This mornings Today Programme on Radio 4 discussed a recent Lifestyle Survey compiled by the Office for National Statistics which has identified changes in social trends in Britain over the past 40 years. Along with an unprecedented rise in the number of washing machines per household, a key finding of the report is that there are now more people living alone than at any time in our history. The rise is mainly in adults of a working age and is due in large part to relationship breakdown. In the Health Service, GPs are increasingly aware that ‘social prescribing” is what’s needed for our wellbeing – it’s not pills or medical treatment but contact that people are seeking in order to thrive. But what is the quality of contact that we need?
BBC Home Editor, Mark Easton, ended the piece with…
The question of our times is whether the digital age [social media, Facebook, Skype, Twitter etc] has us all staring at screens on our own, or whether actually it might bring us all back together?
I pondered his question as I made my coffee and something previously forgotten popped into my mind. Back in the 1980s, when I was involved in the organic food and farming movement, I remember seeing a Pathe News interview with a farm labourer c1960. I can see him still – an old man, sitting in the margin of a ploughed field under a grey sky, talking about the rhythm of his life and his relationship with the land. Although I cannot remember anything of that, I do recall a passing comment that he made about his sandwich. He said that when he was a lad a cheese sandwich made from a round of his mother’s homemade bread would keep him going for 4 hours – but these days he had to eat three or four rounds of the modern sliced bread to be sustained.
I frequently feel resentful and irritated by the expectation that we should be available in so many ways in order to maintain contact with each other. Where do people find the time I have often wondered, and for what end do we wish to hear the minute-by-minute detail of each other’s lives. And yet, as a species, we have become more and more feverish in our desire for up-to-the-moment continuous interaction.
It dawned on me that contact via social media can be rather like the sandwich… locally grown and stone-ground wheat carefully turned into daily bread by your mother’s hand has a deeply satisfying, nourishing and sustaining quality, just like genuine contact and connected conversation. Whereas the mass-produced, airy pap that is mistakenly called ‘bread’ is rather like the facebook, twitter type contact that we crave, consume, and feel no better for…. It may have the calories but it certainly doesn’t have the substance, and it leaves us hungry in an indefinable way.
I often have wonderful systemic constellation sessions with clients on Skype and use it to catch up with my children and friends too, but I have yet to see the benefit of tweeting my breakfast ingredients or reading about anyone else’s for that matter.