Unplug: Be Still
I think I must becoming old – I find the relentlessness of watching people being plugged in to things all day long quite baffling. I’m as fond of FB and internet chatting of all sorts of persuasions as anyone but surely you need more down time than most modern people seem to have these days?
There are numerous studies about screen time re-wiring young people’s brains: that attention spans are ever diminishing; that the ability to concentrate for extended times is being eroded. And of course every second month someone bemoans the lack of reading by the young especially (that would be me!!).
There are the dangers of fire, the threat of cancer to long term mobile phone users, there is the damage to standard written English through text speak and the growing inability for people to connect face to face. Why have a sustained conversation with anyone when you can look at something inane on your phone or check a message from someone else? People are losing the art of conversation; young people have almost no idea how to listen respectfully and take turns, not shut people down or shout louder. You can now be connected to your work-place 24/7 so you don’t get the opportunity to walk away every evening, or have a weekend. Work is now always with you. Is that a bonus or a blight?
People rely on their phones almost it seems to the exclusion of all else. Or a tablet, or a PC or a games console. Yes the mobile phone has been on an extra-ordinary journey and it does an amazing amount of things – we’ve all seen the memes showing all the different items that are now amalgamated into one smart-phone.
But what I wonder about, what I worry about, is how do so many people – the young – turn off their brains. How do they know how to be still, how to be alone and quiet…
At the end of a phone or a laptop or computer we are always a tap and a click away from connection – a message, a like, an emoticon of approval. But how useful to our ability to just ‘be’ is it all?
Stillness, doing nothing, boredom even, allows your brain to roam, to think, consider; ponder things all on its own. It doesn’t need reference to other people, information or the plethora of mis-information out there. People need space to do nothing, time to recharge their own batteries; time to calm themselves down.
I worry for our future artists and writers. If you are eternally plugged into other people and nonsense how can you dream, how can you imagine other worlds, other realities and want to explore them? How can you watch people and soak up the madness of the real world and write about it if you never pay attention to it? How can you question things if you don’t have the space to think about matters?
I worry for our young people in a world of increased pressure, exams, appearance; being monstered in the ‘sanctity’ of their bedrooms by friends and by casual strangers who thinks it’s fun to trash some naïve girl’s selfie in a bikini, or that it’s somehow okay to text naked pictures of your girlfriend to the universe. Young people are increasingly anxious, increasingly depressed – perhaps all this connection is playing a significant part?
Being plugged in gives a sense of connection, of belonging. It also brings bullying and trolling. The internet is both wonderful and terrible, in all its manifestations. It has become a central part of our lives. I do not wish it gone: I love it too. But it has become a monster that has over-taken too much of our lives. It is possible to step outside the house without your phone. You can walk your baby without being on the phone. You can sit on the bus and just stare aimlessly out the window, letting your mind roam.
Take the time to un-plug your connections. Move away from the screen (after you’ve read this) and be still. Talk face-to-face, go for a walk without anything electronic in your pocket. Gaze at the world again and see its wonder and beauty. Be in this moment and not worried about what is happening somewhere else. The message will still be there when you turn on again, the world will not have stopped turning just because you were un-plugged.
Go on, un-plug, let yourself be still, even if only for half an hour. I’m sure you’ll feel better for it. (Images from Private Collection)