Recently I travelled by train to visit friends on the Central Coast. It gave me an opportunity to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes, people watching. There were people of all ages, from all cultures and all shapes and sizes but they all had one thing in common. Every one of them had head bent and eyes focused on a mobile phone.
No eye contact, no chance to smile at someone, and apart from the ring of incoming texts and the occasional call, the carriage was silent. The man opposite me flicked through his photos and the lady next to me sent a constant stream of texts in rapid succession.
Is this the new ‘comfortable’ or an escape from the 'boredom' of watching out the train window or connecting with people? Or is it the need to be entertained or at least constantly occupied?
Don’t get me wrong, as an ex Communications Manager I see the benefits of the Internet, the usefulness of a mobile phone, the advantages of social media and the importance of email, but I sat on that train asking myself at what cost are we allowing technology to consume our lives.
We’ve been invited into a world where we are accessible 24/7. We are confronted daily with the man's inhumanity to man from every corner of the world, along with the horrors and loss of every natural disaster, beamed right into our living rooms on a moment-to-moment basis and all in high definition.
Do we wonder why we are living with record levels of suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addictions, road rage, rape, terrorism, pornography and children experimenting with sex and crime at a younger and younger age?
Last year in total 564 people committed suicide in New Zealand, including 10 children between the ages of 10 and 14. The first suicide of a child aged between 5-9 appeared in 2012.
We live with unimaginable levels of stress, maybe far more than we realise and it’s life taking.
We are losing some of the most valuable things in life – to look into one another’s eyes, to communicate face to face, to smile at a stranger, to notice someone’s joy or sorrow … to be engaged in the world around us, the person sitting next to us … the neighbour next door.
I wonder if we come out from behind the screens more often to connect with one another and take the opportunity to invest in others if there would be a little less loneliness, depression, isolation and yes even suicide. We were created for community not for isolation.
A few months ago I decided to use my evenings for things other than watching TV. I read, write and connect with friends. I watch the occasional worthwhile program but I love the new freedom with all its benefits.
Screens and technologies aren’t the only life taking activities in our lives, the list is long and different for each of us. But so is the number of life giving things that we can deliberately add to our lives. I challenge you to write a list of what is life giving and what is life taking in your life. You may be surprised. Take a few minutes to think about some life giving things you can add to your life and the lives of others.
And look into someone's eye today and smile - it might be just what they need.