Disconnected in a connected world

 
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Every Sunday morning at around 9am, I receive a notification. Before I even touch my mobile phone, I already know what it is and dread looking at it. Some weeks, I choose to ignore the notification completely until finally, I give in. I need my phone, but I can’t use it without seeing that notification. Maybe you can already guess what it is?

There’s nothing wrong with Apple’s Screen Time feature. I receive a comprehensive list of all the apps I have used throughout the week and how much time I have spent on them, but this is the problem—it works too well. Every time I look at the weekly reports of my phone usage, a wave of guilt hits me. It’s a reminder of how reliant I am on my digital devices—but more specifically social media apps, with an average of four hours per day lost by mindlessly scrolling on Facebook and Instagram.

According to data by Genroe, 96.4 per cent of Australian internet users aged between 16 and 64 accessed social media platforms or messaging services in December 2020, with a total of 80 per cent of the population active on social media. As a country, Australia’s social media use is currently at its peak saturation level. There are similar trends like this across the world: according to Statista, 88.5 per cent of the United Kingdom’s population and 82 per cent of the United States population used some form of digital media in 2020.

Due to Covid-19 we have become more reliant on digital technology and electronic devices to keep workplaces, universities, schools and places of worship running. For the past two years, we have been forced to rely on apps to interact with those who are not in our immediate household. As a society, we are more connected to the digital world than we have ever been before—and with good reason considering the pandemic that has caused us to adapt in this fashion. And yet, according to a survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost half of the people surveyed reported that they have felt lonely since March 2020.

A quick online search for “social media” will reveal a common theme, with headlines such as “How to do a social media detox” and “Why quitting social media was the best decision of my life.” Celebrities and influencers across the world are now warning their audiences about the dangers of social media and its increasingly negative impact on mental health.

Social media is in fact, everything but social. The whole idea of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms is that we build our networks, keeping up to date with the people around us and creating a sense of community. It is common to have hundreds or even thousands of followers and friends online—so why isn’t social media providing us with the connection we long for? Is it possible that the constant connectivity that our mobile devices provide can actually have negative effects on our everyday life.

Ironically, it appears that as our screen time has gone up, our attention span—and our ability to connect with others has gone down. How often do you find yourself sitting at a restaurant with friends, staring down at your phone instead of creating conversation? I’ll be the first to admit that I am guilty of pulling my phone out at the first sign of a break in conversation. What about in the workplace or at church? I could list so many other scenarios. We have conditioned ourselves to place more importance on our phones and social media than our real-life connections with others, and this is why we are left feeling disconnected and isolated at the end of the day.

In 2012, the term “phubbing” first emerged to describe the situation where someone uses their phone to snub a person who is trying to talk to them. Experts have warned against this behaviour suggesting that phubbing is not only hurting our relationships, but also our own mental health.

As humans, we were created to live in relationship with others and social media just doesn’t fully satisfy the connection we need to sustain long and healthy relationships. When we interact online, we are missing important elements of conversation such as being able to read physical and verbal cues, and touch. Without these elements, our interaction with others is lacking. The unfortunate irony is that many of us who have experienced the isolation and loneliness of the past lockdowns have now become adjusted to this way of living. Re-connecting with others offline has been a struggle for many people, and ultimately some have chosen to simply make online living a permanent reality.

So how do we get the connection we crave with others in an online world? Is it time to disconnect so that we can connect? Many of us need access to social media for our work and school. However, taking a break or setting a time limit on its usage has enormous benefits for our overall wellbeing. Experts suggest that even cutting your screen time 30 minutes before you go to bed can increase your quality of sleep. Why wouldn’t you want better quality sleep? I know I do.

You don’t have to take drastic measures to become more connected to reality, but if you’re up for the challenge, why not dedicate a whole day to switching off? Take those 24 hours to spend time in nature, read a book, exercise, catch up with a friend and spend time with God—the possibilities are endless! A study by the University of Beirut showed that students who participated in a digital detox for 24 hours or more reported positive impacts on their mood, reduced anxiety, better productivity and improved sleeping patterns.

The Bible already describes the seventh day of the week, Saturday, as a rest day provided by God, “made for man[kind]” (Mark 2:27). Why not try a digital Sabbath too?

Not only will these suggestions benefit your mental and physical health, but you won’t feel as guilty as I do when you get your Screen Time report each week—now that’s something to aim for! I don’t know about you, but I want to cut down on my technology use—reduce my online presence so I can increase my offline presence—because at the end of the day, that’s the presence that really counts.

Instead of focusing on followers, I want to focus on meaningful relationships. Instead of tracking my engagement, I want to engage with others. Instead of meaningless conversations, I want to connect with others on a deeper level. I want to move away from the social isolation that the blue light of modern technology provides and towards the social interaction that I treasure. I want my inbox to be empty, but my heart to be full. When we shift our focus away from the online world, we can focus on making the most out of our offline one. As 2022 ramps up, I encourage you to think about how social media impacts your life—and if needed—how you can find ways to disconnect so you can connect.

Interested in other ways to live healthy? Why not try the free course Living Well here.

Kymberley McMurray is a communication coordinator and assistant editor for the Victorian Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She lives in Melbourne, Victoria.