What will I miss out on if I delete WhatsApp for a week, perhaps even a month? Would it be the same as not checking the postbox every five minutes pre-1998?
The leaves are in their autumn beauty, but our heads are still stuck in our phones. As Halloween approaches, it’s not ghosts and gremlins we are afraid of but being separated from our smartphones.
New research, published last week, found that ‘digital natives’, those aged between 21 and 35, were overwhelmed by constant connectivity, but crucially, they were afraid to take a break from technology and go off-grid. Why?
Two reasons: FOMO (fear of missing out) and nomophobia, the fear of being separated from one’s mobile phone. There is the conscious desire to disconnect. There is the fear of the ramifications of doing so, and so we do nothing. Then there is the impact on mental health from not switching off.
“The constant use of technology can have a significant negative impact on the lives of millennials, and a high dependence on smartphones can result in various mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem,” said Dimah Ajeeb of the University of Westminster, who supervised a dissertation that eventually led to the research project.
Other research published last week scientifically confirmed something most of us instinctually felt is true — that nature makes us happier. But why get off the couch when there’s a blazing row exploding on Twitter, or a compelling story unfolding on Instagram?
People felt better — physically, mentally, and emotionally — after spending time in nature, resulting in fewer visits to the GP and feeling more able to go to work, the research from the University of Essex found.
“People who have low levels of wellbeing feel healthier and happier when they’re connected to wildlife and wild places,” said Dom Higgins from the UK’s Wildlife Trusts, who was involved in the three-year research project.
The idea now is to roll out this “green prescription” in the British National Health Service, when it comes to addressing mental wellbeing. A friend of mine had trouble sleeping; restless nights, unable to fall off to sleep in the first place, and anxiety visited her for days as a result. All that’s changed now, because she made one simple change — no phone after 7pm.
No WhatsApp. No social media. And no idle web browsing that led her down a rabbit hole of suddenly essential information. Instead, she’s gone back to reading novels after dinner and evening walks by the sea. The concentration she had before the digital revolution is back, and she’s sleeping seven-plus hours a night.
Even Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, spent time off-grid last year.
So what’s stopping the rest of us?
Personally speaking, there is acompulsion to never leave a friend or family member hanging, to reply to every single text and WhatsApp — to clear the communication to-do list.
What will I miss out on if I delete WhatsApp for a week, perhaps even a month? Would it be the same as not checking the postbox every five minutes pre-1998? Surely if I don’t reply to a WhatsApp message or an email, and it’s urgent, the sender will ring me? They will ring me, won’t they?
But making an unplanned, unscheduled call nowadays, is becoming as rare as sending someone a handwritten letter.
We are constantly communicating at the speed of light, and yet the rest of the world operates at the same speed it always has. Humans still have a gestation period of nine months. Farmers harvest once a year. And trees’ leaves go from green to golden brown around about this time of year, every year, depending on the hemisphere you live in.
Halloween is a perfect time to put all this recent research into action. Instead of hitting up Dealz or Penneys for your Halloween costume and decorations, apologies to fast fashion and capitalism, why not raid your parents’ attic? Or visit your local charity shop?
Part of the magic of Halloween used to be the creativity it sparked. I once found a black cloak in my parents’ attic. Some white shoe polish and lipstick down my chin, and I passed easily for Dracula. There was much satisfaction derived from discovering and creating your very own costume.
The same satisfaction can be achieved from getting outside. We’re in that wonderful part of the year when leaves crunch underfoot and nature puts on one of her finest fireworks displays of amber, red, yellow, and orange.
There are conkers to be found on the ground, dried in the hot press and employed in a classic childhood game. The amber leaves from the chestnut tree, when gathered together, make for impressive wreaths to hang on your door.
There is another game that can follow a forest walk with your kids close to Halloween — one where they collect all sorts of debris and return home to turn them all into a magical potion or lotion, if nettle tea is your thing.
While we might be afraid of stepping away from our phones, there’s little to be feared in nature. Instead, there’s everything to gain. The prospect of climate change might be scary, the idea of Ireland being annihilated by the mighty All Blacks today might disturb you, or the thought of your pension fund might terrify you, when you hear the latest news in consumer finance.
Our neighbours next door said the number one thing that keeps them up at night is Brexit. All of this information comes to you instantly via your fingertips — from the websites you visit to all those social media accounts you voluntarily follow.
But instead, why not seize this last weekend before Halloween — dare to leave the phone behind and get out in nature and see what she has to offer you? It’ll probably be far less scary than what you find on your smartdevice. And you never know, you might even sleep better tonight.