iSlave XR

Imagine. You’re sat talking to someone, at home, work or the pub. You’re watching a movie or a TV show. You’re out for a walk or simply laid in bed. Your screen lights up or you feel the familiar vibration in your pocket. There’s a notification. Someone liked your latest Instagram post or retweeted you. Someone invited you to play Candy Crush on Facebook. A email, spam usually. Or a text from a friend or from work – non urgent; they’d have called, right?

Too often one of the above scenarios has occurred and I’ve instinctively checked my phone. 99% of the time that lit screen or vibration is an irrelevance. A ‘joke’ sent in group chat. A new follower from an account I don’t have anything in common with. Another email from Vue, eBay, Ryanair, Travelodge.

Why am I a slave to my mobile telephone? Granted, the mobile has become an essential life companion. It allows us to keep in touch with loved ones, check the news, access an almost infinite amount of information in a few clicks and capture moments in video or photo format. Want to know what the weather is like tomorrow? There’s a app for that. What’s on at the cinema? Check the app. Who won the big game? “I’ll just check.” The mobile/cell phone has many uses it is a tool for humanity to use to make life that little bit easier and pleasurable. But that’s the crux, isn’t it? It’s a tool for us to use; so why do I – and so many others – dance to it’s tune? Who determines what I do on a day to day or minute to minute basis? I do, or rather I should. Yet moments are interrupted and years of use has conditioned me/us to respond to the urgent appeals of a mobile device.

Your phone should be accessed when you need it. Your phone should not be accessing you when it needs you.

So a few days ago I turned off all notifications. Texts, gone. Whatsapp, finished. Email, ended. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, off. I left on telephone calls for emergencies. It’s liberating. I feel more in the moment and I have managed to sit through a show without the temptation of interruption. If I want to see what’s going on in the world I choose to do so rather than an inanimate object telling me it’s time to see what’s going on out there.

The end result is a boost to my mental well-being. I’m no longer drawn in to checking my social media accounts when my phone flashes. I’ve even – and this rarely happened before – forgotten where I put my phone! My screen time is down 21%. I’m using my phone less. And I haven’t missed anything. The emails still arrive. The text messages and ‘jokes’ in Whatsapp too. When someone likes my latest Facebook photo I still get to see who it was and I still get to see the comments. But I do it in my time when I want to and not at the say so of a piece of technology.

Anti-social media

I always thought, quite romantically perhaps, that the idea of social media was to bring people together. It was almost like in a more inclusive, closer-knit world, the opportunities to make connections with other human beings were more plentiful. We were ‘stronger together’ and connected in more ways. I was wrong.

Social media is far from socially inclusive. It’s interesting to consider, but before the proliferation of social media platforms we were, as a people, as a species, more ‘social’. We spent time with people not hours glued to small screens. I, certainly, have found that I spend less time with real flesh-and-blood people these days. I’m certain many others are in a similar situation. Twitter is life for some people. To others Instagram likes are their main source of self-esteem. Others see their popularity purely in terms of the number of friends they have managed to acquire on Facebook. Twitter is not life. You’re beautiful regardless of what Instagram tells you. Facebook is irrelevant. You are not your follower count.

I am guilty of investing too much time and importance in these superficial mechanisms for gauging ones worth. ‘Do the internet people like me?’ has been and still is something which crosses my mind. I have written before about attention seeking on the internet. But just how important are these quantifiers really? They are not.

Look; I am not telling you that the relationships you have formed on Twitter et al are irrelevant. I have met, loved, and lost some great people on Twitter. Some people will, hopefully, be in my life forever – you know who you are. Others, forgotten as immediately as the connection was initially made. *click*

And that brings me to my next point. Yesterday one of my Twitter friends was bemoaning the loss of a ‘good friend’ who had blocked her. The connection which they made and which existed for weeks/months/years was destroyed immediately and with the click of a button. A link which she valued was severed by the other party as easily as a press of a button. And that is understandably devastating for some people. Another was decrying the demise of a relationship which had been one of mutual support through difficult times. When one party found their way out of the darkness, their need for that support diminished and the relationship faded away.

The worry is that human connections, or rather the human being attached to the connection; the living, breathing, feeling, hurting, person connected to that manifestation in the nirvana that is social media, has been rendered down to a commodity. Something to be used and then traded or cast away when no longer useful. To be seen as irrelevant, an annoyance, a hindrance. Like the game which has been completed or proven too difficult, to be uninstalled and deleted from ones life. I am guilty of treating people like this. When they are no longer entertaining or relevant to my life or circumstances I have dumped people. Real people. People who feel and hurt were seen as dalliances, temporary, transient.

Social media should bring people closer together but it seldom does. Instead it renders human connections down to tenuous digital links. It reduces people down to their @ or UserID and treats them as options to pick up, play with, and cast away when done.  People should not be treated like that; and mechanisms which allow people to be seen as such are far from social.

 

I want to talk about Twitter for a moment.

Some time ago I posted on here about Twitter not being real, about it being a ‘a meaningless yet useful tool for communication’. How haughty and superior I was, thinking that this thing didn’t matter to millions of people, that real connections weren’t formed in 140 characters, that people couldn’t love and hate – in equal measure – within it’s databases.

Perhaps me posting that entry was a sign to the universe to shaft me, because since then, Twitter or rather the connections made within, has been very real. And occasionally emotional and occasionally painful. If I was brighter I’d probably talk about how relationships and connections are changing in the digital world and how social media is the catalyst. We ‘meet’ people we wouldn’t normally meet. We connect with people from different walks of life. We share facets of our personality which we may hide in the real world. There’s a degree of anonymity and safety which comes from communicating over vast distances and virtual mediums. We can be who we want to be. We can fly whichever flag we choose to fly. We can put on masks, take off masks, filter, alter, amend, enhance. We can love at a distance and not get hurt. We can display hostility at a distance and from behind locked private accounts and suffer no consequences. No one is waiting around the corner to cause us harm, sticks and stones may break bones but names over the internet cannot hurt, right?

Each Twitter handle, each online personality, contains within an often vulnerable real person. A real soul capable of feelings, capable of hurt, capable of lies, capable of harsh truths. Pull back the masks and filters and alterations, amendments, flattering angles and inside there’s a Me or a You. Step away from the protection offered by a virtual medium and there’s a world of hurt in the real. We’re capable of forgetting that. We’re capable of seeing these transient connections which we make and not understanding the gravity of them. Not grasping how important they can be. To some people those connections are incredibly real, incredibly important, exceptionally vulnerable.

What’s my conclusion? Perhaps that I am guilty of not seeing just how real these connections can be and treating them with disrespect and disdain. Perhaps that I am guilty of expecting the masks and filters to translate into the real – they seldom do. Be kind, be cautious. I’m going to learn from my errors, learn from my mistakes, take lessons from very recent and very real experiences. If someone gives you a piece of them; be that in the street or on Twitter (masked, filtered or other), treat that piece with respect and kindness. Because behind that small piece of @ there is a real person who is reaching out and putting themselves at risk. They can be hurt.

Sorry…

Twitter isn’t real

Twitter, despite what you may think, is not real life. It’s a medium for communication – in tiny meaningless chunks – with little or no substance. Time and again I see fallings out and bitching, and the odd self-styled messiah with his sycophantic imbeciles hanging on every word.

People take these 140char bursts of communication to heart. They use them as barbs to attack and harass others. They take what people say on the internet seriously.

Time and again I see people raging over some imagined slight on Twitter and I’m aghast at how personal people take such things. Unlike real life Twitter has handy tools. Two of the most important are as follows:

  • UNFOLLOW
  • BLOCK

If someone is giving you a hard time, or if someone is talking trash about you, AND YOU DON’T LIKE IT, use the handily available tools and remove those people from your (virtual) life.

I do sometimes wish that real life had those buttons. It’d make life so much easier if you could just erase someone’s ability to harm you with the click of a button.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: Twitter is a meaningless yet useful tool for communication. Don’t take it so seriously and you might get out alive.

Life through a social media lense

I’m as guilty as anyone of living my life through social media. It seems like every single major or minor event is shared with friends and strangers alike.

But one thing which has recently occurred to me is how much we miss when viewing life through a social media lense. It seems that we are so wrapped up in capturing life’s moments on a 6inch screen in 8-megapixels that we are missing the bigger picture, the real picture.
On Thursday I took Tom to see the Christmas Lights switched on. People around us held their phones aloft recording events on the stage. It seems even minor celebs are worthy of capturing on our tiny screens. I picked up Tom so he could see and held him tight to me. Head to head. After the countdown and the lights went on the fireworks started. We stood together. Heads above the surrounding crowd and watched the fireworks. I shared in his pure innocent awe at the colours and explosions and sound above the crowd. We shared that moment. We captured that moment. Not on a tiny screen on a tiny device, but in our hearts and minds and memories.

Standing there with my boy’s arms around my neck just watching the display I realised that this is what is important. It’s not about what we can commit to electronic memory to be forgotten as soon as it’s happened, it’s about what we can feel and remember. What we can share with those people who matter to us.

So next time you experience something. Next time there is an event. Put away your phone. Hold those who matter to you close, and simply enjoy the sensation of sharing a time and place. You’ll get more from that act of intimacy than you ever will from your Instagram picture or your tweet.