‘The work: life balance’ is a well-worn phrase, a familiar idiom of the power struggle for time between a strong career and a happy home life. Super-keen executives have been putting in too many hours since way back when and certainly the blue-chips have come to realise that a happy executive is a more productive one.
Adam, a lead character in ‘It’s Killing Jerry’, is a deterrent example of what happens when you get the balance wrong. He sacrifices his life on the corporate altar, working eighteen hour days to become a legend in his own (law) practice. Six figure pay checks and clamouring clients convince him that what he’s doing is right, until ultimately, one day, the wakeup call comes. He realises that the things which really matter have gone and he’s left with nothing beyond a fat bank account and a jaded morality to keep him company.
But, even if you manage to tame the ambition within and get this poser solved, there's a new threat to a happy and well-balanced life to contend with. The relationship-busting minefield that is social media has users turning to the adoration of a ‘like’ to provide the affirmation that real humans used to give. Who’d have believed that the outdated 70’s thumbs up could have become so utterly essential in our smart-phone addicted lives?
The immediacy of a click negates the need to wait for face to face interaction. The delayed gratification of meeting up with your pal at the end of the day for a chat: no longer felt. Indeed, even it seems that the act of picking up the phone and dialling a number is too time consuming when a hastily thumbed comment will just as easily get the current contents of your head out into the world to be scrutinized and then forgotten.
Facebook, an excellent platform to keep up with friends and family, brandishes a double edged sword of friendship and one-upmanship. You go there to share all the great things you’ve been doing and studiously not mention the lows. No-one goes on FB to shout about what a rubbish holiday they’re having, they go on there to post a carefully enhanced picture of the pool and say how wonderful it all is. That’s what everybody does. So scrolling through the ever-changing deluge of posts you see the golden highlights of everyone’s life and inevitably come to the conclusion that your own life is shit. Desperate to claw back some self-respect, you are compelled to post a highlight of your own and wait patiently for the ‘likes’ to flood in. With every click of somebody else’s mouse button you feel a little affirmation that actually everything’s ok. And if you don’t get them? It’s depressing right? You feel rejected or inferior but, it’s all artificial. Your friends wouldn't ignore you if you told them about something in person. Wouldn’t it be better to just call a pal and arrange to meet up? Go and have some real interaction where you can read an expression and there’s no text to misinterpret. Why shy away from personal interaction only to post revealing or inappropriate selfies baring it all, but saying nothing at all?
Adam (It’s Killing Jerry) sacrificed his loving relationship for money and realised when it was too late that he’d lost something those ill-gotten gains couldn’t buy. He becomes a dysfunctional person who doesn’t know how to behave. He loses sight of the correct morality trying to rectify the mistake that he’s made and goes too far, too extreme. I wonder if this is what’s happening with social media? Do people subconsciously realise that they’ve lost contact with each other and compensate by putting their whole life on the internet for the world to devour?
My children are obsessed with screens. Kindle; Nintendo; Xbox or ipad: one or the other is a constant presence. When the video game obsession began two decades ago, experts mused whether spending twenty hours a day playing violent games would breed a generation of little axe murderers. In the end I think they decided that no, just because the kids had seen it, it didn’t mean that they'd think it was alright. But it does have this other effect which is that they’re getting their kicks from a machine and their experience of the real world cannot be as exciting and stimulating as that video game will be because it is, of course, artificial and artificially enhanced. The real world, then, becomes unlivable in. It’s too boring. Comparatively, there’s nothing to do. My son tells me so often.
I was out walking my dog with a friend the other day and I walked away from them for as long as it takes to walk across ten feet of grass, pick up that morning’s offering from the pooch and return and by the time I'd got back they were on their phone. They couldn’t be left with their own thoughts, inside their own head for what was probably about fifteen seconds. This is a sorry state of affairs. Standing in the park that day they didn’t get the opportunity to maybe catch somebody's eye that they hadn’t met before, but might see again and next time strike up a conversation. It didn’t give them the opportunity to notice other details about the world that they live in. It means that by spending every free moment staring at the a screen the real world is lost in a void of disinterest for them.
But more than this, boredom is good – yes I really said that. No stimulation whatsoever allows your mind to settle, gives time for thoughts to fall into place, understandings to be come to and ideas to form. Of course, I appreciate the irony. I've written this piece specifically to post on my blog and share on social media and as much as I'd like to pretend that I am cured of my no-like-a-phobia, I will undoubtedly be checking up on it's shares and reach. There is no turning back from our screen dominated era, but perhaps we can exercise a little self-control. I'll try to keep my checking down to just once a day :), all things in moderation, eh? I'll engage with the real world too.