case of switching off.
Innocent Unplugged music festival banned mobile phones and cameras in an effort to give people a technology detox, encourage living in the moment and create opportunities for real connections with people. It was hugely popular.
At The Collective, we understand that co-living evolved as a reaction to our desire for real-life community and a rejection against some of the ways that we’ve isolated ourselves. But we have to recognise the important part that technology can play in bringing people together, too.
That’s the important part – it’s facilitating real world experiences. And in a world where, despite technological advances, young people are feeling increasingly lonely and disconnected, it’s no wonder co-living is an appealing prospect for people who crave that.
Technology is a gift and a curse – it facilitates so much, but it doesn’t come without its risks. It’s all too easy to place too much importance on our online lives, which in turn can prevent us from enjoying the moment and living a real life filled with real relationships with real people.
No advancement in technology will ever be an adequate substitute for real life. So, please, stop looking at your phone and talk to me.
Written by Lewis Carr.