Andrea Walters.
Andrea Walters.

Do you ever feel a bit over-stimulated or hyper-connected in today’s social and multi-media world? But at the same time, strangely disconnected from those closest to you?

The speed and ease with which we can now communicate with anyone, anywhere and at any time, is as brilliant as it is bamboozling. The 24 hour news cycle informs us of all the global atrocities that we can emotionally deal with between waking and bedtime and thanks to Facebook, we now know what our closest family and our most distant acquaintances dreamt about last night and ate for breakfast this morning.

But what is the worldwide web and instant messaging culture doing for our more enduring relationships closer to home? It seems we would rather be ‘liked’ by virtual strangers than our own family members and we often exclude those in closest proximity to us by blocking out their conversation with earplugs, or by texting while they’re talking to us.

We can post, update, text, tweet, pin, Snapchat or Yammer all day to thousands of friends and followers, but are our close-contact conversation and networking skills being left behind? Perhaps no thumbs up there! It seems that social media is, in fact, making us more unsociable. And many of us have never felt lonelier, or more ignored as a result.

Here are just a few considerations to help manage the situation:

Be ‘present’ in the company of others

If you can, then call-in to see how your family or friends are doing, rather than relying on emails or text messages, which can be ambiguous; it really does make a difference to see how someone is in person.

Each day, make a point of waiting until after breakfast before checking your mobile for new texts or emails and remember that you don’t have to respond immediately. Take your time and finish the conversation, or meal you are having before your thumb starts swiping at the screen saver.

Remember, there’s no need to update your status on Facebook immediately on waking. Your friends in the UK don’t need to know how you’re feeling before you’ve told your partner, who is sitting across from you at the breakfast table.

Limit the amount of time you spend with your devices

Allocate specific times for your online pursuits, just like you would any other hobby or regular activity. It’s very easy to lose precious hours on Facebook, Pinterest, or the PlayStation and many of us now bring work home with us via the smartphone in our pockets. Commit to spending a healthy proportion of your time in face to face conversations with others. After all, who’s going to provide a broad shoulder and a friendly ear next time you need it – Siri?

Make a ‘no devices in the bedroom or at the table’ rule

Keep mobile phones, laptops and tablets in the office, or spare room to charge overnight, or even better, switched off. That way, friends, family and clients who live in different time zones won’t interrupt your sleep with beeps and buzzes and you also get to re-charge your own batteries.

Putting devices in another room whilst you’re eating will allow you to focus on your food and the people you are eating with. Your stomach will thank you too, as you’re less likely to over-eat, or eat too quickly if you are concentrating on what’s on your plate.

Be choosy with online connections and the information you share

After all, how well do we really know the new friends we make on Facebook, or our latest connections on Linked-In? That special ‘internet other’ with whom we have spent hours sharing our earliest memories could actually be a cyberbot that has been mining us for personal information. Make sure that you do know the people who are ‘friending’ you and keep personal information to a minimum, especially on open forums and particularly if your pet or partner’s name is also your internet banking password. You might consider changing that!

These very clever communication tools ironically entice us to spend far too much time literally “left to our own devices” and not in real time, face-to-face conversations with people. Rather than building up a stellar virtual profile, be aware of your real-life profile from the perspective of those closest to you and don’t let your smartphone become better at communicating than you are.


Andrea Walters AFAIM is Director of Personal Membership, Advocacy and Information Services at the Australian Institute of Management in WA with responsibility for delivering a diverse range of professional development and networking services to members. These include professional events, the Member Mentor Program and various online management development resources and partner services.

The West Australian

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