I started writing this sitting in the Dubai Airport in January. Something about the way I sat in abhorrent judgment at the overindulgence in technology in that place made me rethink the blog I was about to write. Then, without thinking, I closed the lid of my laptop and sat and observed. To sit on a device, in front of a screen and catechise the flaws of our technology-infatuated society would not only be conflicting in that time and place, it would most likely be futile. To grasp at an issue everyone already knows we have with a cynical eye and no real purpose would be remiss of me. No one needs to hear more facts about the damage; physically, emotionally and/or psychologically social media and its addictive tendencies are inflicting upon us. No one needs another rant about the injustice of keyboard warriors. So, what was I to do? I thought for some time. Eureka! I shall Shed some light on what all this is doing from our kids’ perspective, that’s what.
For those who have read my earlier blog, (The Reward in Asking a Child), there is a skill very underrated and more needed now than ever before; the ability to seek answers from those beneath us, the front-line warriors in this social media frenzy, our kids. They see, hear and fall victim to this techno problem each and every day; its addiction, its worship and perhaps most importantly, its torment. The average child today, in Australia, engages with their phone nine times an hour. Yep, that’s right, not just looks at the home screen to check the time, unlocks their device and scrolls through apps, threads and messages, nine times an hour! This, to me, and I’m sure to you, is staggering. I mean, they have school, after school curricular activity and sleep to be attended to, so how can this number be an average? If many hours sleeping and at school mean phones can go unattended for long periods of time, our children’s waking hours must enrol and fester upon a nasty habit to disreputable extremes.
So, I sat in this Dubai Airport terminal lounge and just watched. Adults and children alike stared at screens; they swiped, clicked and then locked them, put them in their pockets and, as if on repeat, duplicated this action like clockwork. It was bordering insanity and actually quite comical to watch. If you get a chance, try this at a train station or in a public space; bar, mall or supermarket. You will sit and simply shake your head. What is the appeal of it? Ten years ago, Facebook was just an idea in a university dorm room, Snap Chat was a sleazy and hormonal adolescent’s day dream and being on gaming devices or phones in public was considered impolite or actions only incessant babies or business gurus would flaunt. But there I sat and then got up and roamed, peeking at what we were all actually doing. I didn’t need to sneak, look inconspicuous or even come from around corners, I simply wondered up and down the aisles of this lounge as if a ghost. Heck, I even called over to my partner once or twice, of course, going unnoticed by our addicts. This little experience, or should I say, experiment was becoming quite a fun way to pass the time. Most, if not all, were on social media. A social experiment was needed, I thought to myself. These people were complete strangers, therefore acting as a random sampling of the general public of the western world and their participation was completely voluntary - I mean, this is what they were doing anyway. This was after all the common, everyday human in its newly adapted habitat; “The Bubble”, I proclaimed. This imaginary dome we take anywhere and everywhere with us, somehow makes us invincible. That same bubble allows us to speak our minds without opening our mouths, the one that ensures we know the ins and outs of others’ minds, without having to come into contact and, most damaging, the one that lets us shoot from afar yet land blows where it hurts most.
Like any good social experiment, it needed a purpose. The question I wanted to pose was, ‘why are we all so pressured by this device haven, this social media hub? And why does an addiction to it seemingly help feed our pride? I immersed myself in it and would later seek credible sources of evidence to back my claims and hypothesis. Only then could I conclude.
Skip forward again, to now. Last week, I caught up with my credible sources and listened. Directly from the horses’ mouths, I thought. The adolescents. They were after all the most formidable in their bubbles. Here, I had a perfect selection; ‘the immersed’, ‘the fence sitter’ and ‘the rejecter’. Firstly, the immersed. This adolescent sat chatting about it all with a certain confidence, regularly checking the device and giving great insight into what this addiction is really about. Then came the fence sitter, the one who had been subconsciously pressured into it. Without knowing, this adolescent was caught feeling lonely, left out and even anxious without it – an astonishing piece of conclusive evidence in itself. Lastly was the traditional adolescent; cynical, careless and aloof by the tech progression of the generation tagged, The Millennials. Without even having to pursue further, I found an answer to one, if not both of my aforementioned questions. Primarily, not all children are obsessed or overawed by this, ‘bubble’ and furthermore, like the days of past, all kids are still kids. Yes, there is more exposure now and, perhaps, more pressure but the overwhelming piece of noteworthy concluding was yet to come. To further my previously stated blog’s worth, kids make great decisions. They are insightful and need to be heard. These children were able to open the door into the world of the ‘bubble’ and explain so much more than our qualified pundits and specialised scholars. A prodigious amount of knowledge comes from within these adolescent’s minds, and most conversed roads led to one thing, pride. Our ‘bubbles’ give us an all-conquering and undeniable amount of status.
Why do we seek acceptance so much? Well, it is human nature. The Bubble has allowed us to seek it in an imaginary setting whilst living it in reality. “Some kids write incriminating things or pose in weird ways to attract unnecessary attention” one of my sources noted. “Heaps of kids will delete posts if not enough likes are rewarded” another informs. “I don’t get it! It’s so ridiculous!”, my last and most cynical informant proclaims. These statements allowed me to gather necessary insight to why this bubble does exist. In times gone by, we would look at magazines, watch television and search the internet for that image or style which we could relate, even conform to but we never had a platform to replicate and promote it like today. Making mistakes in the choice of packet hair dye or accessory worn was social suicide before, now a quick swipe can achieve the look from the safety of your bubble. A quick filter never hurt anyone, right? If it doesn’t work, another swipe and it’s gone. What I found most alarming was what my ‘immersed’ informant added next. “Everyone thinks it’s a game. Whether ‘I wanna’ kill myself’, ‘you’re a slut’ or ‘ F*%# You!’ is being said, no one thinks about the effects. It’s stupid really”. We are obsessed with image, possessions and status. We are narcissistic beings promoting selfish, self-loathing and patronising beings. How do these kids have a chance? Is there any genuine support for our youth, which they can actually relate to? A great mentor once said to me, “Every action is seeking a reaction. What is yours?” I never fully understood it; I thought he was talking about bullies or underprivileged students. But now I know what he meant. People know what is right and wrong but that doesn’t matter if it’s not normal. If the right was the norm, more would conform and hence, do it. We seek to be accepted, not humble, not caring or kind, just accepted. The “ME” generation is only existent if we allow it to be. I'm all for being different but this bubble is creating more monsters that it's worth.
Let’s put down our devices, converse and concur. Let’s appreciate what and who we stand for, who we stand with. Let’s be all empowering and tell someone they look spectacular in something they “just threw on” or how amazing they are, the way they are. We don’t need to harp on about the pressures of image, conformity and complete domination, just chat and share our insecurities. Listen to each other, then celebrate being open and honest, being you! My little experiment ends with this conclusion:
My action is to write this blog; I’m not spruiking my world-beating theory on change or shovelling my own credentials in your face. I’m here to promote, it’s ok to be you. The reaction? Well, that’s entirely up to you!