LIFE ONLINE: The poisoned chalice of digital connectivity: “Real human connection is irreplaceable.”

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I am surrounded by devices. In many ways I am liberated by technology.

It has enabled me to work from home and pursue my dream jobs as an author, broadcast journalist, blogger, vlogger and soon-to-be podcaster.

I am able to reach millions of people through my work thanks to the large computer screen glaring in front of me and the superfast broadband connection router whirring next to me. 

The world is literally at my fingertips. I have a laptop to the side of me gearing up to print out my daughter’s digital sketch, I have an ipad waiting by my bedside to allow me to sketch out my daily goals and an Alexa device to keep me company and help me to do simple tasks without even having to use my fingertips.

I have a smartphone pinging in front of me as I try and focus on my writing, but my head keeps glancing down anxiously checking to see what news the latest alert will bring. It is just another group message.

Another funny meme. I return to my work by just a tiny tilt of the head. I have been connected with so many people today through the wonderful world of technology.

 I rolled out of bed at 6.55am to do an online yoga class at 7am (yes I did in my PJs with my camera off enviously admiring those in full gym gear with a bottle of water to the side of them whilst I flounder around in the dark, eyes searching for last night’s dregs of water as I push my palms into the ground to do a stiff downward dog as I come into plank position I then glance at my phone which I placed next to me to check that I hadn’t missed anything on one of my many social media platforms).

Then on finishing the class, I put the kettle on whilst shouting to my Alexa device to play me some happy music so I can dance around cleaning the kitchen whilst the kettle boils (I didn’t have the best sleep last night as I was up late scheduling some of my social media for the week after dragging the Kindles off the kids so that they would finally go to sleep).  I then go back upstairs to get ready for the day. I shout again at the Alexa in my bedroom to play me a personal development audio book. I feel accomplished, it’s only 8.30am and i have multi-tasked like there’s no tomorrow.

I am now getting ready to teach my weekly bellydance class via Zoom. “Alexa, play me some bellydance music,” I say trying to get me focused on my next task. Once ready, I shimmy back downstairs, ready to quickly set up my camera to teach.

But I can’t log on and my heart begins to race. The children wake up. I have people all over the UK ready to learn some moves from me and my screen isn’t loading. I know I have back up music on an old ipod somewhere. But the kids are on my phone facetiming a friend to keep them occupied whilst I teach just metres away. So what do I do? At this point, I realise I am at the mercy of the online world. There are no students physically in front of me so I can’t make a joke about technology or the fact that I have no childcare.

There’s nobody to help. I start to feel stressed. Fortunately, I managed to get logged on in the nick of time and there are a few beautiful moments in the class as I can see women on ‘gallery view’ dancing along with me. Then it is over. I almost feel emotional.

Through dance I am able to connect with people and so grateful for this digital connection rather than nothing but I have a pang of loneliness. But there’s no time to wallow, I have to download online resources to home educate the kids whilst sorting them breakfast. They beg to watch youtube rather than communicate with each other.

My weekly column for Yorkshire Evening Post

 As they eat, I quickly do some squats whilst posting on social media as I somehow have to cram doing everything on my own in a day, everyday.  But surely I am not alone? I have family around the world all messaging me, I have groups of friends, some close, some new, all sharing thoughts online and I have colleagues mind mapping ideas literally in the palm of my hands as my brain struggles to compute all the different messages flashing up on my smartphone. I get distracted. I forget to hold the squat, I am now just hunched, the kids are squabbling and a tantrum is erupting. I return to the present moment. But there is no time to think. I need to get the kids doing their work so I can finish filming some vlogs before writing my articles. I have strict deadlines as I am also coaching a social media student on Skype this afternoon before facetiming my publisher. And somewhere in the schedule I need to cram some time in to get some fresh air before I go live on my youtube channel to connect with my online community.

I think this is what you call toxic productivity as I have not alloted myself any breaks to eat or drink. This all must be done whilst working online. Even my quick walk outside will be broken up by voice memos and catching up with messages as I am notoriously bad with keeping up with my social life via text and always feel guilty. Don’t get me wrong this is much better, I think, than no connection. But I am feeling overwhelmed. Family gatherings are now held via the gallery view on Zoom, my work meetings are at the mercy of Skype functioning, my social life revolves on me trying to type fast enough to keep up with what is happening with my friendships and I daren’t even delve into the Pandora’s Box of online dating right now. I am stressed and at times lonely. Digital technology and the online world has always been a huge outlet for me to express myself through word, film, photos and graphics.

It earns me money, it keeps me entertained, it keeps me active, it teaches me new skills and it saves me time on pointless meetings and commuting. But the endless connection feels empty at times.

Whilst I cheer inside as I see my social media platforms reach millions of people and I feel connected, I ultimately have a crash quickly after when I realise that I am still here at home on my own without being able to chat to an adult human in ‘real life.’ Even the parcel delivery arriving is a cause for excitement.   I find myself with my spirits lifted as I giggle with my friends via an app and then my heart pangs as I realise I haven’t had a hug with a friend for weeks. The bright and enticing glaring of my screen now feels like a juxtaposition to my solitary life at home.

I clutch at moments of human connection through my devices, providing my broadband connectivity is functioning, that is, , and I feel relieved to be able to reach out to people. But I realise that now my whole life; my health, work, relationships, fun, fitness and creativity are all centred online. The online world has been my saviour and it has been my enemy. In many ways, it has saved my sanity but at times it has also suffocated me. It has been a platform to enable me to express myself but it has also shackled me in many ways. 

Whilst it’s brilliant to see more people than ever before learn how to use digital technology to enable them to connect to the world. For me, this transformation of all my daily activities being digitised has made me appreciate the irreplaceable value of human connection. There is nothing that will replace physical human interaction. 

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