On Communication Overload

Photo by Joan M. Mas

Some days it seems as though my mobile phone has become an extension of my body: another limb or brain. Or a succubus. Why is it that we long to reach certain goal posts as children, ones which as adults are no longer enticing? Children as young as ten clamour for their own phones. What a luxury as an adult to be off the grid, for a while at least. Most of us are unable to free ourselves from modern communication due to work commitments or the need to be accessible to our children or parents.

I’ve had the sense for a while that I might need a communication detox: a feeling of regret when I post on my personal Facebook page, annoyance when my Whats App inbox is full a half hour after responding to messages, losing track of individual messages because I communicate on so many different mediums.

Forgive me, I know communication overload is a very first world problem. It’s also my bread and butter. I’ve always worked in jobs where words – and understanding people – are my talent. Freedom of speech is indispensable to democracy. Diverse communication forums open up a world of possibility. In some regions of the globe, such forums are blocked or monitored, and the state applies a vice-like pressure to those who pursue freedom of expression. In other countries, good internet access, mobile phones and computers would mean a surge of opportunities.

Here in the West, we are on a hamster wheel of consumption that comes at the expense of creation and real connection.

Oh, for the quiet of the woods, and the rustle of the trees. For days on the beach when the sun’s glare renders phones useless and you bury your feet deep in the sand, and the salt water from the sea heals your stresses. For days when we are so present in our actions, that the incessant ting ting or vibration of our pocket computers fail to register.

Photo by Jonny Hughes

Often, communication overload, in the form of social media, news and messaging apps, compromises our peace of mind. Last week I read that the clean search page on Google we all know so well, will soon be filled with apps and news. For a moment I wanted to sink to my knees and wail, but I’d been up with the baby most of the night, so there’s that.

The communication workload for our family of five falls to me, and it can be a heavy mental load arranging diaries, keeping up with the circle of friends and family that expands as our family grows. How churlish I must seem not to be grateful for the love that surrounds us when so many people are lonely.

Even so, the immediacy of technology, however convenient, is not always a blessing. We are forgetting the ability to savour special moments. We are too quick to view experiences through a camera lens than with our own eyes, to send a message instead of holding a cuppa across the table from friends. We become pressured into always being available, which means we are never present, only thinking of the next thing on our to do list.

Enough. Stop.

The ceaseless barrage of chatter will only nourish us for a nanosecond, and even then, the emptiness remains. Research shows that positive receptors are activated in our brains with every like or retweet. But like any addiction, the low comes quickly. We are learning to rely more on external validation rather than internal contentment.

More. More. More. But we feel less. We remember less. We are less than we could be.

Photo by Sharon Hinchliffe

I straddle a generation that is comfortable with mobiles, but grew up without them. I worry for children who know no other way of being, who cannot conceive of an off-switch because not only social interaction but our whole way of life is so heavily reliant on tech nowadays. I read recently that many Silicon Valley executives limit screen time for the kids.

Climbing trees, and jumping in puddles. Making daisy chains and lemonade. Smeared chocolate cake on little faces and licking icing from the pot. Roasting marsh-mellows, and making up silly songs, and secret languages. Playing cat’s cradle, kicking a ball and tripping over skipping ropes. That’s the stuff childhood is made of.

As for me, I’m a news hound, but I’ve realised I’m much happier if I limit how much news I read. I’ve also returned to paperbacks for the books I want to fall in love with. My memory recall is better with paper, although I still use my Kindle for most non-fiction. I love Nokia’s idea of bringing back a version of their basic phone. I’ve started to use apps like Focus and Freedom to wean myself off social media. I read somewhere that turning my phone to grey scale under the accessibility options might be calming, a way to circumvent the colour choices that developers use to snare our attention. Maybe a phone in grey scale is a good thing. It might reinforce how colourful real life is, if only we remember to look.

It’d be nice if somehow after this technological boom, we find equilibrium. I’d love to know how you juggle it all. Tell me your secrets, and I won’t tell a soul. I’ll be offline, n

Back to blog