August 5, 2019

(Anti)social media & kindness in action

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Wild Conference a few weeks ago, a 2 day outdoor conference hosted by award-winning theatre company Slung Low. All of the talks from the conference are now available online and I would highly recommend a listen.

One of the talks I attended was led by Dr Zeena Feldman, a lecturer in Digital Culture at Kings College, London. Dr Feldman is leading a research project entitled Quitting Social Media; studying the impact that social media and surrounding digital usage is having on our well-being. Dr Feldman spoke about how we may not even be aware of the deep impact social media and digital technology is having on our lives, how it is transforming not only how we behave, but even our memories, our communication skills and our levels of happiness.

I was incredibly interested, but was somewhat feeling that I wasn’t the target audience for this talk.

I’m not particularly active on social media- finding both Twitter and Facebook exhausting. So I know I make more time than most to put my phone away, instead I spend time out in nature, I make sure to try and make small chat with strangers. Surely Dr Feldman was referring to people glued to their phones 24/7, not those that check in on emails and with friends a few times a day?

I travelled back on the train and read my book for some of the journey, I spent an hour or so watching the world through the window. I wrote a few poems, and doodled in my book. I sent a text and refreshed my inbox. With the talk fresh in my mind I was surprised to see that almost everyone in the carriage had their heads down for the entire journey; sending messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, Whatsapp, Netflix, watching TV, watching films, listening to music. All 3 hours were absorbed into the screen.

Photo: Unsplash

It hasn’t passed me by that we are a little addicted to our phones, but observing this scene it started to feel absurd. I almost felt a little sorry for the things they were missing- they missed the woman who waved at a total stranger and pulled a wonderfully awkward expression. They missed the perfectly choreographed manner in which the man steering the tea trolley delivered orders; whipping a napkin out with his left hand, and issuing a small wrapped biscuit with his right, all with military precision. They missed the beautiful landscape that runs between Leeds and London, the full spectrum of pastoral and industry; cities, mining towns, tiny villages, forgotten farmhouses, lakes, hirsute Highland cows and world-weary donkeys. Ironically, they also missed their mirror image of the people waiting at stations, staring into their screens.

At the end of my journey I waited outside for my lift to arrive. I felt exhausted from travelling and the busy few days I’d had, overwhelmed by all the ideas and thoughts I’d absorbed in such a short space of time. I remembered to send a tweet of thanks to the organisers- so quickly logged in to put something together.

HONK HONK HONK HONK

I looked up, somewhat bewildered, to see a driver gesturing wildly at me- indicating to look to my left. On doing so, I was even more surprised to see a young girl, lying on her back and staring wide eyed at the sky. I crouched down and asked if she was OK, quickly realising that she was severely concussed and in need of urgent medical help.

Once the dust had settled the paramedic asked me what I’d seen. I was mortified to admit I hadn’t seen anything at all. Not even that, but I didn’t even hear her fall.

Later, I was reassured to hear that the girl was going to be absolutely fine, but this experience has sat with me since. How was it possible to have not heard anything? We had been no more than 10 metres apart. How had my concentration on a tweet (of all things) completely silenced the world around me? I couldn’t help but feel that if I hadn’t been on my phone I would have seen her fall- perhaps I could have caught her.

I feel strongly about my civic responsibility, to me this is kindness in action. Taking the time to be present, to be helpful, to care about others – I can’t help but feel this is what it’s all about. If social media has even the slightest chance of compromising that responsibility, then I’ll save it for when I’m back at home.

Head of creative programmes, Liz Flynn

Have you had an experience like this? Have you tried quitting social media? Let us know your thoughts in our comments below.

Leave a Comment