Sunday, 27 July 2014
Why I Refuse to Do a Digital Detox
Yesterday, while purchasing a £3 book at the Southbank book market, I saw this sign saying, "The Smartphone Generation Doesn't Watch Where It's Going" and it made me smile because David always has to remind me to put my phone away when crossing the street. In the aftermath of the happy marriage between social media and smartphones, everyone seems obsessed with detoxing from everything that keeps us connected. Apparently, your kids are worried about you, tech bosses are (somehow) switching off and even Ian Somerhalder is doing it. And don't get me started on the countless YouTube videos spreading like wildfire through Facebook, all somewhere along the lines of:
I Forgot My Phone at Home and Realised the Sky Was Still Blue
I Got So Jealous of My Best Friend's Facebook Profile that I Forgot How Blessed I Am
Our Nose is So Deep Into Our Phones that We Haven't Actually Spoken For Years
I reserve the same brand of disdain and dislike for this kind of detoxes as I do for food-related ones.
As someone who didn't have a mobile phone until I was sixteen so actually remembers the days of deciding to meet at the tube station without specifying which exit and then standing at opposite exits for hours, I suspect that The Way Technology is Taking Over Our Lives is just another cop-out. A way to place the blame on something else.
Let me break down the news to you: if your relationship is on the rocks, it's not Facebook's fault. It's yours, your partner's, or both. "But I caught him Whatsapping his ex!" I hear you wail. Fine, but do you really believe there was no infidelity in the pre-iPhone era? People text messaged their lovers. They called them, sometimes going through the trouble of getting separate phones (remember that sleazy dude in your neighbourhood who had three Nokia 3310s?). They wrote letters. They sent messenger doves or whatnot. Point is: cheating wasn't invented when the Poke function was.
I've been in trouble with a past workplace for posting on Linkedin that I was looking for a new job (privacy settings anyone?) but a) I wasn't fired and b) I'm sure countless underpaid, under-stimulated workers before me have bumped into their boss on the tube on a "sick" day, wearing interview attire, or sent a cover letter to the wrong email by mistake, or had a nosy colleague standing over their shoulder while browsing job ads, or had similar mishaps that let on that they were looking over the fence for greener grass. It's not Linkedin's fault; I take on all responsibility for my actions, like any mature, hire-able adult.
This is exactly what I feel is missing in this whole We're So Addicted to Our Emails hysteria: responsibility. If you're not taking the time to connect to people because you're busy playing Farmville, it's no one's problem but your own (and if you're going to play that crap, at least stop sending me invites for it). If you only tell people happy birthday because Facebook reminds you it's their birthday, then maybe you're not that close in the first place? And newsflash, they don't care why you said happy birthday. They're just glad you did.
We are the ones that look at our phones instead of in each other's eyes.
We are the ones that neglect our partners to drool over what some random girl is wearing on Instagram.
We are the ones that choose to let anything take over, be it technology or another addiction.
The fault lies with us, and us alone.
As an online magazine editor, I didn't take a "digital detox" even on my honeymoon. I checked Twitter en route to the beach, Instagrammed before bed and answered emails at Amalfi coast restaurants, while my husband was in the bathroom. Some might call it obsessive. I call it staying consistent in order to provide a quality product for my readership. Sometimes, in order to translate your vision into reality, you need to get a bit obsessed. You do it without being able to help yourself, it's almost instinctive. It would have been the same if my passion project were a book, a print magazine or any other non-digital venture. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that Vilda could never even exist without social media and technology. I could never have found, and kept in touch with, my amazing team that's spread across the globe. We could never have interviewed amazing designers that are scattered around the world. I would never have gotten in touch with people from the US, Brazil, Germany, Russia that all tell me that Vilda is amazing. All of this thanks to the Big Beast of Technology.
(oh and I still had a freaking fantastic honeymoon, that I enjoyed every nanosecond of.)
One argument that I truly, madly, deeply loathe is the one that refers to the Good Old Days, claiming that things were "better" before the invention of this and that, before the takeover of "modernity". As a digital media professional and enthusiast, I call BS on this ridiculous idea quicker than you can tell me what SEO means. I tweet and Instagram for the same reason that I blog - to keep an interactive, textual and visual diary of my life. I have close friends and family in three countries of the world. How do the sceptics suggest I keep in touch without Facebook and Skype? "In my days, we used the phone!" (said in a whiny old-lady voice). Well, maybe in your day London rents didn't eat three quarters of your earnings and you could afford to chat on the phone all day. Needless to say, the people that say this are the ones who live next door to all their immediate family and best friends. Skype and Facebook are free. International calls less, so. And to a multi-national person like myself, spending ten minutes Skyping with my mum or best friend is worth more than a thousand "networking" events in pubs, cafés, ateliers or Fashion Week venues, filled with random people that I can actually look in the face. But then again, us multi-cultural individuals are probably just another result of Ugly Modernity that these traditionalists frown at.
Plus, it strikes me as somewhat laughable that people seem to think that social media was somehow created solely for them to use, abuse and get addicted to. It's a marketing tool. It was made for companies to use in their communication strategies. It's the new way to advertise. Everything else is just a tasty side. Remember that when attributing all the blame for your (lack of) emotional engagement to a lifeless medium.
As much as I love all things shareable, I spend most Saturdays discovering the endless (and free!) selection of London parks, having glasses of wine at sunset and making vegan desserts for my husband. A super-fun Sunday for me equals taking a walk to the local farm and hanging out with goats and pigs. Sure, I might Instagram it. But I do know how to enjoy real life. A passion for social media doesn't (necessarily) turn you into a blind, emotionless robot.
Technology, the internet and social media have helped me stay in touch with friends and family, create a profession for myself, make my dream project (my magazine) a reality and discover new skills that I'm desperate to learn more about. It has also enabled me to work as a freelancer from anywhere in the world and meet countless new people. I owe so much to the digital revolution. The Smartphone Generation might not watch where it's going, but we don't need to constantly look at our own feet to know we're going places, and fast.
I'll round this up with a practical example. Last week, my baby niece laughed for the first time - obviously my sister, who lives in Stockholm, wanted to share this magical moment with me. Now, if this were 1995, she'd first have to take a bunch of random photos around the house to finish up her film roll (alternatively, wait ages for significant photo opportunities to come along to finish the roll), then bring it in to a developer, wait two days and PAY to have the photos developed. Then she'd have to buy an envelope and some stamps (money-spending again!) and send off the photo, waiting for me to get it in a week and phone her, excitedly: "so Elise laughed? Wow!", whereupon she'd go, "yeah, that was three weeks ago." Whereas now, all she had to do was capture the moment on her iPhone and click "Send" on her Whatsapp. Three seconds later, we were revelling in the marvel together. See? Technology doesn't obstacle relationships. It facilitates them. If you use it right.
Photo from Refinery29's Instagram