It might seem a bit behind the curve to wish for 2014 to be a year when we get connected given that 2013 was arguably the most digitally connected year yet. I’ve lost count of how many ways I can connect my social media with just about everything – from music choice, to how many calories I’ve eaten. And that is brilliant; in fact it’s mind-blowing that we have in our hands the means to connect to almost anyone, stranger or friend, regardless of where they live.
But what is more mind-blowing for me is that there seems to be an inverse relationship between digital connectedness and actually connecting. The more we can share and interact with each other, the more it seems we are choosing only to do so when that connection can be mediated through a screen.
One of my favourite ads this year was the brilliant Skype ad, truly beautiful and an extremely clever way to land the power of a medium in very human terms. Skype is terrific. But when you watch the ad, where do you cry? You cry at 2.28 when Sarah and Paige hug, in person. And many of the 2 million people that have seen that film do the same thing. The comments that people have left are inspired by friends that they have met or re-met on Facebook, Skype and Twitter, but their stories always build to the moment they meet in person. Because when it comes to looking into the eyes of someone you care about there is no substitute for being right with them.
As humans we need to be with people, to see them, to touch their hands. But many of us don’t do that, and when we hear about it we think it is tragic – this year 450,000 older people will spend Christmas alone. For almost that same number, an average day means they see no-one. And on a wider level, the number of us who know our neighbours is at an all time low. These are terrible statistics, and it seems on a mass level we all feel it’s wrong. But on an individual level we are doing everything we can to perpetuate the situation.
Being connected isn’t just a nice to have; it’s essential to our mental wellbeing. The NHS lists ‘being connected’ as one of the essential factors in combating some types of mild mental illness, such as stress, depression and anxiety. Another one of the factors is to do something for somebody else – to give, care, or simply be there to chat. So we compromise our own health if we don’t make time for this.
Technology has enabled a world of opportunity. The fact that I can text my friend in Canada, and Skype with relatives in Australia is truly amazing.
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But for 2014 I’d like to see developments – culturally, technologically, or otherwise – that mean that more of us put our screens away and spend more time together, really together, properly connecting. That is my wish.