• Isabelle Osborne

Reflecting on COVID-19: is the virus affecting our relationship with our screens?

As we are gradually moving out of the national lockdown, reflecting on how our daily habits have changed during the course of the pandemic thus far is an interesting topic of discussion. I was not surprised to see my average screen time rise over the past few months, a reality I am sure is not uncommon across the country. And this is understandable - people have had much more time (and the need) to catch up on TV dramas, re-watch old favourites, scroll endlessly through social media and FaceTime their friends.

One of the platforms that seems to have become a household essential during the pandemic is Netflix, as subscriber numbers have soared to 182.8 million. Disney+ is also another way people have been passing the time, spending £5.99 per month to watch classic Disney films and more recent revivals. These platforms have been lifesavers for many people, as being absorbed into the world of technology is a way to pass the time and occupy our minds whilst we continue to live through such uncertainty.

But is there a darker reality behind our newfound relationship with our screens? This blog post explores the possible consequences of this new relationship, and the risk involved with maintaining such a relationship post-lockdown.

Becoming part of the 'norm'

During lockdown, our 'normal' routines have inevitably encouraged us to spend a certain amount of time a day in front of a screen; it offers escapism, allows us to re-connect with newly distanced relatives, and helps us recognise the fact that we are not alone in our experiences. This isn't such a problem whilst we are house bound, but what does it mean following the end of the lockdown? If watching TV, scrolling through Instagram and binging series' on a daily basis became a part of our daily lives when everything goes back to normal, the longterm impact on our mental wellbeing may begin to show; watching something on TV can be a great way to relax of an evening after a long day of work, but research has shown that multiple hours with a screen can be detrimental to our health. With the end of lockdown in sight, will people continue to use their screens as a distraction, or will we take advantage of our access to green spaces, socialising with friends, and taking holidays?

Artificial reality

What we see on social media, watch on TV or see in films is often not a reflection of reality. Whilst many of us have probably wanted to escape the reality the world has faced in recent months, it is important that we don't begin to focus too heavily on the fictional world these channels offer us, but rather stay engaged with what is happening away from our screens; this will not only ensure we remain aware of how the country is controlling the pandemic, but also maintain an appreciation for the world that awaits us outside of our homes. People are using social media to stay engaged with their friends and keep in contact with others, yet there is an irony to this - whilst we sit behind a screen, we are becoming more and more socially isolated and therefore distancing ourselves from the community. It seems that using social channels to stay in contact whilst we have been asked to socially isolate and, currently, remain socially distanced, could be having the opposite affect. If there is an argument to suggest that a rise in screen time correlates to a decrease in a conscious awareness of our world, where does this leave the un-artificial world - a world of people, culture and exploration? There is a whole world out there waiting for us to enjoy (when it is safe to do so), and it is vital that we maintain our connection to the world we live in. Instead of watching another episode of Friends, use the time to scroll through a news app, watch BBC breakfast over your cornflakes, or watch a nature documentary; such will reaffirm our connection with reality.

Addiction

TikTok is another platform that has become a global phenomenon during recent months, where users create short videos for their followers in the hope of becoming 'TikTok famous'. But is there a more sinister undertone to the app? As more and more people claim they are becoming 'addicted' to the app, people are turning to their phones as a reflex instead of doing something else, such as reading or exercising, to occupy themselves.

The impact on young people and the natural world

Growing up in an age of digital culture is bound to have an impact on their awareness of the natural world and the environment, made worse by the impact of the pandemic: children, teenagers and young adults are possibly more so less inclined to reach into nature and develop an appreciation of the world around them now than they were pre-COVID. Limiting screen time and encouraging children to explore their natural world will not only have an impact on their wellbeing, but maintain an awareness of how human action has a direct affect on the future of our planet. If David Attenborough has taught us anything, it is to ensure the generations that follow have a world to live in, and this starts with encouraging young people to prioritise the protection and importance of the world outside their homes.

Communication in the post-pandemic world

Communicating via a screen prioritises a form of communication that humans are not naturally inclined to adopt. Prior to the rise of technology and the advancements it has made, communicating with people who were not in the immediate vicinity was significantly limited, but now we are able to chat to people on the other side of the world at the mere click of a button. It’s easy to forget that there’s a virtual barrier between us and the person we’re talking to when using our devices to communicate: a barrier that perhaps obstructs our ability to talk directly with that person. This is incredibly helpful when facing the situation we found ourselves in this year. But what about after the pandemic has ended? The non-verbal ways we can communicate face-to-face, such as the use of hand gestures and facial expressions, are missing in the online conversations we are having now. Could the pandemic mean people will become conditioned to communicating via a screen or over the phone, whilst the traditional person-to-person contact becomes a social anxiety that many shy away from? It is undeniable that communicating personally with people gives us the opportunity to develop more meaningful connections, yet as our digital profiles evolve within the COVID climate, our ability to form personable connections may become more difficult. And yet, such communication will remain the new normal whilst we continue to fight this pandemic, and we may need to replace close physical contact with this new form of communication for a while longer.

Technology is a part of modern day living in the 21st century, and has become vital for encouraging people to stay in touch and guarantee the publication of current news during the unprecedented health crisis. The problems tied to using technology to communicate were present before the coronavirus outbreak, yet it may just make our relationship with our screens all the more pressing. It remains vitally important to spare a few minutes away from your phones, laptops, iPads and TVs, not only for the benefit of our physical and mental health, but for the benefit of the world around us.

Words are all we have.

 - Samuel Beckett

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World of Words 

By Isabelle Osborne