The digital age and the facilitation of our own desperation

By Harry Wright | Creative

November 29, 2016 | 7 min read

Whether we want to believe it or not, we are living in an age of instant gratification and it’s starting to have a detrimental effect on us as a society.

To clarify, we’re not talking about an impending end to the world, as we know it, that’ll be made into a film starring Will Smith or Matt Damon. However, it wouldn’t be too tenuous a link to say that it’s like a drug which has infiltrated our imperfect and ultimately flawed community through the digital revolution. I’m aware that most articles these days revolve around sensationalism but please do bear with me.

Harry Wright

If you’ve never heard of the pleasure principle then you’re probably a slave to it already, but don’t feel bad, I know what it is and it still rules my life. The idea behind Freud’s principle is that human nature will strive for pleasure and try, at all costs, to avoid pain. That is unless you find your pleasure in pain but that’s an entirely different article for another time. The core concept is that we are compelled to fulfil our own needs as quickly as possible, with instant gratification being the ideal. It’s important to understand that this need could be as basic as wanting food or as complex as craving a response from your crush via Facebook Messenger.

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Most of the time, when we want something, we’ll find a way to justify the means so we can make ourselves feel happier. It’s why you see programmes where people on benefits complain about modern society whilst sitting in front of a plasma screen TV but then can’t afford to buy school shoes for their kids. My house my rules and all that.

Moreover, we live in an age where we feel that the thing we desire should be available almost immediately, at the very latest! Think about it. Everything we want we can order instantaneously off Amazon, Ebay, the dark web – you name it you can go and buy it right now… for better or worse. But the materialistic side of things isn’t the issue. It’s the incessant bombardment and accessibility to knowledge, information and other people which is detrimental to our lives.

In a time of increasing digitisation, I feel that we place too many of our eggs in a superficial basket of frivolity. Forbes released an article this year explaining how an increased use of mobile phones and social media led to a rise in depression. This is interesting when thinking about instant gratification and the constant pursuit of pleasure. Especially when you consider that people have an inherent need to feel loved. It isn’t as strong in some as it is in others, which is why some people are clingy and others are borderline sociopaths, but it’s there. It’s very rare to find someone that doesn’t have at least one friend.

With this in mind, we could see social and mobile at face value: gateways to conversations with people of varying closeness to us. I can use them to talk to my best friends or someone I randomly started speaking to at a party once after too many pints. However, we could also see the more sinister side, the idea that they act as sources which constantly verify that we’re worthy of friends and that we are loved. ‘But that’s nice, isn’t it?’ I hear you ask. Well, yes, it is to begin with and when I first got a mobile phone and joined social that’s how I saw it. The question I have in response is why are so many people glued to their phones and laptops all the time?

People are forever talking either by text, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat – whether it be to individuals or in a group. That’s a lot of platforms to be using and a lot of conversations to be having when, really, there isn’t ever that much to say. It’s like when you overhear someone who’s been talking loudly for half an hour on your rush hour train, say, “anyway I’m on the train so I should probably get off the phone… I’ll message you in a minute.” Why? What more could you possibly have to talk about? The only reason for this can be to continue affirming the validity of your popularity. This is why you see people frantically checking their phone, afraid to put it down in case they miss a notification or a text. Phones are usually on silent because people often use them at work or school; perish the thought of going without it for hours on end. This means they have to keep checking because the phone doesn’t make noises or vibrate – at least that’s how most people justify their incessant glancing.

Whilst we’re on the subject of vibrations (steady), you know we’re too addicted to technological gratification when it’s creating abnormal behavioural patterns. I saw a meme online recently which made me chuckle. It said, “I don’t always feel my phone vibrate in my pocket but, when I do, it didn’t.” Now, older generations will think this to be a strange riddle or some sort of paradox. In actual fact, we’ve become so desperate to feel a vibration, to let us know that we’re still popular, that we’ve started to develop a little something called Phantom Vibration Syndrome, a condition where we frequently feel our phone vibrating… Even when it’s not. Let that sink in a minute. We’ve become so collectively addicted to our devices that we’ve created a minor mental health issue which is so prevalent that Mental Health Daily has created a guide to combat it. High fives all round.

It’s bleak stuff, I won’t lie to you, but don’t lose all hope just yet. A fairly common idea, when talking about addiction, is the belief that accepting you have a problem is a massive first step. With this in mind, Mashable recently reported that 62% of Brits regret the amount of time they spend on their devices – in particular phones. This has led to an influx in articles revolving around device abstinence and top tips on how to unglue them from your hands.

Perhaps this renegade movement of writers will pull us begrudgingly from our technological languor and we’ll look back on these times and laugh at how socially inept we made ourselves…but I doubt it.

Harry Wright is a content manager at SHARE Creative, with a penchant for linking psychological theories to modern advertising techniques. Follow him on Twitter @hazmccaz


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