Staying Human in a Digital Age

Raii and Whitney at Sofar Chicago, photo by Jonathan Feng

Raii and Whitney at Sofar Chicago, photo by Jonathan Feng

I wake up to the sound of the alarm on my phone. “Siri, play BBC Radio 6.” I sit at the breakfast table with my daughters, my wife, even myself — all on our phones. I leave the house, passing passersby who are all glued to their phones. On the tube, same thing. At lunch, at the park. We are addicted. I’m guilty of it, too. We all are.

Our lives are more and more frequently mediated by screens. The phones in our hands seem to offer the whole world in an assortment of apps that suit our every need. Mindfulness? Check out Headspace. Cheap lunch (that fights food waste at the same time)?! Check out Too Good To Go. Free tickets to festivals? Check out I’m In.

As technology permeates into our personal lives, it blurs the boundaries between human and machine. So naturally we start to wonder - what makes us human? And how can we remain human? As anxiety and depression are on the rise, studies have shown that this is highly correlated with social media usage. So what can we do to help ourselves and each other?

Before I delve in with solutions, let’s take a quick look at the benefits and disadvantages of our online lives. Our phones give us the ability to reach out to loved ones who are on the other side of the world, to keep in touch with old (and new) friends, to work from home or to work on the go. Constant connection. At first, it seems fabulous — the ability to keep in contact with people and to have flexibility over where we work. However, we all know the demands and strains this can put on ourselves. If we are constantly switched on to work, when do we actually go home? We might physically go home, but not mentally. If we are constantly WhatsApping our loved ones overseas, when do we get the time to make or maintain real, face-to-face connections in our current location? Sherry Turkle did a fantastic TED Talk back in 2012 about how we are “connected, but alone.” Although technology extends our reach and makes it easier to be away from those we love, it can also create distance between the ones we encounter every day. Some argue that by constantly connecting with others digitally, we effectively devalue the time we spend in someone’s physical company.

So technology has this isolating property. Or the way in which we use technology can be isolating.

How can we negate this?

  1. Consciousness

    Recognition is the first step to overcoming a problem. There is already an increasing societal awareness of the impacts of social media and the overuse of technology. I urge you to be mindful. Let’s stop trying to do 10 things at the same time and focus on individual tasks and actions. Headed to dinner with friends? Try turning your phone off before you sit down to the table.

    We must recognize social media as a tool, neither inherently good nor bad. We can choose how we use it and recognize how it makes us feel and adjust our lives accordingly. We can see this via counter-trends. I was surprised recently when my daughter, in the age of Spotify and Bluetooth speakers, asked me for a record player! Analog modes are gaining popularity. Many people are actively looking for ways to decrease their screen time and subsequently returning to older methods.

  2. Connection

Receiving a like on facebook, does not feel the same as a hug. We are craving authentic human connection. We are the ones who choose how we use technology. So let’s use it as a tool to enable us to go to live events where we can meet other people, or to join a netball team, poetry night or a painting club. In this way, it is used as a tool to enable us to build face-to-face relationships. Apps like Meetup and Bumble, live events like Chocolate Poetry Club & BoxedIn, are leading the way in facilitating authentic human connection.

This is what we try and do at Sofar Sounds. In fact, it’s the foundation of Sofar. Building a wholesome community, all from an online platform. We encourage a space where strangers can chat, musicians can talk to fans and we welcome anybody; no matter your occupation, your social status, sexuality, class, ethnicity, age. Sofar strives to create a safe, welcoming space for all.

Technology has enabled me to fulfil my dreams, and create a business that I love. But the whole motivation behind this was to cultivate and build community and respect in the music world. And this extends to creating real communities in the digitally-dominated world we live in.  I talk a little more about this subject in the video below, if you’re interested make sure to check it out.

So next time you are at the dinner table with a phone next to your plate, or walking down the street, with phone in hand and eyes down, I urge you to take a minute to look up. Take a minute to put your phone away. Take a minute to reach out. Log off. Sign out. And connect with the people beside you.

x Rafe