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In Defence of Digital

Going ‘undigital’ sucks. It leaves you disconnected from the people you love and from innovative services that – while may not revolutionise your life on a daily basis – make things consistently better, adding convenience and facilitating fun. Here’s why digital matters and what happened when I underwent a digital detox.

Having cancelled my contract with one mobile phone operator and remaining undecided about who to sign up with next, I decided to go phoneless for 2 weeks. No calls, no apps, no data, no social media on the go. The first thing that hit me was what I like to call ‘Empty Pocket Syndrome’. You reach for your phone about 50 times per hour, but the reassuring slab of plastic is not to be found. You may feel a phantom vibration against your leg, while in reality there’s nothing there.

Empty Pocket Syndrome culminates in a constant feeling of nakedness and disconnection where your stomach lurches occasionally as you remember that all your friends are on WhatsApp right now. What are they saying? Which incredible events are you missing out on? Of course, it’s unlikely that you are missing anything of importance – but it feels that way, and it starts to annoy. You’re absolutely positive everyone is going to an amazing party and no one is telling you.

Tim Palmer, the Digital Creative Director of FCB Inferno London, writes: “I think we could all learn a bit from not having a phone in our pocket. It is nothing more than a comfort blanket for adults, and we should learn to use technology more responsibly, and possibly even keep humanity more alive.” Is he right? Not even close.

Technology connects people together, creating new, innovative and disruptive ways to improve society. The idea that we can become more ‘human’ by simply throwing our phones away, closing our social media accounts and logging out of the digital rat race is nothing more than an immature and unconsidered response.

What about the singletons falling in love (and lust) through Tinder, the stranded travellers ordering a UBER cab, the frustrated workers complaining on Vent, the tired commuters unwinding with Pet Rescue Saga. What about the amateur photographer able to bring up detailed and location-aware information on light conditions using Ephemeris. Has his humanity been degraded through his reliance on new technology? Of course not.

Just under half of mobile phone users (48%) say they download apps on their mobile phone (up from 37% in 2012). Smartphone users have an average of 23 apps on their phones, of which they say they use ten regularly.* It’s a clear and concise movement; society is becoming more technologically literate, and mobile phone use is driving this trend. One of the key takeaways from Ofcom’s most recent report is that there has been growth in take-up and media literacy in older people, across a range of devices.

There’s a certain type of undignified and often unnoticed hypocrisy in those making anti-technology videos, uploading to YouTube and promoting via their social media channels. Like and comment they say, jumping on the latest social bandwagon. Wouldn’t it be better if we put down our phones and truly connected, they remind us? Look at all these zombies, waiting for a bus, staring into black mirrors, electronic voids. Don’t use Google Maps, ask a fellow human for directions. Don’t use OKCupid, go out there and make a genuine human connection with a stranger in a bar.

It seems they never really consider why we use technology to connect; that perhaps on the other end of that jabbering box there’s another human being, an intercontinental lover brought closer via Skype. One activity is not mutually exclusive of another. We can connect with strangers and also love our smartphones. We can value our time while playing Candy Crush. We can retain our humanity, while embracing change.

Technology isn’t sterile; it reflects our emotions, concerns and priorities as humans.

And life itself is not a series of binary choices.

*Ofcom - Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014

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