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The amazing scenery looking over St Aiden's RSPB reserve

The amazing scenery looking over St Aiden’s RSPB reserve

Working in PR means that you have to keep abreast of the social media tools that are available and provide a platform for people to communicate. Stands to reason really, given that we are responsible for sharing information and managing the reputation of brands both online and in print.

Being of a particular age (38 for those that are too polite to ask) I haven’t exactly grown up surrounded by tech but it has been in the background for probably as long as I can remember. We certainly didn’t have smart phones when I was at school, college or university, but we had the first handheld games systems and some functionality to communicate online.

It was only really when I left university that digital communications started to become ‘a thing’ and many a PR – myself included – took great pleasure in demoting the fax machine to the back of a cupboard to collect dust as we opted instead to use email.

The real changes though occurred when I had been in work for a number of years and platforms such as Facebook started to make their mark. Some came and went, while others became integral to our lives – not a statement that I think even the founders really considered in terms of scale and global dominance. Let’s not get started about governance and regulatory controls, I’ll save that for another blog.

The very real threat of social media – and it’s not the trolls

Over recent weeks I’ve noticed that there has been a shift in tone when it comes to the use of social media. There was a time when there seemed to be a certain expectation that people would have regular access to as many apps as they could manage. The more the merrier was the general consensus and if you didn’t have the latest you were considered ‘so last season’.

Facebook, SnapChat, WhatApp, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to name a few became more of a reflection of our lives and social dalliances than actually going out. Showing someone your dinner was top of the list, quickly followed by a pouty selfie that may or may not have had a filter!

In the most part, I’m pleased to say I dodged this desire to share everything online, but I did find that I was becoming increasingly reliant on the social channels to fill downtime. No longer was I reaching for a book or chatting to my husband and friends, I would reach for my phone and see who had updated their status on Facebook.

It was at the same time that Chris Evans was commenting on having a detox from tech and the benefits that he felt from moving away from a world that was powered by the internet. At first I wondered what he was making such a fuss about, but the more he explained the more it started to resonate.

Then earlier this week, I opened the Yorkshire Post to see a comment piece from Business Editor, Mark Casci, with the headline ‘Use summer to wean yourself off the smartphone’. So much of what he had written made perfect sense to me.

Within his article he writes: ‘After travelling back in time through my history as a phone consumer (aided naturally with a few web searches on my phone to establish chronology) I came to the uncomfortable realisation that it had been well over more than a decade since I truly “switched off”’

It was at this moment I realised this was the case for me too.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery

There seems to be so much talk about people turning tech off and trying their hardest to get some balance back in their lives. We are all, it would seem, slaves to the smartphone and I’m no exception. I may not pout for selfies at every opportunity but I certainly stare into a screen far more than is healthy or necessary.

One of the ways I rationalise my ‘habit’ is by telling myself it’s for work, that someone might need me and that if a client emails, texts or sends a WhatsApp message at 10pm at night it is my obligation and responsibility to get back to them.

When I read that sentence I can see how unreasonable it is, but when you have a business it can be difficult to judge yourself by the parameters you would set for your own colleagues or suppliers.

As an example, if I happened to be working late and sent a supplier an email, I wouldn’t expect a response until the next day. Furthermore, if I got one I would feel guilty that I had encroached on their free time as opposed to being pleased that they had stopped everything to get back to me.

Mark sums it up really well in his piece when he writes: ‘Perhaps the worst aspect of realising how much I used my phone was coming to terms with the arrogance it entails, the idea that I must check my messages or the world will end.’

A truer word has rarely been said. This is me all over. I am constantly checking my phone for emails and then wonder why I feel anxious. There really is no need.

It’s time for things to change  

I’m not usually a follower of trends and I certainly could never be accursed of being a dedicated follower of fashion – in any capacity – but this is a bandwagon I’m well and truly jumping on the back of.

We recently welcomed Duke, a Cocker Spaniel puppy into our household (that’s another story and worthy of another blog) and as well as getting us up at 5.30am every morning he has also brought about a change.

I don’t know why, but during our walks I decided not to take my phone. At the time it seemed like a bold and brave step but, like Mark, I quickly realised the world wasn’t going to end.

In fact, thanks to our walks I have the chance to chat to my husband about the day ahead and what’s going on at work or with family and friends. It’s very cathartic as we glance out across the beautiful landscape at St Aiden’s RSPB reserve each morning and evening.

Although it’s only 2 hours of my day, I think it’s a good start and it does give me the head space to think about things more rationally. One of the biggest challenges with social media is that it is so immediate and whereas receiving news in this way can be beneficial, responding in the same manner rarely is.

I think that’s where some of the problems with social channels come from; act first and think later which in turn causes lasting damage either to yourself or someone else.

I’m not saying for one minute that I am going to close my social accounts, I don’t see the point given that this is how I stay in touch with an extensive family that are dotted around the world and my business relies on these channels, but I am going to limit my use.

I’m hoping that like Chris and Mark I can report back on the positive difference that this makes, and I fully intend to go home tonight and reach for a book rather than my phone.

If you are thinking about a tech detox or have given up altogether, how has it gone and what experiences can you share? All comments are welcome.

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