social media icons on smartphone, presence social interaction

As we emerge from the consumerism of Christmas with gifts of all sorts – those we love, those we like and those we scan around for a likely re-gifting partner, a new year brings us pause for thought. As we consumed, and continue to consume, many of our lives remain focused elsewhere, leaving no room for presence. Mobile connection brings us many gifts, particularly the opportunity to connect with those overseas who are very much part of our lives, aside from geography. It creates a network which is never far from our palms and an opportunity to reach out to make new connections. In excess, it takes away social interaction in return.

The gift of presence is quite often interrupted today by our digital friends: sitting with friends over dinner, scanning and waiting for a beep, in the office waiting for the screen flicker… but why? More importantly, HOW? How have we arrived at this destination where the virtual takes precedence over the present? Marketing? Perhaps. This January, take the opportunity to silence the beeps, to reconnect with the actual, remove the virtual and PUT THE PHONES AWAY. We never tried to carry the local phone box around with us in our early lives, so why now?

Where Did Social Interaction Go?

Looking around in restaurants, cafes and on public transport, the mobile phone has replaced the conversation. People of all ages are obsessed: check-ins, constant images, likes, shares, tweets, Instagrams, the meal, the chewing, the after and the journey home, without connecting with their partner in the now.

A recent trip to the cinema was made more amusing for me by a group sitting two rows ahead of me who snapchatted their way through the film. The popcorn, their seats, the drinks, the straws, the screen, their shoes, their legs resting over the seats in front, were all shared on Snapchat, uploaded to Facebook, across Instagram and onto Twitter. For who? For what purpose? The internal need to be needed seems very much alive today, repackaged into a medium without social interaction.

No Substitute for Presence

Traditionally these needs were met by sharing time with friends and family, by exploring organic and mechanical solidarity – real social interaction. Today, the need is briefly cured with a ‘like’. Ex-Facebook President Seán Parker recently commented on the fascinating obsession people have with social media and the ‘connected’ disconnect: “It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,”… Social Media is “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” This is from the founder of the largest social media network in the world.

So for 2018, give yourself the present of presence. Disconnect and reconnect; connect the reality for 2018. Grab a coffee meeting with your friends and ask What’s UP, not WHATSAPP?

John Patrick O’Sullivan
Moeloco, Policy Consultant

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