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You’ve just arrived at university, unpacked your things, bungled a few hellos to your fellow flatmates and now sit waiting, with anticipatory jitters, for the night’s events to begin. What now? There’s nothing to do between your over-eager arrival time and the awaited evening. Half of your flatmates aren’t even here. Why not tweet, update your status, or take a cheeky “selfie”? These are the time fillers of our modern age.
For years now, new technologies have been growing exponentially. Particularly central to this boon of technological dynamism has been the rapid emergence of social networking sites, allowing us to share every detail of our lives. Proponents of this new age of inter-connectivity frequently expound upon the benefits of these things; ask yourself how many times you have heard someone preaching about being ‘better connected than ever before.’ New technology aims to make it ‘easier’ for us to live, and save us time. This should be a good thing; we can perhaps use this time to search for meaning in our lives if we’re feeling existentially downcast, or simply use it for pleasure – the more time we have to do the things we like, the happier we will be, it is assumed.
We seem however, to use this gift of time by being glued to technology. This, instead of allowing our happiness to flourish, traps us in the homogenous world of addiction and dependence. A recent study found that half of Britons are affected by nomophobia – the fear of being without a phone. The shiny screen of a smartphone is where a substantial amount of social interaction takes place nowadays; people can use these devices for almost anything. This increases our dependence on technology because we perceive that we cannot cope without our beloved gadgets – we tend to forget that there was ever life before mobile phones. I have been widely ridiculed by friends who see my functional yet basic phone as a sort of archaic machine; you’d think I was using two plastic cups attached by a piece of string. This stretches far beyond a mild addiction to our phones in non-social situations; often, our attention is divided because even when we are socialising in the real world, we cannot bear to be torn adrift of the virtual one. Addiction is inherently unhealthy; especially when it’s accepted as the supposed norm. How many times have you toyed with the idea of quitting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? If you’re similar to me, the answer is quite a few. Yet, we only entertain, and do not actualise these illusions of cutting loose. So much of our everyday activity has been transferred to these modes of communication, that it is extremely difficult to unplug ourselves, so to speak.
Another occurrence that has arisen from social networking is the insignificance of communication. I would wager that the majority of information shared publicly on these sites is completely useless and superficial – this trend is maintained by the existence of a blind, nihilistic culture, typified by the phrase ‘YOLO’. Social networking sites allow people to air their bigoted and needless views all over the place – there is constant opportunity to be social – this means ‘socialising’, in the modern context, loses some of its fulfilling characteristic.
The thing about this constant blogging, re-blogging, updating etc. – is that interaction becomes stilted, and events lose the richness of its meaning. Average-Joe will look at an Instagrammed shot of someone’s pricy dinner, look at his own and think; ‘well, this is *expletive deleted*’. A marvellous vista, filled with snow-capped peaks, becomes just a nice view. Everything we do must be typed out or photographed, which detracts from the uniqueness of the situation. Why go to a concert, only to watch it all through the screen of your video camera? The pointlessness of our use of these sites can be juxtaposed with the pioneering use of them by those wishing for democratic change in the Middle East. This proves that social networking sites can reap gains if used in the correct way – or, because we aren’t all activists, if we use them in moderation. It is a wonderful thing to capture a moment, but we want to capture and record a monumental amount of moments. With the onslaught of globalisation and the burgeoning online community, our individualism is being slowly quashed by the pressure to be part of this modern collective. Although, psychologically, this may be damaging to our sense of worth – we simply become another digit in the digital age – detachment is extremely difficult because we cannot relinquish the sanctuary that being part of a whole gives us. Most of us would become insecure if we removed ourselves from this sphere for even a few days; and although being part of the virtual world can be constricting, we’re too scared to let go just in case we fall at some point.
Take the plunge; free yourself from the constraint of social networks. Go a day without your phone. De-activate your Facebook account. Avoid posting any pictures online. I bet you can’t.