Note to self while writing this column: George, be very careful not to offend the majority of people who read this, as most will have smartphones and use social media to some extent.
So, with that thought at the forefront of my mind, here goes.
I don’t use social media and I don’t own a so-called “smartphone”. And for some bizarre reason, I actually manage to survive. Shock horror. My entire life is not crumbling all around me, like some of my friends seem to think that’s what happens to you if you don’t own a smartphone. Reason I don’t own a smartphone? I don’t need one, I don’t want one. Call me a conscientious objector if you like.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t use smoke signals to communicate. Oh hang on, the electricity is flickering in my apartment, I’ll just go fetch a shilling for the meter. There we go, that’s it, then turn the handle – ah wonderful, I have light again.
I do spend hours every day online via my laptop wherever I am in the world. Online banking, news, the stock market, e-mailing columns back, communication, listening to music, watching a movie at night, yup, I do the whole jing bang. But walking around out on the streets, with a smartphone talking selfies to post on social media? No, it ain’t going to happen. Ever.
The vast majority of people now own a smartphone. I’m sure they have their uses, no doubt about that. And maybe you’re sensible with yours and have the ability to put it down for five minutes and go to the toilet without having to take it with you.
But it would seem that the vast majority of Generation Smartphone don’t turn off their phones, ever, not even at night. They can’t. It’s addiction, or it could be called FOMO – fear of missing out. People are scared of missing out what’s being said among their groups of “friends”. But why should anymore care what something else is tweeting about at 3am?
And while I’m at it, I actually object to the phrase “social media”. It’s not sociable at all, quite the opposite, it’s turning many into social lepers. As for it being “media”, don’t make me laugh – many don’t read in-depth journalistic reporting anymore, be it in print or even via online sites. No, they get their “news” from snippets, headlines, one-liners on Twitter or Facebook. That’s not media. That’s tragic.
Unless you’re a doctor or fireman on call, and I’m sure some other vital services, surely nobody needs to be permanently contactable 24/7? We are losing the ability to be on our own, to walk in nature with the dog, to be with a partner, bond with a child. I see it every day, on buses, trains, in theatres, cinemas, young women pushing prams not even looking at their child but staring at their phone, people walking dogs, not playing with the dog, but heads down looking at their phone. I’ve even seen people checking their phones at funerals. Entire families in restaurants, all on their phones. Two lovers, walking down the street, arms linked, but still heads down looking at their phones. The above examples are not of the few, but sadly the many now.
I’ve been in spots of fantastic natural beauty the world over. As for those around me? Often not looking at it. Not “really” looking. They are too busy talking a selfie and then moving on. It’s not the place they want a photo of, it’s a photo of themselves in the place. They are not conscious, their phone has robbed them of that.
I’ve seen people, glued to their phones, walk into lampposts and fall down holes. If a little green man from outer space came down and observed millions of humans walking around looking at a small screen in their hand, he’d probably think: “What is this strange behaviour? There must be a very good reason why people cannot concentrate on their fellow beings. What they are looking at must be of such profound importance!”
No mate. They are looking at Facebook, or worse, Twitter.
I’ve never personally used Facebook, and never will. My book is on Facebook, but that’s nought to do with me. “You’ll get left behind,” was what a mate said to me only last year. “Are you serious?” I replied. “How brainwashed are you?”
Whenever I mention to someone that no, sorry, I don’t use social media, the average person, especially if they are young, looks at me as if I have a contagious disease. When I take out my old phone to punch in someone’s contact details, they look at the phone then up at me like I’ve just stepped out of a cave.
I’ve had people look at me with pity, seriously, with actual pity, when I say I’m not on Facebook. Only a few months back, one young lady I met on my travels said to me after I mentioned I had no desire to ever use social media: “But what do you with your life?” I genuinely had no answer to that.
As for Twitter, I’m sorry, but I just do not see the point. Ninety-nine per cent of what’s posted on Twitter is utter garbage anyway. Pure gossipy tittle tattle. Life’s too short for all that. And as for the abuse? The things people say about each other? Goodness me, it’s awful. Rape threats, death threats. Nasty, nasty stuff.
“It brings people altogether” a friend said in defence of social media. Sure it can do, but in general it isolates people. Also, everyone seems to be in competition to see who has the most followers. Who has the most “likes”. I genuinely hope that you enjoy reading my columns, I really do, but do I care if you “like” me? No.
Can you begin to imagine the pressure on kids when it comes to social media? What if you’re not as good-looking as the other kids? Don’t have as many likes? It’s a fact that depression and suicide rates among the young are higher than ever. And as for online bullying, it’s colossal. Sure we all called each other names at school. I called kids names and they called me names, but it was instant and verbal and gone in a flash.
Now it’s posted online along with, say, a not so flattering photo which everyone sees and is there forever. Thank heavens none of this existed while I was a teenager. Put down your phones guys, go out and meet real people and talk face to face. Take from technology what you want, then be brave and say no to what you don’t need.
Smartphone? My contraption is a 10-year-old Nokia – no apps or e-mails or social media vying for my attention while I’m out in the real world. Now that’s what I call smart.
Think I’m crazy? Well, get this, Sean Parker, the guy who made a fortune with Facebook alongside Mark Zuckerberg, admitted that its number-one aim is to consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible. He said that they realised they could keep their users engaged by exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology and creating a social validation feedback loop.
In layman’s terms, that means getting you hooked by you wanting more and more gratification, followers and likes. More worryingly, he said: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” He has since left Facebook and all social media.
A former Facebook female executive recently said: “It’s ripping society apart.” I rest my case.
So, I’ll keep off “social media” and brush off the snide remarks. I’ll keep travelling the world meeting fascinating people and continue to meet up with real friends, face to face. If things get worse, you never know, it wouldn’t surprise me, just give me another 10 years and I’ll probably regress back to the abacus and Morse code.
Society changed, and not for the better, when mobile phones were able to connect to the internet. Not good. Take a conscious look around you, there are zombies walking around everywhere.
I don’t give a monkey’s if others have thousands of “followers” and “likes” on Twitter, and hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. I’ve got earth-shattering news for them: it’s not real, none of it.
If you can count your friends, real “be there for you come what may” friends, on the fingers of one hand, then consider yourself extremely privileged indeed.