Are you switched on?

Just a quick update to get in a sneaky post I wrote for TINO a while back!

***

I think there’s an insidious disease that’s pervading our lives, and I’d go as far to say that at least 95% of the people you know have it. Most people aren’t aware that they’ve contracted it from somewhere- it probably came into their lives so early and so subtly that they just accepted it without knowing what was happening, or what would happen because of it. I’ve been seeing symptoms of it over the past decade or so, but I think that in the near future things are going to get a whole lot worse. What’s this perfidious disease, you ask? Why, you’re staring at it right now. It’s called technology.

Okay okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But I’m actually being quite serious here. Twenty, or even ten years ago, our parents and grandparents didn’t have any of the issues that young people face today. There was no such thing as cyber bullying, the easiest way to contact someone was through landline or in person, and the kind of entertainment people carried around involved marbles and packets of cards. Today, people (especially young, tech-savvy people) face a very different kind of problem.

Have you ever woken up early in the morning because some idiot’s sent you a text? Do you check keep facebook open, constantly checking if you have any new notifications? Have you ever felt frustrated that the internet’s stopped working? These are all symptoms of hyperconnection. What that basically means is that we’re always in touch with other people, at all times, in all places. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing- in fact, it’s quite remarkable. A hundred years ago, it was practically inconceivable to imagine being able to Skype with your cousin in Indonesia, or to instantly receive an email from anywhere in the world. But being so rigged up to technology has its own dangers, and I’m worried that no one’s aware of what’s happening to them.

RadioNational’s “All in the Mind” had a look at some of the adverse effects of being so hyperconnected. Lynne Malcolm, the presenter, has a look at the psychological disorders that can develop from having a phone in your pocket, from maintaining a sense of general anxiety whenever your phone goes off, to narcissistic personality disorder. It’s a brilliant show, and well worth a listen to. You can download the audio here.

But I think our reliance on technology goes a little further than just keeping in touch with our social circles. Something I’ve noticed is that, whenever I’m waiting for something, I’ll whip out my phone and play a game to pass the time. I do this in restaurants, in shops, in my kitchen, at my girlfriend’s house, even in the toilet. And I’ve seen other people do it too- my Dad recently figured out how to read e-books off his phone, and as a result he’s always reading. Even when my family went out to lunch together, he spent a large part of it with his head bowed, staring at a tiny screen.

From examining my own thoughts and talking to him about his, I get the feeling that people are desperately trying to keep entertained 24/7. As a culture, we fear silence, boredom and stillness. At least from my own experience, there’s been a growing compulsion to maximise efficiency and to always be doing something. For example, if we haven’t used up much of our monthly download limit, my Dad will just download dozens of files that he’s probably never going to read/watch/listen to. But he feels better knowing he’s made the most of his time and resources, and that if he ever has “a spare moment”, there’s plenty he can do to keep himself occupied. He also complains about never having enough time to do things, so he’s caught in an endless cycle.

Why have we become so dependent on technology for happiness? Once during a blackout, my brother got so bored that he declared that there was nothing to do and went promptly to bed, even though it wasn’t yet 7pm. The world has changed so much in the last decade- I can barely remember what life was like before broadband, and that really, really worries me.

But last week, my martial arts club headed into the wilderness for seven days, and part of that involved leaving all electronics at home. No mobiles, no iPods, no computer access or phone calls (excepting emergencies)… And when I got back to the city, I didn’t miss it at all. When we drove close enough to receive radio signal, I turned off the radio rather than listening to pop music. When my phone started receiving messages again, I glanced at it to see if there was anything important, then ignored it. I had not the slightest desire to check emails or facebook (though I was vaguely curious to see if a package had arrived for me). My friends and I knew that none of that crap was really important, yet there are people in the world who go to ridiculous lengths to get the perfect profile pic, or who compulsively check their emails every day. And having been temporarily freed from that illusion, I considered it a huge waste of time and energy. If only people realised how much more there was to life than their Xbox’s and iPads!

So here’s my challenge for you. Turn off your phone, right now. Sign out of your facebook/twitter account. Disconnect from some piece of technology you’ve been using for three whole days. One day is probably just enough time to go through the withdrawals without appreciating any of the benefits. Trust me, it’s manageable. I didn’t tell many people I was going incommunicado for a week, and when I got back, almost nobody noticed I’d been away. The world will keep spinning if you stop trying to control it for a little while. Just try it, and see what happens. There’s so much to gain, I can’t even begin to tell you how much.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m shutting down this computer and going to go see my girlfriend for dinner.

Xin.

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