Raven Smith makes the case for life offline

Illustration of a person being sucked into a mobile phone.

Our resident columnist considers how far our phones can really substitute for real human interaction

By Raven Smith   Illustration by Elena Xausa   Wednesday 1 April, 2020   Short read

Like any good human being, I fret about my time on the planet. I fret about whether I’m truly self-actualising and cultivating meaningful relationships with others. I blame the internet… In the abyss of digital content, there’s pressure to flourish and fill each day with sustenance, rather than the easier path of merely existing towards the great hereafter. ‘Life is a rollercoaster’ sang Ronan Keating, and yes it might be, but the train track of life has been demolished by Instagram and replaced by a coding highway of zeros and ones. I say Madonna’s song, ‘Material Girl’, almost perfectly encapsulates these modern times, although it’s a ‘digital’ world we’re all living in and we are all ‘digital’ girls. But I can’t help feeling that every time I comb my fingers through the hair of the internet, they end up covered in the dandruff of hot takes from internet trolls and reminders of what others are achieving over me – no, I don’t have my dream abs, and nor do I live in a home from themodernhouse.com. To be honest, I’m still yet to try the Greggs vegan sausage roll; that’s how little I’ve achieved by comparison.

Hands are a key player in this modern anxiety. Yes, those two useful appendages at the ends of our arms that aid us in this Dante’s Inferno of technology. Opposable thumbs are what lead us through the swamp. We waste days minutely adjusting our Memojis for better facial expressions to look the absolute most like us, but ironically we’ve lost our true selves. We don’t even look like us anymore – only cyphers and renderings of what was once a fully present person.

Apps have also morphed the way we meet, the way we talk and the way we ghost the people we can’t be bothered to dump. I was devastated by the news that the hot priest from Fleabag is on Grindr. Not because it’s morally repulsive to ‘out’ the sexual activities of people in the public eye (which, for the record, it is), but because I still haven’t matched with him, which fills me with FOMO.

It’s now that I have to come clean. I sometimes live in the real world, forcing myself offline, because if I don’t, I fret that after I’ve gone my legacy will just be an extensive search history of different bathroom tiles and myriad types of pyjama. Prior to enforced isolation, in what I’m terming the WhatsApp times, seeing a friend in the street seemed the absolute worst-case scenario, and waving to them would have felt positively criminal. Now we’re realising the error of our ways and pining for such opportunity. What we wouldn’t give for a casual wave and passing glance, let alone the customary greeting. What so many of us never knew, but are now realising, is that contact can actually be an illicit thrill. And it is thus that I urge you to try it in whatever form is available to you during these current times. Don’t just scroll with it – dial their number. As they say, it’s good to talk.