it’s time to awaken to real and meaningful connections

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Reset with a digital detox.

The phrases seem almost commonplace now, two decades after the internet and social media set in and staged a takeover of our every waking moment with their buddy, the cellphone.

We are almost never not related.

We now have everything in an instant: ordering groceries, delivering food, streaming music and TV shows, looking up dictionaries and messaging services.

I recently came back from a week’s vacation to 332 emails. Contact with social media was only briefly broken in flight.

In this age of hyper-connection, out-of-office and do-not-disturb notifications are just speed bumps when the perceived need for someone to reach you is deemed more important than your need to get away.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority puts meat on those connected bones: 99% of Australian adults have internet access. Nine out of 10 have a home internet connection, and three-quarters of them have an NBN connection.

The average time spent online is more than three hours a day.

We have 16 million smart home devices.

Almost half of all internet traffic in Australia comes from mobile devices, the most popular internet activity is email and three in five users say looking at social media is the first thing they do in the morning.

The consequences of such an immediate connection can be heavy and two-sided, and not just for teenagers.

Expecting a quick response means being radio silenced is like getting kicked off a friend’s birthday party list or not being picked on the team’s EP. ‘primary school.

I’m in many social media groups for work and play and know the sting of silence when a heartfelt invitation or honest question goes unanswered. I’m not alone.

I have a beautiful friend who never contributes to her family’s IM group again because seeing her messages met with the sound of crickets hurt her more than she could bear.

This funny, kind and caring person just looks inside. How did we get to this place where we are seemingly always connected and in fact almost never?

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We rationalize our need to always be available: what if something happens to our elderly parents/our boss needs a task done/our spouse forgets to take the shopping list?

But disconnect, we need to – once in a while – hear the sounds of our neighborhood, just sit back and think, remember how to pick up the phone and call a friend for real instead of sending our voice into an outlet or via voice-to-text.

Even a day requires planning, discipline and disbelief, but it is beneficial to health.

A diet of instant everything is irrefutably unhealthy, and this is as true for communication and entertainment as it is for food.

Sometimes we need connection instead of contacts, massages instead of messages, and fresh air instead of staying in a virtual room.

A busy life requires the exploration of real and virtual spaces.

Dr. Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator, and writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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