The age of the mobile, digital, device is undeniably upon us - they are almost unavoidable in everyday life and, if we are completely honest, we wouldn't want to be without the mobile devices nor the connection they give us to the Internet.
I am not the first person to explore the impact that mobile devices and access to the Internet and Social Media is having on our lives and well-being ... and I'm also very aware of the irony that I am writing this post, with my head down, staring at a mobile device while surrounded by people who are chatting, laughing and eating their lunches ... so let me start by recognising the positives and the value of mobile devices, the world-wide-web and social media.
My "smart phone" is the size and weight of a half-eaten slab of Dairy Milk yet it has more memory and processing power than my first four computers combined! It has the capability to telephone people (although, perhaps unsurprisingly, this is no longer the No.1 use for a mobile 'phone!), send texts, take High Definition photo's and video (plus it can edit those photo's and video into movies and upload those photo's / videos / movies to any number of web-based platforms), to host internet chat groups, utilise web-browsers, backing up data to 'the Cloud', accessing social media outlets as well as producing Microsoft Office compatible documents.
My 'phone is actually more versatile and capable than my laptop is and, if you have ever tried to take a photo with a tablet on a windy day, the smartphone is probably more versatile and useful than any other handheld devices. We are in an incredible age of digital and mobile technology and my life, indeed, our lives are much the richer for it.
At almost any moment I can access the vastness and power of the Internet to solve almost any crisis that I might find myself in: I can call for help if my car breaks down (and even more swiftly if I use my AA App to log the breakdown), I can research any topic that I can think of (or can research and verify any of the, seemingly endless, news reports, political arguments and ridiculous trolling posts that pop-up on the Internet and social media every single day), I can find out how to spell a word correctly (or to check if it means what I think it does), I can persuade Google to work out percentages for me, I can update my Blog, chase work, write and send Invoices, order presents and catch up with friends ... all done within the 30cm bubble between my 'phone and my face ... and that's not to mention the capability for taking photo's, using filters, the sharing, the saving - boasting and envying!
Personally I run most of my work and my life all through my 'phone: I use the Internet for research, social media for contact with my friends, to generate work contacts and to raise the profile of my business; I also access and share my photo's, stream films and occupy my children with a thousand different Apps and Games.
I am never really alone when I have my 'phone.
Yet I am increasingly isolated because of my 'phone ... and it is self-inflicted.
Through my regular interactions and reliance on my 'phone (my pocket super-computer!) I repeatedly isolate myself from the people and environment immediately around me; choosing instead to scroll through Facebook, upload to Instagram or search for items, that I probably shouldn't buy, on eBay. There is something addictive about this isolated world - something almost thrilling about the 'ping' of a notification, receiving 'likes' to a comment or photograph or from challenging a post or comment made by a complete stranger (who is wrong by the way!) and it has taken an importance that is sometimes greater than whoever you are sat with, greater than whatever you were doing and sometimes greater than even your children or your work.
This is generally as far as other articles on the 'impact of mobile devices / social media / the Internet' go and we are often left with fairly trite (I had to use Google to just double check that 'trite' meant what I thought it did) memes with the message that using mobile devices and the Internet is bad for our social interactions - with families, friends and colleagues as well as strangers. I'm not suggesting that this message is wrong but I worry that the damage caused by overuse of our mobile 'phones doesn't simply stop at this point.
I used to see my voluntary isolation within my 'phone as being the same as me hiding within the pages of a novel or magazine but I have come to see that this just isn't true and that, moreover, it is dangerous to allow myself to believe it. The result of isolating myself from the people immediately around me might be the same, with book or 'phone, but there is a greater and more damaging impact that occurs inside us and which is dangerously difficult to control.
I have come to observe in myself (and, through that self-awareness, in other people) that overusing the Internet, video / movie Apps and Social Media (what you might call 'easy watching') actually damages our creativity. We are probably all guilty of having been so bored we have scrolled aimlessly through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or perhaps through Vimeo, YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime without finding anything that we can really concentrate on, without finding anything to fulfill us. Have you noticed how much time this can absorb or how tired you feel afterwards? Staring and scrolling or sleepily watching random clips on YouTube can truly rob me of both energy and motivation. Sometimes, when I know there are things I need to be completing, somehow the distraction of the Internet becomes a very real barrier to me actually achieving anything at all and I end up grumpy and tired rather than productive.
Do you recognise that point, where you have scrolled for so long or watched for so long that your mouth has dried out, your back hurts from laying on the sofa or your eyes have become dry and irritated? Almost all of us will have experienced this level of use (or abuse) without realising that our Internet / Social Media use has become essentially the same as pointlessly, but obsessively, reading through our email Junk Box. There is almost nothing of any interest to us (and much less anything of use) but we continue to scroll because of boredom or the need for a 'fix' in the hope of finding something, anything to fill the void ... without ever questioning what that void is.
My job is delivering outdoor and adventurous activities and this is only possible with the use of the Internet - I market digitally, accept bookings through email and share photographs and memories through Dropbox. I am inspired and enabled by the Internet and by my mobile devices yet I am, however, just as 'at risk' of irreparable damage through the abuse and overdosing on this digital technology as anyone else is.
What is my answer then?
Well, I think awareness and internal honesty is the first step to controlling what can become an addictive and damaging use of mobile devices. Secondly, I think that it is critical that we spend time away from our devices and this aligns perfectly with another belief of mine: that we must spend time connecting with nature in order to protect our own well-being as well as, ultimately, that of the planet. I love the phrase, wherever it came from, that 'you should spend 30 minutes everyday immersed in nature, except for days when you are very busy and then you should spend an hour'!
I am hugely fortunate because of the lifestyle and work that I have - I am naturally provided with hours each day where I am immersed in the great outdoors, when I am removed from access to my mobile devices and when I am forced to focus on learning or perfecting particular skills within each activity and environment that I find myself in. I am painfully aware that I can fall into the trap of wasting time on my mobile 'phone when I have time to myself, deluding myself that I am relaxing, and I have to make a deliberate effort to motivate myself into a more productive activity - whether that is reading a book, writing a Blog or making boats out of leaves and sticks!
We provide a range of activity days and adventures for all individuals, families and groups in which you can be assured of quality time away from devices, time spent in wilderness and time shared with other people, and real social connections.
I genuinely believe that I benefit more, and gain more, from an hour spent outdoors than I do from an hour of scrolling through Facebook or watching movies and I believe that you will too. I'm not suggesting that we should stop all access to digital devices and the Internet as recreational activities but I would be pleased to help you access the outdoors as a way to enable you to explore other methods of controlling stress and developing coping mechanisms for the rigours of modern life whilst also spending some quality time with your family and friends.