More and more lately, Social Media has become a dominant aspect of the lives of individuals. Over time, the world around us has been condensed by technology. With the arrival of new inventions: printing press, television, cell phone, computer, and many more; humanity has successfully harnessed the power of connectivity to further enable the transfer of information, culture, and influence. We have provided the foundations for the widespread social networking and mass media institutions of the present day.
The invention of the television allowed massive quantities of people to tune in to broadcasts from a multitude of providers. The ability to present live information to people throughout the world became more achievable than ever before. CNN brought 24-hour news cycles, in which news could be broadcast instantly at any time and could reach anyone with access to a television. Iconic shows like Doctor Who and Top Gear attained cult followings and embody the capacity of technology to connect people with common interests.
Towards the end of the 20th Century, the invention of the cell phone enabled individuals to instantly connect with anyone by the touch of a button; the process of transferring information and communicating over distance became easier and more streamlined. The invention of the computer and the rise of the World Wide Web (Internet) at the turn of the 21st century further revolutionized the world of technology, setting the stage for the rise of the “grid.” The term derives from the idea of being on an electrical grid, but to many people, it means being attached to the vast expanses of media and technological interconnectivity present in the world today.
Today, over 3 Billion People in the world have some sort of Internet access and online activity. Of those 3 Billion, there are an estimated 1.4 Billion active Facebook users. According to Internet Live Stats, over 2 billion people will access the Internet each day, a number that has grown consecutively in past years. Seeing a networking resource of this size conveys the enormity of the Internets reach on our planet, and on our lives. This is especially true in the developed world, where the vast majority of households have access to the web.
All of these technological advancements and developments depict a trend: technology’s hold on human beings has increased dramatically over time – simultaneously allowing us to connect with one another in a quick and feasible manner. And yet, I can think of many occasions in which my friends have all been in the same room, but instead of interacting with one another and being social, they were plastered to their phones, more likely to text something they want to talk about than to say it out loud. I don’t speak for everyone, but its fair to say many people would rather send a text like “how r u” or “what’s up” to a friend, coworker, or loved one, instead of than calling them and have a conversation person-to-person. The fact of the matter is: it’s easier, less time consuming, and doesn’t require emotional investment or extensive multitasking. While this is only a small example, it’s indicative of a larger societal shift—becoming completely dependent on technology for something as simple as human interaction. Nowadays, instead of hailing a cab, you can call an Uber from your phone with a few taps on the screen. Instead of calling for a reservation at a restaurant, you can use Opentable to do it. Instead of looking at disposable photos in an album at home, you can look through a digital timeline of photos on Facebook.
While these aren’t necessarily “bad” things, they’re a small part of the larger problem many people face – heavy reliance on technology. Without access to the Internet, many people are no longer able to carry out simple tasks.
For example, iPhone’s GPS technology enables people to navigate cities around the world, to go from point A to B by simply entering a destination. However, not all places have access to the Internet services many are accustomed to, meaning that when people who rely on technology leave the comfort and simplicity of the technological grid, they don’t know how to navigate; but once again, many people have simply never had to navigate without these devices. Speaking from personal experience – when I came to London, my service provider only allowed me to use a small quantity of data; moreover, the meager amount of data I had meant I needed to start learning to navigate a new place without the help of internet maps that I had previously always had access to with my handy phone. This was thought provoking because it made me realise that without access to the internet, so many things that I’d normally use my phone to do – I’d have to learn to do by myself.
Instead of going on yelp to find out what a good place to eat nearby is, I’d go out and FIND something good to eat nearby. Instead of looking at google maps to find out how to get back home, I simply looked at the skyline and headed towards the glistening lights of my building seen from afar. Instead of listening to iTunes and Spotify to tune out the sounds of my surroundings, I’d have to listen to the sounds of the city and its people. Instead of texting or Facebook messaging to talk to friends and family, I’d have to give them a call. Instead of being able to respond to the immense quantity of notifications I’m swamped with daily, I’d have to simply learn to cope with the fact that I can’t respond to everything that comes my way instantly. The comfort of being able to respond to something instantly means that people connected to the grid don’t ever need to have loose ends, responding to notifications is as easy as pressing a few buttons or tapping a few things on a screen. These things all represent luxuries though, not necessities. We are adapted to these things as individuals on the grid, because whilst on the grid, this is simply a normality. More or less all of these things I take for granted honestly don’t really change my life that significantly, it seems like such a drastic change simply because of how accustomed to these things I’ve become.
I say this, because when I’m using Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms…I’m never bored and I never actually have to make an effort to get outside my comfort zone or try to learn how to do something without relying on my technology for help. Everything is instant. Messages are sent and received instantly. Pictures are taken and posted, instantly. Websites are clicked and opened, instantly. There is always someone to talk to, and something to see. With Facebook, I don’t need to make friends wherever I go, because I can talk to my friends from home instantly. With Instagram, Twitter and Facebook I can visually and verbally convey to my friends, family and followers what I’m doing, eating, listening to, thinking about, etc. at anytime instantly. I can also communicate with anyone of my choice through these platforms – instantly.
Noting the aforementioned normalities and luxuries that I often take for granted, I decided to log off my Facebook for a while, sign out of Twitter, and Instagram, disconnecting myself from the grid completely. What I quickly realized is that I really don’t need any social media networks in my life to function. Sure, calling, texting and emailing are arguably a necessity for work and communications– but your family and friends will still be your family and friends regardless of how quickly you can respond to their messages, calls, texts, pokes, tweets, grams, emails, etc. Relying on the grid to solidify your relationships with others is no way to actually build interpersonal relationships.
Make a list of who you’re closest to, and it probably looks something like this: Mom, Dad, Lifelong Friend(s) Sibling(s), Relative(s), Mentors. Its unlikely that in your lifetime, any of these people became part of this list due to something like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. They are on that list because you know one another as human beings. You can laugh together, you can learn together, and you can share things with one another – person to person. Considering that so many people in the modern world invest a large amount of their time in the grid, taking some time off can give perspective on how much the little things in life matter. Moreover, it can show you how much life has to offer outside of the comfort of the grid, and from what I’ve experienced the therapeutic effect that some technological detox can be. Letting you be with yourself surrounded by the world in front of you, instead of the world that’s held within the confines of your technology