I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s a YouTube video of Simon Sinek speaking on the subject of millenials that’s gone viral. The thing that caught my attention was that he was speaking about the rise in technology and how this is affecting our generation. It hit a nerve (I pride myself on just about falling within the millennial category!). Soon after, I read an article by Andrew Sullivan on technology called ‘I used to be a human being’. Essentially Simon, Andrew, and a number of other people of influence have been discussing the not-so-pleasant effects of the use of technology on us.
I will admit; I’m a sucker for it. I love texting, Facebook and Instagram and my patient husband often bears the brunt of my… well, obsession. He’ll give me a kind nudge as if to say ‘hello I’m here’ and my response is more often that not, “oh I just need to do this quickly”, “two seconds”, “I’m just finding out…”, but in reality I’m obsessed with the never-ending overload of information that you get from browsing. Having a quick scan of the cafe I’m sitting in confirms my suspicion that I’m probably not the only one.
We can instantly chat, shop, read, search and play, but in reality what these experts are saying (and what I’m realising) is that we are exhausting ourselves. It’s great that I can text a friend easily, see them typing, and have an instant response, but I know I’m becoming more impatient as a person as a result. Our society wants ‘instant’ everything – ready meals, trains approaching the platform as you step onto it, immediate responses, immediate answers to prayer. My patience is eroding.
Whilst there are many advantages to social media, so often what we see on Facebook, Instagram and other sites is so often a lie. You scroll down and see everyone’s highlights and instantly compare it to your not-so-high-lights. You see everyone’s adventures, funny moments, special memories and compare them to the weekend you’ve just had – cleaning the house and filling in your tax return. What’s interesting is that experts say that posting on social media gives us a boost of dopamine in the brain (the chemical that gives us pleasure), so there’s an unconscious incentive to update your account: every “like” we get makes us feel better and temporarily reduces the emptiness we may feel from not having a life like everyone else’s.
What these articles highlight is that it’s not just the effect on our self-esteem that suffers. Friendships and relationships suffer. If I go out with a friend and we both quickly get out our phones to check something ‘urgent’, the quality of our conversation suffers. There’s break in connection, which then requires rebuilding. Whether that happens or not is another matter. Maybe the best way I can bless my friend is by being fully there: fully present, engaged and listening. I want my friends to know that I care about them and actions speak louder than words.
As someone who works in HR, I can wholeheartedly agree with Simon Sinek that there are certain skills you need to learn before you enter the world of work: interpersonal skills, team work, conflict and more. Sinek points out that millennials are entering the workplace lacking these key skills. These are the skills we learn through connection with others. As a society we spend so much time developing virtual friends that we risk minimising the number of quality relationships we can build. Once you enter the workplace you can’t put a filter on yourself like on Instagram and only show your best bits. How can we better prepare for this? Spending time and energy with people, investing in others, volunteering, being authentic, having moments of vulnerability, learning how to resolve differences and practising patience! They are all crucial to becoming the best version of ourselves we can be. Jesus modelled genuine friendship with his disciples and there wasn’t a mobile in sight!
The rise in popularity of mindfulness shows us there is a need to slow down. We are more stressed and anxious than ever. As we have begun a new year I’ve been challenged about ways I can do this. Last year technology had a negative effect on me. Going forwards, instead of looking at my phone while I walk, I could walk around my neighbourhood and pay attention to what’s going on, admire the green(ish) surroundings, and smile at the elderly neighbour who might not see anyone else that day. I can be open to what God might be saying. Something tells me this would be more fulfilling. I love that children get so excited by the simplicity of life: leaves that have freshly fallen from the tree, conkers, puddles. I’m reminded that God didn’t make them just for children to enjoy – he created them for all of us… we just need to stop and look!
Interestingly Albert Einstein once said, “I fear the day when technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will become a generation of idiots.” Einstein understood the value of human interaction. Reflecting on this I know that I do too. My best memories aren’t when I’ve been on a device, they’re when I’ve been with others. Laughing, talking, sharing, enjoying, eating, drinking. With this in mind I want to start this year focusing on being more present. I know I will forget this sometimes but I am confident I will feel happier, more peaceful and healthier for it.