One of the things I love about reaching my ‘late 30s’, and the perspective this phase brings, is what I’ve come to think of “being ok with grey stuff.” I don’t just mean grey hairs. I’m much more comfortable now with things not having straightforward, black-and-white answers, and the fact that my opinions can have shades of grey: nuance, qualification, curious questioning – whatever you want to call it.
Exhibit A: My musings about technology and social media. In the past I’ve been pretty strenuous in my resistance to and suspicion of the ubiquity of social media, and Facebook in particular. At one point – STOP PRESS – I even deactivated my Facebook account for several months. In my armchair opining about social media, I would rant ad lib – usually to myself if not to whichever poor soul happened to find themselves beside me – about the various ways in which social media was most definitely a bad thing. To mention just a few of my reasons for suspicion:
- The wasted time people (ahem, including me) spend idly scrolling through their FB and Twitter feeds. ‘Think of all the other, actually useful, things they could be doing!’
- The oddity of ‘self-publishing’ or what I clumsily described in my rants as ‘identity creation’ on social media (the subtle impression-management, ‘what version of myself will I present today?’ dimension to one’s FB presence).
- And probably my favourite, the idea that a moment doesn’t really exist until you post it online – what’s the point in taking photos unless you can choose the best one and show the world what you’re doing/who you’re with/how amazing your holiday is??!
Then I started to chill out a bit. I re-activated my FB profile and even set up a Twitter profile (I am now a massive fan of Twitter – the reasons why are for another post). My softening towards the idea of an ‘online presence’ is down to a few factors, but in large part because of what I’ve experienced over the last year as I recovered from my fourth miscarriage: I have found huge comfort, therapy and hope in the connections I’ve made online and in creating this blog, which has reminded me of the power of social media and technology to support, empower, and influence individuals (and maybe occasionally even the wider world) for positive ends.
So where I am going with this? Well, the other week as I was typing something mundane into Google on my iPhone, I misspelled a word, and I found myself thinking ‘there’s no point in bothering to correct it. Google’s clever predictive search thingy will guess what I’m after.’ And it duly did. Result.
Then suddenly I heard my inner spelling pedant telling me off for my slipping standards, and for the laziness that had me relying on the internet to tell me the answer in the first place, when I could have discovered whatever it was by wondering, or having a conversation with someone, or – whisper it – just living without knowing at all (it really wasn’t anything important).
Picking up a trusty smartphone or tablet has become a conditioned – almost automatic – response when we want to know the answer to something (or are just a bit bored); Checking for updates on a busy screen has become as habitual as unzipping a wallet or zapping an Oyster card. So as I pondered how powerful and ubiquitous the online world has become, I had a ‘moment.’ It occurred to me that whilst my 37-year-old self has most definitely embraced anew the joys of social media, I don’t think my younger self was necessarily talking nonsense: I still think that the way technology and social media pervade our lives and increasingly our relationships (at home, at work, with friends) does have some downsides. And making the most of all the possibilities of rapid technological change doesn’t mean there isn’t also some value in considering some of the downsides for wellbeing, for how we value our time, for our relationships, for our children growing up likely to use an iPad before they can write their own name – of living in such a super-connected 21st century worldwide village.
Obviously I’m not about to ditch my smartphone and excavate my beloved 2-ton Nokia 5110. In the spirit of embracing the greyness, I can see that social media and our online connectedness have many positives and I’m certainly not going to set up life on a remote island with no wifi. (Shudders at the thought). But I’ve decided I’m going to challenge myself to resort to t’interweb for answers/company/entertainment just a little bit less.
Fancy joining me? If you need convincing, or even just some food for thought, here are five reasons why I reckon spending a bit less time on the internet could be a good thing:
- It means spending more time having conversations, with friends and strangers; discussion and debate bring the possibility of considering different perspectives and learning something new. It’s good to talk.
- If I ditch the Satnav in favour of figuring out the route the old fashioned way, well what a voyage of discovery that could be. Who knows what new places or people I could discover. Or I might approach places I already know from a new direction, and see them differently. And if I get lost and need to consult Google Maps, I’ll probably have discovered a new gem (coffee shop/park…) along the way. Embrace the unknown.
- In the blissful absence of information overload, I’ll be more likely to trust my instinct. I think the constant stream of information available at our fingertips brings a risk that we start to doubt ourselves, to lose confidence in our ‘gut.’ Spending less time on t’interweb means I’m more likely to ask, ‘So all other things being equal, and without over-analysing and bombarding myself with unnecessarily complicating information, in my heart what feels right?’
- I’ll operate a policy of what I call mindful commuting – instead of spending my journey in a fairly aimless cycle of checking my FB or Twitter newsfeed, BBC news website, Irish Times and Guardian websites (and repeat), I’ll look up, look around, look out the window, smile at a stranger. Better headspace for the day ahead.
- I’ll remind myself that sometimes a moment can be special simply because of the memories created by the people who shared it. Photos are lovely of course, but I think they don’t need always to go online immediately (or at all). Print them, frame them, put them on the wall. The preciousness of special moments – the simplicity of them – could be all the more precious for their rarity and privacy. Be in the moment.
And if at all goes wrong, and I am really lost/bored/need an answer urgently, t’interweb and all its clever predictive search ‘guessing what I’m interested in’ wizardry will still be there. And probably even more clever than it was before.Follow @o_lkosullivan