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Have we lost the ability to live in the moment?

By Libby Pierzak-Pee

Whether it’s holiday pictures, engagement announcements, concert videos or daily vlogs, the internet has become inundated with our most intimate life moments. Social media has this incredible ability to excite and overwhelm us. Everything has to be shared, every detail has to be meticulously examined, everyone has to be included. Remember if it’s not online, it didn’t happen! You don’t want to be accused of being boring. The rapidity at which we update our lives to emphasise that we really are having the ‘BEST TIME’ 24/7, is both ludicrous and sad. But what happens when we focus all of our attention and abilities on capturing a moment, instead of simply living in it?

The power social media has over all of us ensures we remain firmly in its grip all day every day. It has never been easier to connect with millions and billions of people at the click of a button. People continuously push their agendas, messages and identities out into the world on a daily basis, and you cannot escape from it. News and information now spreads faster than a rugby lad with an STD.

With our constant need to stay updated on what everyone else is doing, the amount of time we spend staring at a screen is increasing. The New Uses of Screens in Post-Lockdown Britain (NUSPB) study carried out by the University of Leeds in 2022 discovered that, as a result of the pandemic, 54% of British adults now use screens more often than they did before. They also found that 1 in 2 adults (51%) are using screens for leisure time more than they did pre-pandemic.

A screen-time study conducted last year calculated that on average, the British public spends an eye-watering 13 hours and 2 minutes looking at a screen every day, with each person spending an average of 2 hours and 41 minutes specifically looking at their phones, plus an additional 1 hour 48 minutes on social media every day. The study also found that 18-24 year olds spend the most time looking at screens every day, spending 77% of their waking hours glued to a screen.

With social media projecting endless highlight reels, it is stunting our ability to be present and live in the moment. People constantly post their best pictures, their biggest successes, exciting days / nights out, weekends away, glamorous holidays. Very few people choose to post their failures or the mundane activities we all do on a daily basis.

This pressure to ‘keep up’ has evolved into a competition to prove who has the best life (or who at least, appears to). Who has the best clothes, who has the best Range Rover, whose house has the best kitchen island, who stayed at the best hotel in Sorrento? Quite frankly, it’s exhausting. Instead of interacting with people in the real world, social media allows us to make rash judgements and distinctions about a person’s character simply based on the content they post.

On average, the British public spends an eye-watering 13 hours and 2 minutes looking at a screen every day.

Through carefully curated posts we can convince people that our lives are exciting and that we truly are ‘living in the moment’. Whilst capturing pictures and videos can make us feel nostalgic and ensure that we have lots of memories, social media also allows us to edit and filter out the bad parts of our lived experience, making the past seem much more enjoyable than it actually was.

From the way we look, to our relationship status, our jobs, our homes, our cars, not only does social media define us through these lenses, but it convinces us that perfection is easily achievable.

As a society we have normalised materialistic perfection to such an extent that our self-esteems are crumbling around us. All we can focus on is the camera, the pose, the shot, the candid boomerang and not the people we’re with, or the experience we’re actually having. So, by convincing everyone around us to focus on the ‘fun’ we had in the past instead of looking at the supposed ‘boring and mundane’ in the present, our job’s done.

When we compare ourselves to what we think everyone supposedly has, and the perfect lives they are supposedly leading, we essentially deflate ourselves and feed that inner voice inside our heads telling us that we are inadequate. Believe it or not, having a private life that you’re not constantly posting about doesn’t make you a bad person!

Disengaging from social media and spending time with people in person makes you realise that everyone is human, and we all have hang-ups and insecurities. Rarely do we ever get a glimpse into the reality of people’s lives. We have no idea what is actually happening behind the camera, and it’s good to remind yourself that just because someone chooses to maintain a superficial illusion online, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are happy and content in real life.

By living in the present, the decision to post aspects of our lives is more conscious. There is a clear difference between posting a picture because you genuinely want to share a specific moment in time with your followers, and posting simply because you feel insecure, and therefore need strangers on the internet to validate the quality of your life.

The majority of us cannot live without our phones, always checking, always scrolling, always replying. We’re essentially drug addicts in constant need of our daily fix. You sometimes don’t realise how much time you spend on your phone or how much you rely on it until you actively choose not to use it. Too often, we are living through our screens, not appreciating or valuing the things we already have in our lives. And this is nowhere more apparent than at a concert.

I’ve attended a lot of concerts and live events over the years, and I’ve recently noticed that with more and more people glued to their screens, concert audiences are dying. I strongly believe that a good concert is only as good as its audience. Believe me, nothing kills a concert more than a dead crowd!

Instead of living in the moment, people are attempting to capture the moment albeit in a rather blurry, shaky, and let’s face it crap quality fashion. Since they are attempting to ‘capture’ rather than ‘live’ the concert experience, they end up missing it completely because they are staring at a phone screen. Whilst they will have a recorded video, they will essentially have something that will never capture the energy of the real thing. And I can guarantee they will never watch half of those videos ever again.

Plus I hate to break this to people, if you really want to watch the entire concert just go on YouTube and watch videos recorded by the people who began queueing for the front at 2am, instead of your underwater quality video taken sixty rows back in the nosebleed seats.

Concerts are just not what they used to be. Apparently, simply being in the moment is not good enough. How do you think people in the 90s coped? I want people to return to the simple joy of experiencing live music.

I want crowd-surfing. I want chaos. I want drink spilling, hands in the air, drunkenly singing what you believe are the words, audience participation, making new friends, kissing strangers you’ll never see again. I want people really living and breathing in the moment, not caring whether the moment is worthy of making it onto your grid and will get you ten thousand likes.

When people tell you to live in the present, it sounds as if they’re quoting the equivalent of a live, laugh, love sign. We’ve all heard the phrases: “All you have is now”, “Forever is composed of nows” “Never get too busy making a life that you forget to live”. Now whilst this is borderline ick territory and you may think it’s a load of bollocks, the sentiment behind them is important.

If you’re too preoccupied by what’s on your screen, you can often find yourself tuning in and out of life. Given the fact that many of us lead fast-paced, hectic lifestyles, taking the time to simply stop and enjoy the present is incredibly difficult. Living in the present is also difficult because society encourages us to dwell on the past and reminisce, whilst also gearing us to focus on the future. Being in the present allows you to be fully aware and mindful of what’s happening in the here and now, free from distraction.

Disconnecting from your feeds, even for a short period of time, can help you re-evaluate the purpose of social media in your own life and whether it is something you choose to place so much emphasis on. Taking a break not only allows you to reconnect with yourself, but helps you focus on the things in life that matter, rather than the ones that generate the most likes, views and retweets. Have those in person conversations, do something that makes you happy, look after your mental health and self-esteem.

We all care what people think about us. We all want to feel accepted, liked and heard. We may think the grass is always greener, but social media can be incredibly deceptive. Everyone is on their own individual path and things are not always what they seem, no matter how supposedly perfect the picture or the lifestyle they present to the world is.

If we were all honest with ourselves and turned our screens off, instead of actively choosing to succumb to the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ charade, our social media experiences and our attitudes towards living in the present may be that little bit more positive.

Always remember, the way in which you choose to accept yourself is more important than your Instagram aesthetic.


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