Since the advent of social media, the trope ‘becoming connected is actually becoming disconnected’ has been so overused as clickbait that it’s become a cliché; a meaningless headline that surprises no one anymore. But on Mental Health Day, we’d be wise to remember that all clichés have a root in truth. And that the disconnection phenomenon is still true. How many times a day do you speak to someone, and it takes a little while before they raise their heads from their mobiles and acknowledge that you’ve spoken to them? How many times a day do you raise your head belatedly when someone talks to you?
I asked my daughter to listen to a music track the other day about revolution. It’s called “Sheep”, by Pink Floyd. I first heard it when I was her age and it helped to shape my understanding of the world. The first thing she did was look at the length of the song. “It’s too long, Dad. I haven’t got time.” Then she carried on watching TikTok videos for the rest of the day. But, not so long ago, she ran up to me with a thought she wanted to share. “Hang on, darling.” I halted her without looking up from my mobile. It took an eternity of about ten seconds until I looked up, only to see her retreating back to her room.
We’re All Guilty of the Same Behaviour
And it’s a sure bet we won’t stop. Even though 45% of people who spend three hours a day on social media will experience heightened anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. There’s a lower figure but it carries more serious implications. Apparently, teenage girls who spend three hours a day on social media have a 26% risk of developing clinical depression.
Ironically, even online psychological help for those feeling lonely, disconnected or disenfranchised has proved a problem. An online therapy service called BetterHelp flourished for about four years until it was discovered that it was selling intimate data points to drum up advertising business. So whatever BetterHelp scored in terms of empathy, it destroyed in lack of trust.
Perhaps more ironic is an online article such as the ‘disconnected’ one you’re reading right now. Especially preaching you should spend less time staring at a screen and more time connecting with the living, breathing human being next to you.
So let me just close this piece with a Julia Roberts quote I’ve misappropriated from the romcom Notting Hill.
“I’m just a human being, standing in front of another human being, asking him to put his phone down.”
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