friendship

Confession: "I regret letting technology into my life"

Smartphones and devices now connect us to almost everything and everyone, everywhere in the world.

Yet I’d argue we’ve never been so disconnected as we are today.

social media is making us antisocial
(Image via tumblr)

I realised something wasn’t quite right with my "real" world when I began to relish the thought of being out of wi-fi range. I was about to hop on a relatively short flight but my first thought wasn't about departure gates or  I the kind of wine they might serve onboard. Instead, it was this: How wonderful, no one can reach me. No one can ask anything of me, I can’t read any negative comments or despair at the world. I am going to be blissfully unaware of EVERYTHING and everyone, for at least one hour.

Which is how it used to be, right?

Only a few short years ago we didn't know much about the news until it was on the television at 6pm. We read about world events a good 24 hours AFTER they had happened. If we needed to communicate with someone, we picked up the phone and SPOKE to them or how's this for a headspin: If we needed to know something from a colleague, we got up and walked on over to them and ASKED them.

Now? Well now we have instant, and I mean instant, access to world events.

We live in a time our parents or grandparents would find hard to understand, let alone recognise. We email a workmate who is sitting not 10 metres away from us to enquire about their weekend. We have a stadium-full of 'friends' online, but most of us don't even know how they sound or what their nervous smile looks like.

Ironically, we have never lived in a more socially connected world ... yet have never been so anti-social.

And let's not delude ourselves. Wishing someone 'happy birthday' on Facebook is about patting ourselves on the back - it has little to do with the actual sentiment. If we genuinely wanted that person to know we cared for them, we'd pick up the phone and tell them or maybe drop around a cupcake and offer a kiss on the cheek. Sure, you might not get as many well wishes, but those that you did get would be heartfelt and genuine and not inspired by a Facebook prompt.

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Now don't get me wrong: I very much include myself in this ironically anti-social world we've found ourselves in. In fact, I am probably one of the worst offenders.

My beautiful, ever-thoughtful (and hip) 80-year-old aunty always remembers my children's birthdays. She'll pop a 10 dollar note inside a hand-picked birthday card and have it in our letterbox for them to open on their birthday. Without fail.

What do I do? I reply with a thank you text. I don't even make the effort to dial a number and hear her voice. Yes, I am the worst.

Which brings me back to the one hour plane flight I am about to undertake. How sad is it that I am the kind of person who doesn't want to have a conversation with another human being because it's too taxing?

But it isn't just bothering me - it's something that's bothering a lot of people, young and old. Recently 'John's Phone' was  released in the UK. It's been described as the 'anti-iPhone'. You can't text, it doesn't have a camera and you can't play games on it. You can, however, make a phone call. Even its address book is a throw back: a flap in the back of phone houses - get this - a paper address book and pen.

'John's Phone'

When was the last time you picked up the phone and rang a friend or family member for no good reason at all? Just to say 'hey, I miss you' or enquire how they are going? Increasingly we don’t pick up calls anymore; we avoid them, we decline them. We don’t discuss plans verbally; instead we text or message or tweet. We make tenuous plans, then we cancel then with a seven-word text.

We actively screen calls, even from those we love. It’s becoming second nature to decline a call, with every intention of ringing them back at a 'more convenient time' that never seems to arrive.

And how many times have you mentally replied to a text, then forgotten to reply properly at all?

Suddenly, or maybe this feeling has been creeping up on me for some time, technology is all wrapped up in guilt. I feel like I just want to put a blanket-coverage ‘sorry’ out there to everyone I know for the social media crimes I've committed against them.

Let me start by saying:

Sorry for not taking the time to pick up the phone and wish you ‘Happy Birthday’ in person. Sorry I thought a funny meme that took me one minute to post on your Facebook page would explain to you how much you mean to me. I promise to do better in the future.

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Sorry for deliberately avoiding your call. You know it, I know it. The worst thing is that I always walk away from these conversations feeling better, lighter. My only excuse, and it's a shit one, is that I rarely have the required two hours to just flop down and chat to you properly -which is inexcusable. I know one day, when I no longer have the option to ignore your call, I will deeply regret this.

Sorry for not writing you back in a letter and posting it when I know how much that kind of things means to you. Especially when you take the time and make the effort to the do that repeatedly for myself and children. I have a drawing of a frog my son spent hours perfecting, sitting next to me at my desk. It taunts me, constantly reminding me how awful I am for not making a 10 minute trip down to the post office. I will do better.

Sorry for not texting you back. Like ever texting you back. Because when I realised after a week that I’d forgotten to reply, it looked like a lie to tell you I’d only just seen it (because it was a lie) and I didn’t want to look stupid by telling you that I’d forgotten or more so, I hadn't thought you important enough to reply immediately. I’m sorry if I’ve ruined a friendship by being so rude. I will do better.

Sorry to my children for spending so much time on social media, involving myself in un-winnable contests against trolls and wading into arguments that I had no business being involved in. All it did was make me feel 'less-than', and let you guys think I cared more about these virtual people than I did you. I intend to make that up to you.

Sorry to previous bosses. I spent a lot of time engaging online in your time. Sure I got my job done, you were none the wiser, but let’s be honest, I wasn’t giving you my best.

Mostly I’m sorry to my best friends. I only have a handful and I feel like that since I embraced social media, I haven’t been a very good friend or been present in their lives. This brave new world of Facebook and Twitter made me at first, feel like I had found my tribe, (and there are parts of me that still do feel a little of that) but nothing and no one can can ever compensate or replace the unwavering love and understanding that comes with someone who has known you your whole life. I'm going to be a better friend.

Of course the job I do, online writing, will always require that I am socially connected online. I'm don't resent this space but I do need to be more conscious about how I use it. Because I've found it becomes too easy to become wrapped up in an unreal world instead of living the magnificent one I have that is forever unveiling itself in front of me.

How about you? Do you find yourself less connected to the real world, your parents and friends? Maybe you've found that your own children aren't as available to you these days and you are nostalgic for the old days when they were fully present when you spoke to them, instead of distracted by their smart phones. 

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