Like some of you, I’m old enough to remember life without mobile phones. But it hasn’t stopped the advent of the smart phone from becoming a second umbilical cord for millions of people around the world.
Here in the western world, we may as well have been born with it attached, because the thought of losing it, is not even one for mere contemplation. What would we do? What did we do before? Sadly, my little nieces will never even know. Kids are now born, and bottle fed on technology, in all its guises. Life without it means no life.
Yet once upon a time our mothers knew how to track us down by simply picking up a phone. There was no Facebook, twitter or internet.
In fact, the world- wide- web was only released into the public domain in 1993. Google’s search engine was first released to the public around the time of the Athens Olympics – in August 2004. Wikipedia (formally launched in January 2001) tells us that Google, now the world’s largest search engine, processes over one billion search requests every day.
The world is suddenly and literally at our fingertips. If knowledge is power, then the average person has the capacity to be a walking, talking encyclopedia without having to wade through the voluminous Britannica set. What’s more, it’s instant and up to date.
But one of the great ironies in my mind, is that if this technology was designed to connect us, and to save time – why are we busier than ever? Suddenly, there are more meetings, more appointments, more catch-ups, more correspondence, more facts, more information, more requests, more, more, more. The data overload is both brain-busting and celebral. And that’s the modern day dilemma. We can’t keep living at this pace, and yet we can’t live without the cyber bombardment and streams of information we often benefit from being able to access.
When it comes to Social Media, we have truly entered the age of oversharing. Personal visibility is also the new norm. Andrew Keen’s book “Digital Vertigo” describes Social Media as the new symbol of status and power in our digital age. He says “we are now all on permanent exhibition, all just images of ourselves in this brave, new transparent world”. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange put it this way.
“Today’s internet is the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen”.
We may be “connecting” on social media, but the time-consuming side effect is a “disconnect” with ourselves and some of our nearest and dearest. It’s why terms like “mindfulness” are gaining more merit, where being present is the new mantra we are being encouraged to aspire to.
That means downing tools and listening to the person in front of you. It means resisting the great temptation of checking your phone, email or social media site. It’s about meaningful and personal exchanges taking place. Macquarie Dictionary even has a term for it; phubbing. It describes the habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone. I admit I am a repeat offender, but I am working on it.
At the end of each year, I normally head to Greece to visit my poppa in a relatively small village, in Greece’s north. In recent years, a few internet cafes have popped up there, but very rarely will you see people of my father’s generation with an internet connection. He still uses a landline, which is strangely comforting. We even communicate through good-old fashioned letter writing.
Often, when I visit dad the main activity is sitting on the front porch, talking, sometimes sitting in silence and sipping, not gulping our home-made coffee. Our dinner is virtually planned from sunrise. And apart from the odd excursion that’s the way most days play out.
It may sound dull and monotonous, but its truly fulfilling for me, because on the porch the art of conversation takes place. Over the years it’s made me reflect upon and appreciate the old man’s wit and humour…and the subtle and rich tones expressed in my native tongue.
For me personally, when I switch off my Social media connection to the world, that’s when I am able to truly connect socially. I am there front and centre. Some of the most satisfying moments of my life have come from sitting on that porch, digesting the world in front of me, seeing the world in front of me, at that moment, in that space of present time. It makes me wonder how much I am missing out on.