Take a moment out of your busy day. A couple of steps back, or to the side (anywhere really) of the mad rush that we’re all surrounded, led, driven by. And think.
We live in a world in which the development of new technology is exploding all around us. We communicate, work, live and play through our smartphones, laptops, tablets and televisions. Even those of us who grew up without a mobile phone or a laptop, but acquired one in our twenties or later are now truly children of a digital era. New and increasingly complex digital devices have become commonplace objects in our everyday lives, demanding our attention, giving us information, and granting us the instant gratification of many of our whims.
Unsurprisingly, this boom in ownership of digital devices has brought with it a need for us humans to adapt to a new environment – and smartphones are changing not just the way in which we communicate, but also our mindsets, concentration span, and even the way in which we treat others.
If this sounds wrong to you, then let me give you a couple of examples. Since the mobile revolution began in 2000, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 to 8 seconds*. That’s less than that of a goldfish, apparently. Those of us whose lifestyles embrace more digital media struggle to concentrate for as long as those of us who are less exposed to it. There is, however, some research that shows that we have become better at multitasking. We can use a smartphone at the same time as watching television…
So much for concentration. But what about our mindset – surely the digital age can’t be affecting the very way in which we behave? I think so. Consider Facebook, the social media site that allows us to connect with almost anybody (‘friending’ or ‘unfriending’ them at the click of a button) and say almost anything that we want to without fear of reprisal. I sometimes wonder whether social media encourages us to treat other people like much of the stuff that that we buy, here today and gone tomorrow, temporary, disposable – expendable, in fact.
Aunties unfriending nieces and nephews, grandparents unfriending grandchildren, neighbours unfriending neighbours, schoolfriends unfriending (and re-friending and unfriending) each other over and over again. Impulsive unpleasantness expressed in writing, videos and pictures without a care about how far it will travel or how much harm it may do. The ease and speed with which reprisals, criticism and revenge can be meted out on social media seems to have led us all to think that we can have a ‘go’ at anyone, or cut anyone out of our lives at the drop of a hat.
But, of course, people aren’t expendable. We all have feelings. We do not like being ticked off in public, having our lifestyles examined and criticised by those who have no business to do so, or being swept under the carpet for the convenience of others. And just because you may choose to treat them as expendable in your digital world doesn’t make a friend or family member expendable for real. Who’s to say that you won’t ever need someone again, just because that’s how you feel today? They might be family, friends, exes. They might live in the same street, the same town. They might be there for you at some point that you cannot predict or even imagine just now, standing between you and something that you simply cannot tackle alone and that others won’t or cannot handle – illness, loss, sorrow. You’ll be bumping into each other tomorrow, next week, next year, forever, let’s be honest. So be careful that your digital stuff doesn’t take too firm a hold on the reality of the present. Step outside your door and engage positively with real people in your street, in your neighbourhood, in your life.
*Telegraph Science, March 2016