I was raised in an age where the internet made its grand entrance. It came into my life right about when puberty hit and online chatting was what we did with our evenings at home. After 6pm, we could use our dial-up internet to connect to this new social world online.
Eventually, internet became a 24 hour thing. Beyond that, mobile phones evolved into a must for all, not to mention slimmer, touch screened and equipped with internet access. It’s now unthinkable to live without internet or a mobile phone. Suddenly, we don’t have to call people on their home phone any more to communicate. We can send a text to cancel plans last minute. We don’t have to confront people directly because online chatting and text messaging have made this easier.
Our phone became our alarm bell, watch, calendar, calculator, and communication tool. Any information we required was a search engine away; we no longer had to go to the library and look through books. This definitely contributed to a society that expects quick results. We’re impatient, needing instant gratification. I fear the concept of persevering for what you want is dying away.
I’ve personally felt the divide when chatting about something I deem important through my phone, yet being at a party or a meal and expected to be mentally present there. Friends have actually thought that I didn’t enjoy their company any more because at intervals, I’d grab my phone for a chat or a Facebook scroll.
I find it easy and comforting to binge on technology by going through the Facebook feed. You know the drill – that mind-numbing Facebook scroll we do when we’re lying awake in bed or waiting somewhere. Your finger does the scrolling while you mindlessly receive images about other people’s lives. Here you can watch the video everyone’s sharing, find a quote that perfectly fits your mood, see the intriguing must-read article a friend posted, check out the pictures from your other friend’s night out and see if the guy you’re sort of into liked your new profile picture.
We’ve all been guilty of a little Facebook stalking too, a virtual and lone way of gossiping. We search for people who aren’t our friends and come to a conclusion based on their profile. We conclude as to how attractive they are and what kind of person they are, based on their first five profile pictures. We check common friends – because it’s Malta and there’s always someone – and extend our judgement based on our opinion of such common friends.
I went through a period where I found myself waking up in the middle of the night and checking my phone, finding messages and replying at 3am! The bright screen and the mental process of replying then kept me awake and my restful night had been interrupted. I’ve started the habit of switching off my internet before I sleep, and giving myself that time for true rest, no accessibility.
My conclusion is that it can wait until the morning.
No one can deny the benefits of technology and the internet. There are NGOs in developing countries working solely with the purpose of gaining internet access for local villages, in order to help them with education and communication. However, I feel we should discuss the whole scenario including what it means to be constantly accessible. We have so many communication Apps, not to mention text messages, phone calls and email. While the Apps themselves are incredibly beneficial, the position of always being in demand can be very draining for a person. Work, school and relationship issues can be communicated in a second. You may feel guilty or anxious if you don’t check your phone regularly. It actually feels strange to check your phone and not see any notifications, so we sometimes start the communication ourselves because there’s a fear something may be wrong if no one’s talking to us.
It’s curious to me how young people growing up in the technological world of tablets and smart phones feel about being constantly on demand. I don’t think they can recognise it as a stressor because they don’t know life without it. It’s up to parents to model the balance between the virtual world and the real world, and put limitations on their use when they’re younger, explaining the reasons and exposing them to other sources of joy. It’s important for parents themselves to know when to shut off and be present.