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The introduction of new technology has always sparked debate. Even the introduction of comic books in the 1950s brought fears of negative emotional impact for children. This phenomenon is defined as a moral panic: society perceives it as a threat, but this concern is irrational.
Perhaps the most common moral panic surrounding technology in recent years has been that social media is detrimental in many aspects, particularly towards mental health. But has a global pandemic, causing everyone to stay within their own homes, shifted this attitude?
‘Apart but together’ seems to be a popular phrase circulating mainstream media currently, with a wealth of causes and campaigns to support people and (metaphorically) bring people together. From clapping for carers on a Thursday night to many people producing homemade PPE, society has shown a widespread effort to support each other in this difficult time. As well as this, a range of social media challenges such as neck nominations and ‘Run 5, Donate 5, Tag 5’ have been circulating to try and keep spirits high, these challenges mostly being shared and participated in by young people. But millennials and Generation Z have grown up surrounded by ever-evolving technology and seem to have an overall positive attitude towards it. It has been older generations who stereotypically criticise the rise of new technology for damaging our eyes and our minds.
Of course, social media is a seemingly endless black hole where you can find literally anything, including a lot of negativity. Unkind comments, unrealistic expectations, and fake news are rife but impossible to contain (on the bright side, at least we don’t have to deal with FOMO right now). However, in times like these, the huge amount of collective positivity going around certainly outweighs the bad.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have seen not one negative comment about technology or social media – and rightly so. Grandparents are using FaceTime and Skype to contact their families, mums are WhatsApping constantly, and of course, technology is being used to make donations to charitable causes (such as Colonel Tom’s 100 laps of his garden). According to the Office for National Statistics, “since 2011, adults over the age of 65 years have consistently made up the largest proportion of the adult internet non-users, and over half of all adult internet non-users were over the age of 75 years in 2018”, so perhaps this pandemic is the beginning of bridging the digital divide.
Without technology, we would not be able to access the news in such an immediate way, to see our loved ones’ faces without being with them in person, to carry on with our work from home, to carry on our studies via online lectures and seminars, to homeschool children (with the help of YouTube), to access a range of media for entertainment in these difficult times, to have such a global connection – the list goes on.
This pandemic has changed the way we live, and the effects of it will be long-lasting. Hopefully, following this period, we will have a collective sense of gratitude, respect for others, a sense of being more careful, and even a larger embrace for technology.