Longing for the real world


Mairi Hughes

AS A screen time report pops up on my phone telling me I have spent 35 per cent more time on my screen than last week, I remembered that last week’s report told me I had spent 22 per cent longer on it than the week before. I feel a pang of guilt thinking about the time I have wasted scrolling through Instagram, and remember the half-knit scarf sitting in my bedroom, neglected now for weeks.

Despite my guilt, I console myself when I consider that the time I have spent on my phone has not all been double taps on Instagram and browsing Twitter. The majority of my screen time has, in fact, been spent on FaceTime to friends, shopping online for essentials—and some not so essentials—watching yoga classes on YouTube and googling recipes.

While we are confined to our homes, everything must be done online. In these times, we are incredibly lucky to have access to the technology necessary to be able to do everything we need to from home. In the last ten months, the internet has been filled to the brim with new online avenues for all the things we used to do in real life.

From visiting the Guggenheim Museum, to experiencing Machu Picchu, to watching National Theatre Live, to training with Joe Wicks, there is nothing we cannot find with a quick Google search.

Although we are all becoming accustomed to the convenience of doing everything from the comfort of home, I sincerely hope this does not stick whenever restrictions on our movements are eventually lifted.

As everything we do becomes streamlined into easy to access apps and websites, our experiences all merge into one. Socialising, working, shopping, reading, watching plays and gigs, even public worship all boils down to staring at a screen. We no longer live lives made up of a mosaic of unique experiences, but spend all our time online, passively watching events take place as we ourselves are disconnected from them.

When we choose to swap going out and experiencing things in real life for online replacements, we miss out on the wonderfully unpredictable and communal nature of life.

I miss going to the pub and bumping into a friend I didn’t expect to see, the camaraderie of joining in a real-life exercise class with real life people, the irreplaceable experience of live music, sitting down in a real office—not at a kitchen table—where every day is different because of the people around me.

These things cannot be replaced by virtual experiences. While having everything available online means we have the whole world at our fingertips, really our worlds have been made much smaller as we lose out on real life experiences.

Personally, I am counting down the days until I can physically go out and see friends in real life, not through a screen, browse the shops without the blue light headache and take part in an exercise class without disrupting my downstairs neighbours.

While real life experiences might not afford us the convenience of being sat comfortably at home, safe from bad weather, traffic jams and general unpredictability, they are well worth the inconvenience.

Mairi Hughes is a Journalist and Creative Writer