Monday afternoon following my futile attempts to get Instagram to work, (which included switching off the Wifi, unplugging it, going for a walk, plugging it back in, répéter) I finally turned to Google which informed me of the Facebook outage. Also, despite writing about it, still have zero clue what an ‘outage’ actually is…
Anyway, for several hours we were left without the familiar buzz of notifications; so and so liked your post, so and so liked your comment on their post, so and so just posted to their story. And did we all rush to check up on our followers? The only text messages I received (doesn’t texting suddenly seem as old-fashioned as attaching a note to a carrier pigeon?) were from people who actually needed to contact me at that time, which Monday evening happened to be my siblings, my boyfriend and a colleague. Hearing from anyone else via said platforms experiencing the outage would just have been noise. Truth be told, it didn’t take an outage for me to realise this. I’ve never really been a fan of mass messaging, a term I coined to describe a messaging style we all seemed to have adopted where each word is sent as a separate message. My favourite form of communication is email – one long, succinct message without the dire emergency to reply immediately (whatsapp’s blue ticks are enough to make anyone feel harassed.)
Brianny Wiest, author & expert on millennial trends, states that a quirk in our generation is that we ‘avoid phone calls- at all costs.’ Is it that we find them too time consuming (how often have you heard someone groan “this could have been an email“), or is something to do with the 81% of millennials taking part in a survey who admitted to experiencing ‘anxiety when talking to someone on the phone‘?
My Grandma’s landline was a lifeline to her during lockdown. Although she grumbled that nattering over the phone wasn’t half the joy of real life contact, it still provided her with an ‘ok’ alternative while the favoured face-to-face catch up over a cappuccino was, sadly, not an option. Ironically, us young ones, the tech savvy generation who spend every waking minute glued to our phones, experienced a period of social reprieve. There was masses of content to scroll through, messages to reply to and group chats to mute, but the sheer quantity took away from the quality of each interaction, and somewhere amidst the noise of notifications a feeling of raw connection was lost.
Multiple studies have shown that excessive use of social media can result in increased feelings of loneliness, poor self-esteem and antisocial behaviour. Yes, it enables us to reach out to a much larger group of people, but perhaps this increase in contacts causes a decrease in the intimacy we would otherwise have with a smaller number?
I admit that I’ve only focused on the negatives, and there are so many positives; the very platform I’m writing my rant on depends on it! But maybe we could ask us ourselves why we find it easier to slide into someone’s dms than than pick up the phone and hear their voice, or see them in the flesh? For all of the chaos Monday’s outage caused, maybe there’s something we can learn from our time offline.