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We are more connected than ever – but are we really?

I read a great article this week stating how those in the ‘Millennium Generation’ are probably the loneliest generation ever, and asking what can be done to help them. There are so many ways we can be connected; the constant obsession of social media with Facebook and the myriad of other social media platforms that we have, and, of course, our fixation with our mobiles. From my point of view it’s interesting that we are keen to blame technology and social media for the problem of loneliness; it’s almost as if the issue of loneliness is new and has only just arrived on our doorstep. Of course this isn’t the case; loneliness has been around ad infinitum. This was very evident to me back in the 80’s when I was a young sprog in the RAF; everyone went away for the weekend and I was stuck on base with just me and my thoughts.

The big challenge for all of us today is recognising that whilst technology does connect us all in many ways, it is not physical connection; and there is no real substitute for physical connection.

Technology has improved the opportunity to learn, share, communicate, and educate more than ever; but in terms of social integration there is nothing quite like a face to face meeting to really get to know someone. With a face to face meeting you can read their body language, sense how they’re feeling and get to know the person. In terms of social distraction the Smart phone has got to go down as one of the biggest forms of social distraction. How do you  feel when you are having a conversation with someone only to find out you have been usurped by a smart phone. It’s the number one social distraction.

Technology has brought a lot of good to us as a society but, as usual, along with good comes some bad. Because we are constantly peering into other people’s lives we are convinced that everyone has a better life than us – has better holidays than us, better parties, social life, and …….. (fill in the blanks) than us. In reality we all know that’s not true; rather it’s a reality we create for ourselves, based on the stories we tell ourselves and on what we see on our news feed in social media.

Social media and the smart phone are not going to go away but, in my opinion, they can’t take all the blame. As with everything in life, we have choice. We should embrace social media for what it is, but realise there is no real substitute for physical connection, for a real, spoken conversation on a phone – after all, that’s what they are designed for –  and meeting up face to face is ideal when circumstances allow.

Ultimately all we really want out of life is to feel good, and if our relationship with social media is making us feel anything other than good then we need to examine that, and make the necessary adjustment in our lives. Maybe it’s time to switch off that smart phone, disconnect from Facebook and go out to experience real social connection – whatever that means for each of us.

So is the Millennium Generation the loneliest generation ever? I’m not totally convinced that’s true. Maybe the expectations today are just greater – we expect more from life.  But maybe needing to feel connected is a feeling we need to lose, replacing it with the contentment of sitting quietly with our thoughts and allowing our imagination to wander …..  aimlessly. Back to basics always works for me. So maybe the Millennium Generation simply needs to realise that online is fine, but that it is no real substitute for real time, real experiences and exchanges  … a coffee with a friend, going to an event where you connect with others, or maybe joining a club where you can meet people. All simple stuff, but simple works for me!

Rob