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This week we’re going to take a brief trip back in time to the mid 1990’s. Whether it’s a walk down memory lane or a living history lesson (!) do join us for a quick visit. 
Back in those dim distant days, the internet was shiny and new. Not only was it dial up – which was incredibly slow on a good day – but far from user friendly. If you were fortunate enough to have access to it, you used it for a short period of time and then got on with the rest of your life. It was a novelty and, once you’d finished using it, you rarely thought about it. Surfing, other than that involving a trip to the sea and a board (!), had yet to become a mainstream leisure activity. 
Mail was something that came through the door each morning or, for the fortunate few, after lunch too. It was dealt with once a day and that was it. Simple. The constant checking – and rechecking (!) – of e mails was years away. 
Mobile phones had just made their debut. The size of a brick – we’re not kidding – they were largely an executive toy, with coverage being patchy at best. Only used to make calls – there’s a radical concept for younger readers (!) – with texting yet to invented. They were incredibly expensive so, not surprisingly, calls were kept short and sweet. 
Landlines were then the quickest and easiest way to contact people, with cordless phones only just starting to appear. Imagine it, being tied to using the phone in one place AND at home! While calls were less expensive than mobiles, they were still far from cheap. 
Even as the pace of technology began to pick up, communication was still personal. In other words one to one – or in small groups – with those we knew. More often than not, face to face. A conscious decision was made to communicate with another person and there was usually a reason for it. To pass on news. Arrange a get together or night out. Or, for teenagers, the traditional moan about parents / family / siblings (!). 
Fast forward to today and it instantly becomes obvious how much things have changed. Communication is no longer something that most people think about doing. Nor is it centred around people we actually know or have met. It’s done automatically without thinking, knee jerk reactions. And that’s where the problems start. The genie had been let out of the bottle. 
Take a few minutes to look at any of the more established social media platforms, say facebook or twitter. Then scroll down the posts and actually take the time to read them. While there may lots of communication (!) it quickly becomes obvious that it tends to be of the instant gratification variety. Like this. Comment on that. Share / retweet that. You have 10 new friends or followers waiting your approval. 7 people like your post. 
Then, if for some reason you decide not to get involved in the social media game, reminders quickly start appearing. Pressure is ever so gently applied with seemingly innocuous updates. You’ve missed 20 posts. Do you want to share / retweet that? You have 5 new friend requests. 
While we don’t like to think of ourselves in this way, humans are herd animals. Some people may be more sociable than others (!) but we live in groups and are swayed by what other members of our “herd” are doing. We want to belong and we want to feel safe. You may well have heard of it by its other name, peer pressure. 
And how cleverly social media has exploited peer pressure. First the carrot – of course you want to be part of this, don’t you? Then the stick – that, somehow, there’s something wrong with you if you don’t get involved. 
Initially aimed at teenagers and the twenty somethings, social media has quickly spread to those of all ages. Then as each one has become “mainstream” – and so less attractive to younger people – the next one is rolled out. Twitter. Instagram. And so it goes on. 
Not surprisingly, it’s led to people compulsively checking their e mails and social media platforms multiple times a day. Some reports talk of people checking them over 100 times a day. Being terrified of “missing out” on something. An addiction by any other name. A useful tool – there to serve you – has become a tyrannical master. 
By its very nature social media is incredibly distracting, taking people away from the “here and now”. From what’s actually happening in their lives, from the people they’re currently with. Instead their focus is being repeatedly taken away to what is happening elsewhere. And so they got caught in a sort of “no man’s land.” Between the “here and now” and the virtual world centred around their phone. 
If you’re in any doubt about how pervasive this is, do a little people watching when you’re next out and about. Or watch what happens at home with family members. Now that is scary stuff! And assumes that’s you’re not too distracted yourself (!). You’ll quickly notice that those who don’t have their phone glued to their hand, or aren’t checking it every few minutes for updates, are in the tiny minority. 
And, if you think this doesn’t apply to you, think again. You may well be surprised at what you suddenly notice yourself doing without ever being aware of it. Feeling somehow bereft if you leave your phone at home or, heaven forbid, there’s no coverage or your battery goes flat. Compulsively reaching for something that isn’t there or, even worse, isn’t working. 
Instead of fostering meaningful communication it’s done the exact opposite. Encouraging superficiality and knee jerk reactions. The mob mentality and bullying, albeit in new forms. 
It’s also increasingly being linked to mental health problems, with Psychologists suggesting that Millenials – those born since the mid 1990’s – are particularly at risk. After all, in many ways, they’ve been the guinea pigs for this new high tech way of living. The first generation born since the internet became ubiquitous and spending much of their lives in this virtual world. 
In recent weeks’ companies such as Apple have started to express concern about the addictive nature of technology and social media in particular. Sadly, this has more to do with pressure being applied to them – particularly commercial pressure – rather than a genuine desire to put this particular genie into its bottle. However, on the plus side, it has at least flagged up the problem. 
As with so many things in life the solution is simple, yet radical. And, before you compare us to luddites in suggesting it (!), it’s actually coming from many of those who’ve been in the forefront of this trend for years. It’s to take all e mails, social media platforms and apps off your phone. Put them on your laptop – or desktop (!) – at home and put that in a dedicated space away from the places you spend most of your time. That way if you want to go and check them you have to physically go there, turn it on and check them. And, then when you’ve finished, turn it off and get on with your life. That way you have the best of both worlds, without being endlessly distracted. 
Addictions have a way of creeping up on people before they’ve realised it. A quick check of e mails and social media every morning before going to work becomes an impulsive need to check them repeatedly during the day and takes over your evenings at home. And you won’t realise how much time they steal from you until it’s too late. 
While we may not like to think about it, our time here on earth is finite and we never know how long that is going to be. This makes our time the most precious of all gifts. So why not give someone this most precious of all gifts, your time AND 100% of your attention. Your life will benefit immeasurably and so will theirs. 
As always, the choice is yours. 
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