Alive and Unplugged

Detaching yourself from social media

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One of my earliest childhood memories is of pressing my ear against the pavement outside my parents’ house in an attempt to hear people on the other side of the world… Yes I was a strange child but I remember experiencing a real sense of curiosity and yearning to reach out to others. I had no idea why, it was just a compulsion.

We are social creatures and not designed to live in isolation but ironically an increasing obsession with social media can result in unsocial behaviour and feeling of isolation.I speak from personal experience as too much time on facebook last year was making me feel down and as a result I was less productive.

I don’t want to sound as if I’m damning social media and using it as an excuse for my own failings or society’s ills. That would be too naive and simplistic and anyway I enjoy social media just as much as the majority.

The internet is a liberating miracle, informative and massively entertaining if used wisely. I am just now trying to be more aware of why I am using a particular platform, how it makes me feel and monitor how long I spend there.

Time and personal data are invaluable for advertisers. Those who design social media sites like facebook, instagram and twitter are trained to hold our attention for as long as possible. As you have probably realised by now dopamine is released in the brain every time a notification alerts you to a new like, comment or ‘friend’s’ request. It isn’t also easy to tell if someone is being genuine via message alone and this can also be the case in real life, although facial expression and body language enable us to make a more informed impression than is possible via internet.

Lets Wander Offline by @marloesdevee
Print available via Society6

Having said this, it is possible to find a really wonderful group of people who are committed to helping each other and providing a much needed space for honest and considerate exchange. This is why I greatly value an opportunity to contribute regularly to a blog which respects the personal view point and experience of ALL regardless of class, culture or belief (by the way, it is not lost on Annabel or anyone else who contributes to this blog that it’s acronym is ‘ALL’).

Annabel recently posted an insightful and timely piece in which she pointed out that too much screen time can be potentially hazardous to our health and relationships.

We risk wasting time by literally ‘screening for attention’ or delving into the lives of acquaintances or virtual strangers when it would be more profitable to pay more real life attention to those we couldn’t imagine living without.

Last year a great video did the rounds in which a woman and man passed each other in the street but didn’t even look up because they were hooked on their devices. In fact if I remember rightly it was called ‘Look Up.’ The scene was replayed minus phones and they experienced an instant attraction, struck up a conversation and the rest was history.

Of course an increasing number of couples do meet initially thanks to the internet. I know because of the responses to the questionnaires I send couples asking them questions such as ‘When and how did you meet?’, and because of all of these beautiful online dating success stories on Love My Dress. However you really don’t know who or what you might be missing out on if your eyes are too often glued to the ironically named ‘smart’ phone while on the move.

It can also be dangerous. Fatal accidents do occur and I’ve noticed drivers failing to signal because they were digitally active.

A taxi driver lamented this fact to me recently too, then added that she’d given up going to the bar to see her friends at the weekend because ‘All they do is stare at their phones, texting, commenting or looking at photos. What’s the point of going out to see them when they are clearly not interested in my company and what I have to say?’

I told her they were the ones missing out. FOMO (fear of missing out) as an emotional consequence of screen gazing upon the virtual lives of others can actually mean missing out on real life experiences, emotions and friendships. I’ve adopted a No-mo (No mobile) policy for various key parts of my day and I do feel much better… and my eyes hurt a lot less.

Mindless scrolling can easily rob you of time. Before you know what should have been fifteen minutes of ‘allowed’ scrolling has become more than an hour. These are minutes we will never get back. If we were to be told that we didn’t have long to live, would we prefer to spend valuable real time with those we love and immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature or waste time looking at photo shopped images and comments of people we barely know?

I think about this when conducting weddings. On occasion, an eager guest will thoughtlessly spring out into the aisle, obscuring a clear view of the approaching Bride, blocking the Photographer, Videographer and even the person they are about to marry! To fully appreciate a visual experience and emotional vibe it is essential to be truly in the moment. Viewing a ceremony through a screen is just not the same.

When I first started conducting blessing ceremonies back in 2004, weddings were totally devoid of electronic distractions. A growing number of couples are choosing to have an unplugged ceremony and tactfully requesting that devices be put away. Some couples display signs and even add a polite sentence on the Order of Service to remind guests there will be plenty of professional photos available in due course.

We were in a local restaurant recently and happened to be seated next to a young couple with a lovely little girl. They had propped an i-pad in front of their daughter, who was no more than 18 months/2 years old. They proceeded to largely ignore each other and her during the meal, preferring their phone screens for entertainment.

What really shocked me was that the child was kept company by a video on a loop of a small child eating with a spoon. I felt sad for them all as each member of the family were missing out on some valuable bonding, socialising and learning time.

I thought really hard about including this anecdote because as a Mother of three I remember only too well how exhausting and frustrating those really young years are and the desperate need for a break. I really am not a judgemental person and certainly have not been a perfect parent. My children were little in the late 80’s early 90’s when screens were science fiction! I do really feel for parents today, there is too much technology use to monitor.

The world is becoming more automated and while we are still able wouldn’t it be much wiser and more precious to teach our children valuable social skills by our own human example instead of relying too heavily on our screens to do it for us?

Detaching yourself from social media every now and again is a great detox for the mind, body and soul. Using the internet and its many social platforms should not enslave but enrich our lives. Time is so utterly precious and none of us, no matter how old we are truly know when our last moment is going to be. Devices can help us to interact with others and record certain memories to cherish for the rest of our lives but there is nothing quite like being alive and unplugged.

I’d like to end this piece with this rather brilliant video by artist/animator Steve Cutts, aptly titled, ‘Control The Madness Before It’s Too Late’


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1 Comment

  • A really important piece Diane, thank you. I frequently take off social media apps from my phone when I realise I’m becoming consumed. I used to scroll through social media in the mornings before I even gave my husband a kiss and a cuddle. Awful! I have to really try to remember that life should be lived through my eyes and not my screen. A timely reminder x

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