Is real life passing you by while you have your nose buried in a device?

Is real life passing you by while you have your nose buried in a device? Photo: iStock

On a recent weekend I had lunch with a mate and the conversation started like this:

Mick: “I'm not really going to ask you what you've been up to because I know last week you were in Brisbane and Melbourne for work (Twitter), you wrote a blog on Building a Better Week (smh.com.au), you helped your daughter put a collage together for your upcoming ski trip (Facebook) and you cycled 98km (Strava)”.

Me: “Well mate, I know Molly had her first day wearing her winter school uniform and you all went to South Cronulla beach for fish and chips (Facebook), you put in 158km on the bike (Strava) and you and Gav ran around the bay (Strava)”.

We then joked there was no need to actually talk and we might as well sit in silence for the rest of our meal. The topic then shifted to whether knowing so much about what others are doing, without having to talk to them, actually does anything to enrich our lives? Or does it just fill it up with lots of 'stuff'? Are we at risk of being constantly connected to social media and our technological devices, but at risk of losing 'real contact' with those that truly matter?

Two days later I received a link (via Facebook, of course) to Look Up, a five-minute video by Gary Turk encouraging the modern generation to “switch off their display and live in the moment”. Turk talks about how we rush to share pictures of our holidays on Instagram, constantly post statuses on Facebook and tweet trending topics on Twitter. “The relationships the social media-obsessed build are all too often with people who don't necessarily know them. We are becoming increasingly unsocial in this 'social' world, living a parallel social life on the internet which doesn't really exist.”

Watching the Look Up video reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend last year. “I've got 675 friends on Facebook, 2500 followers on Twitter, 1874 connections on LinkedIn, but on Saturday night I had no one to go out to dinner or watch a movie with."

A recent study from the University of Michigan found the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more his or her feelings of wellbeing decrease and feelings of depression increase. Lead researcher Ethan Kross explained: “On the surface Facebook provides an invaluable resource for filling such needs by allowing people to connect … rather than enhancing wellbeing, however, these findings suggest that excessive use of Facebook may undermine it."

It is wise to not just jump to conclusions when reading research like this because determining causation is complex – does using social media cause depression, or are people with depressive tendencies more drawn to the digital world? That aside, the fact people are using terms like Social Media Depression highlights our constant connectivity is at risk of actually making us feel even more disconnected.

Do you stress out when you have no mobile reception? Do you lose the plot when your Internet goes down? Do you feel lonely when you check your device and there are no posts, tweets, links or likes?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from what psychologist Dr Jim Daley terms "Disconnectivity Anxiety". In an article in The Huffing-ton Post, Daley talks about the by-products of our "gotta be connected 24/7" culture.

"Disconnectivity Anxiety (DA) is a persistent and unpleasant condition characterised by worry and unease caused by periods of technological disconnection from others," he says.

While not an official psychiatric disorder, Daley sees it as a growing problem that “typically presents itself during a breakdown in the technology that makes communication instantaneous and continuous, and when someone else doesn't respond immediately.

"DA is associated with symptoms of worry, negative emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, and despair, and physical distress. The only short-term relief is restoration of the connection."

There is no doubt that socal media can be very helpful for work and staying in contact with loved ones who live all over the world – but do we have connected disconnectivity? Do we need to start putting down the devices and stop obsessing about how many likes our most recent post attracted, how many comments we get on our blogs, or how many friends we have on Facebook? Are we so busy taking photos and uploading them of our amazing holidays, meals and experiences for everyone else to see, that we're actually missing the moment ourselves?

Writing this blog I am staying at Castaways Resort at Waiuku, on the west coast of New Zealand. There is no internet reception in our rooms (internet here is impacted by the weather, oddly) and apart from not being able to send this blog through on time (sorry, editor), getting off the grid has been fantastic for the corporate group I'm working with. Everyone is talking and communicating and taking in the beautiful environment around us, rather than burying their heads in digital devices.

Gary Turk really does have a point. When you 'look up' it is amazing how much more you actually notice in the world around you, and how rich some of our experiences can be.

Are you connected 24/7, or do you schedule digital-free time to reconnect with what is really important?