Obsession, compulsion and a growing need to gain immediate access to the world at large. My iPhone 5 has sadly become more than just a way of contacting friends. As a generation, we are becoming more absent in the present than we could have ever imagined. Couples sitting opposite one another in a restaurant ignoring the here and now focused more on the somewhere else. The invisible ‘other’ takes over the conversation; the moment flitters away from behind a bright, scrolling screen.
I often catch myself, strangely unawares, sliding my finger down the iPhone screen every few minutes to ensure that it is updating itself as much as possible. Never mind the pre-set push notifications; they are just not frequent enough. During an ad break whilst watching TV, whilst cooking, whilst walking, whilst talking, WHEREVER and WHENEVER – How absent and obsessive have I/we become? We are fast evolving (if not already) into a generation whose OCD is the social norm; even the disorder itself cannot keep up with its ever-increasing popularity.
When defining abnormality, we recognise that deviation from social norms is often a tell-tale sign, but in this ever-increasing obsession with keeping up-to-date with everything else in the world except where we currently find ourselves, we are hardly deviating from social norms at all. Apple is now talking about placing a camera on the phone that will display what is directly in front of it; all this so that we avoid colliding with others or lampposts whilst texting/SMS-ing. Just like modern day cars have a camera to display what is behind the vehicle when one shifts it into reverse, so too is there talk of such technology on our cell phones. Why is it that we are so obsessed that we cannot even cross a road anymore without the distraction of our mobile device?
Instant access is breeding a generation where young people are under constant scrutiny. When is the next “like” going to come along? Who is adding me? Who isn’t? Did this or that person see my latest update? We are becoming increasingly obsessed with such things that, in reality, hold very little value. Getting a high score on some new app craze, ensuring that I tweet about how awesome the party is which I am currently at (if it were so awesome, why are you on your phone tweeting about it?) and ignoring everyone else in the room because I’m so busy concentrating on having a conversation with someone else who is probably on the other side of the world. We are allowing ourselves to be the victim of whatever is out there, without having any real censorship or control.
I am certainly not against social networking or the internet, of course not; it is the basic platform for this very article, but on reflection of my own obsession, and the instantaneous nature of such devices like my iPhone, it is only right that I take stock of where I am at with regards to my own obsessions and compulsions. The wellbeing of young people is becoming more and more of a concern and it is a valuable exercise to reflect on how much we allow ourselves to be absent from what is happening around us in that very moment.
The headmaster of a prestigious public school in South West London has recently made a very strong case concerning the latter. He writes: “[social media] leaves teenagers feeling like a hopelessly inadequate star of their own second-rate biopics…” The full article can be read here.
Social media is a wonderful thing, but it does leave young people who are impressionable and (often) naïve open to potential scrutiny which is unexpected and (for the most part) unwarranted. It may seem cheesy, but if our young folk are going to get a lesson in resilience, they will need to say know to social media, and not no to it (as some of us adults may think).