Saturday, 21 July 2012

You need a cuddle? There's an App for that!

For all the amazing, sometimes life-changing, gadgets we have in our everyday lives to keep us connected to others - mobiles, laptops, tablets, gamestations, iPods - as human beings we're becoming more and more remote and isolated. Studies show this, but also most of us are aware of it to some degree in our own lives.

There was a piece in the news recently about a generation of Japanese teenagers who are opting for a reclusive existance.  They chose to interact with other humans digitally from the safety and familiarity of their bedrooms rather than going out and meeting up and experiencing the joy of having a good time in the physical world with other people you get on well with.  They're  living under the illusion that all their human needs can be adequately met by machines.  You need a cuddle?  There's an App for that!

As society becomes less friendly - more rules, more surveilance, more perceived dangers - people inevitably turn inwards for a sense of wellbeing rather than reaching out and attempting to physically connect with others but of course that leaves us feeling unfulfilled on a very deep level because for over a million years man has been a very social creature.  Our brains are hardwired to attach from birth, to other humans who will care for us.

This change in society and the way people connect with one another has all come about very fast.  Ten years ago most of the people I knew only used the internet for looking up specific information or sending emails to companies or a very small number of friends who had embraced the technology.  A few of us used social network facilities like the AOL chatrooms and joined in with debates on forums, but on the whole most of my friends and family had no idea what those things were or how they worked. 

These days almost everyone under the age of 80 is on Facebook - and a growing number of retired people are joining all the time. 

And of course it's been a dream for the advertisers - they now have access to consumers virtually 24/7 - feeding our insecurities, suggesting we're not quite good enough as we are, but if we just dye our hair this colour or start wearing these trainers or have an operation to correct things that are wrong with our bodies, such as breasts that aren't as big as men fantasise about, then we'll be more likely to attract affection from others.

The very opposite is true of course.  As people descend into a cycle of attaching emotionally to objects, they inevitalby feel less loveable for who they really are without all the exterior wrapping.  They come across as shallow as they start to judge others also on what car they drive, what mobile they have and how much they earn.

And for all the material possessions and relative wealth compared to say, our grandparents era, depression and anxiety keep rising.  Figures show it's now one in three of us who will suffer an episode of depressive illness at some stage in our lives, so it's very similar to the statistics for cancer!

But we can do a lot to start to reverse this trend.  For instance, in becoming aware of how much significance we attach to the things we buy, the things we absolutely must have and the example we might be setting our children.  Do we need the latest iPhone as soon as it comes out? - Do we need expensive shoes we struggle to actually walk in because the heels are so high? - Is that new BMW really going to get us a fantastic girlfriend?

Look at your life and ask if the possessions you own are genuinely giving you a sense of wellbeing that will take you into old age.   Or do you actually just crave something as simple as a real cuddle from a real person who loves you for who you are?

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