I remember when my father bought our first colour television. We lived in a hotel and a big boxing match was going to be aired on one of the three channels that existed in those days. The promise of a huge crowd, drawn in by this sparkly new technology, obviously convinced my dad to be what is now called an ‘early adopter’. He was not disappointed. Build it and they will come, and they did. In droves. To see the boxing match in full screen colour instead of the one dimensional black and white of the time. Beer sales that day were impressive.
Maybe it was a bit of this or maybe it has been my natural tendency to solve problems that has led me to also be an early adopter of technology. I love what technology and apps can do with information in this global community. But I’m aware of how information and tech can grab our attention. It can take us out of participation in real life as we become more obsessed in what others are doing, what they are wearing, where they are travelling to, who they are meeting, how well they are doing in their careers. Quite addictive, yes. And it’s all at our fingertips.
Interestingly, there is now extensive research which screams to us to take the tablets away from our children and get them outside. Push them our into the fresh air, make them talk to other kids and get them to exercise before they develop cognitive issues and become anti-social. Yes, I believe this is a real issue but my cynicism peaks when I look around to see us adults all glued to our screens, slaves to our email and obsessed with reality television which mostly shows people out getting fresh air, talking to other people and exercising…
The movie, ‘Ready, Player One’, captures the reality of the direction we are moving towards. All of us, deriving our pleasures from our participation in a virtual reality world, where our avatar allows us to take on attributes we wish we had – greater power, the confidence to dress how we want, an ability to dance, a smaller butt. This type of world could allow us to hide behind our true selves by putting us in an unnatural situation, much like putting a whole group of people on a tropical island with the goal of making meaningful relationships with the limited choice of partners chosen by television producers.
But seriously, what are we adults really doing to change our screen time in our working and home environments? And after long hours and long commutes is it any wonder all people can manage when they get home is to flop on the couch and watch mindless television? (Yes, i include the mainstram news in this category). Is there ever any chance of going back now?
But we quietly seem to be rebelling by adopting small behaviours into our day to day to unplug. They are almost instinctual as we realise that how we do business is faster and more stressful than ever before. People fire off emails and expect an instant response. Document production has reached a peak ridiculousness. It’s no wonder we take our meetings off-site in coffee shops, so we can get a change of scenery. Workers getting together to spend their lunch hour walking, running or exercising, fighting back against our sedentary working. People taking time off work which they call mental health days. Self-imposed tech sabbaticals. Rules around answering emails in personal time and even email free days scheduled in workplaces.
If I think back to that day when the side bar at our hotel looked like a can of human sardines, I realise that everything old is new again. I still remember the time when you used to get criticised for being a book worm. Now it’s a different thing in front of our faces, taking our attention. If it’s not one thing then it will always be another.
Yes, it could be that you can keep in touch with all your friends who live overseas instead of over the fence. It could be that your supressed artistic goals have only come to life because of photographic filters on Instagram or ‘learn to draw’ posts on Pinterest. It doesn’t matter. Tech continues to help us, show us, inform us and addict us. Just like plastic was once thought of as the best invention, the range of tech brings both the good, the bad and the ugly. But this is our world at the moment and our human condition will deal with this change just as we did other huge advances in our existence.
But truthfully, I am less worried about screen time and more worried about how we are living as human beings. We continue to grow as a population, living on top of one another in apartments, with diminishing public spaces, taking the green away from our cities for more and more development.
We are less sure about the origins of our food, which often comes wrapped in the plastic which is polluting our oceans and contaminating the wildlife. The wars across the world continue to divide us and see us fighting about who is good enough to be given another life in a safe place. Governments who spend money on weaponry on not on the people who are living homeless on their streets. The division of wealth and the hold on power. Discrimination, inequality, bullying, trolling, out and out fear. Guns ownership even. All of this, a sign of our very dire times. This is what I know, and I see this on my screen each morning and every night. Time to get out into the sunshine and make change perhaps?