Why pulling away from social media matters

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Ten years on from the rise of social media, we are still in uncharted waters over its use. Can religion and faith be a guide on how to use social media?…

Why does a twenty-something, with a brand new job at one of the world’s most prestigious publications, break down when he gets home? In fits of tears, jittery at best, angry at worst. This was what I was feeling in the autumn of 2015 – too tired to enjoy my weekends yet wishing I could escape the drudgery. The reason was simple: from 10am to 6pm everyday, Monday to Friday, I was juggling Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and LINE. Pumping out tweets and posts. Once work has ceased for the day, I’d jump on social media to again scroll for anything and everything, filling silence. I was reacting. Reactive by day, reacting by night. Even when I had not needed to be, reacting became solidified in what was supposed to be time to wind down.

It was precisely this scenario that led me to what may seem an unreasonable spring time 2016 (nothing ever works in the new year) resolution: limit Facebook posts to a maximum of 12 for the year, averaging one a month. How could I do that when I’d been posting everything about my life every couple of hours since Zuckerberg gave birth to his tech-baby? Facebook can be seen through two groups; those that post every day (or indeed multiple times a day), and the silence ones – you know they’re there but no semblance of activity whatsoever. And never the twain shall they meet in the middle. Or so I thought.

Come December 2016, mission accomplished. Between March and January 2016, exactly twelve posts – the same total as three months previous. So, why does this matter? Social media is ephemeral and we should treat it as such, right?

Let me be clear, pulling away from Facebook, or any other platform, is not the same as abstaining. Pulling away ensures that when you do return to the fold, writing becomes crisper enriching thoughtful posts. Giving voice to our inner thoughts requires clarity. The need to step away is not only urgent, it is a basic human need. In a world valuing the reactive, stepping away is best practice. Opportunism turns to addiction. Celebrity trolls are at the most extreme end of a culture that rewards addiction. Whilst many of us won’t go as far, it’s the little things that add up.

Social media can be a powerful tool not just for societal change. It can also be a chance of giving your own personal thoughts an inner monologue shape and frame. Indeed, the two are not in opposition. Daily chatter may seem like your needs are being fulfilled. By stepping away and posting only the important things that matter, I only give way to an unrushed, deeper approach to a transient medium. It’s not a holy-than-thou sermon. It’s just a way of enriching every single second I have on this planet.

My faith, consciously or unconsciously, plays a role in stepping back on social. It may even inform your actions. If Islam has a synonym, it would be moderation. Finding harmony in the everyday – enjoying life, it’s pleasures, taking part in a myriad of discourse, all without excess. A hadith (prophetic saying) goes by the words “speak a good word or remain silent”. The Qu’ran equally informs us of the importance of moderation:

“No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right, or bring reconciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking Allah’s pleasure, then we shall grant him a great reward.” [ Sûrah al-Nisâ’ : 114]

As a hyper-sensitive person – not of words, but in the physical, insomnia wracked sense, the change in light or loud music making me anxious type – the reward is calm serenity, in the here and now. Reducing the heart pumps, the clenched fist, the edginess. An intake of breath. Right now, I feel free without the feeling of scratching social media itch. Harmony is control.

Life is made up of small gestures. Call it a ripple effect if you will. A coin may be tiny, but it’s drop will be felt in the ocean long after it was thrown. The same metaphor should be for the tiniest of our actions. A 2015 study by Deloitte claimed the average person checks their phone 46 times per day. Some 23 days of the year are lost simply to the mere act of checking. I’m sure its more – I know I am prone to checking my phone every 2-5 minutes at worst. Most of the time, we are checking on nothing, but waiting for a notification. It may seem innocuous, but it all adds up in the shape of reliance, and as a consequence, our mental health. That, surely, is more important than anything.

As Elvis once said, a little less conversation, a little more action. So, today, give your hands and mind more rest than you do. And tomorrow. And the day after. Yes, keep in tune to the news, dip into conversations – but don’t ignore your environment and most of all, yourself. Less clenching your hands and more looking within. Limits are a measure of proactivity rather than reactive. Harmonious thoughts will flow, clarity comes. With it, you may just find ideas for a book, a project, or feel at one with yourself. That feeling is truth; truth is beauty, and beauty is truth, as Keats said. This little blog post only came about thanks to cutting back on the digital and realigning with my environment. I feel the tingles in my palms, my fingers, and now I’m floating, as I take in London sunshine. Heck, this calls for a Facebook post…

Saudi Economic Borders Open Up

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Saudi Arabia opens up to foreign investment – does it see a long term game?

Famed for its balancing act between cultural conservatism and economic prosperity, Saudi Arabia will finally open its stock market to foreign investors. From June 2015 the Saudi Stock Exchange will lift strict controls in a bid to move away from oil dependence and usher in a new era of economic diversification  First created in 1994, the Saudi Stock Exchange is currently valued in the region of $600 billion, trumping the wealth of many Middle Eastern nations including Qatar and United Arab Emirates combined. There is a presumption that much of this prosperity goes hand in hand with oil and gas, as seen by a sharp index drop in line with oil prices prior to the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Despite the hydrocarbon influence, there are signs of a diverse, non-oil economy opening up to the world.

Not a single oil company is listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange. Banking, telecommunications and petrochemicals make up the top five listed companies. Access to India and China pits Saudi Arabia as a leader in petrochemical industries as it seeks to move away from oil and gas dominance – if not dependence. Oil accounts for 45 percent of GDP and almost 80 percent of government revenue. Slimming down a dependence on crude energy whilst maintain accelerating economic growth can only happen with alternative investments from a number of diverse industries.  Real Estate will also play a growing part in diversifying Saudi’s economy. Around 50 percent of Saudis are under the age of 25, creating a demand for potential housing and related infrastructure. Demographics is critical in this industry, where young men are expected to own a house before marriage. Soaring demand will ensure prices and returns for investors remain high. Foreign investors will keep an eye on Dar Al Arkan, Saudi Arabia’s largest property developer planning developments in Media, Jeddah and Riyadh. Young, upcoming Saudi families will no doubt welcome foreign stakeholders playing its role in accelerating the long term prospects of the region.

A broader, forward thinking approach suggests an evolution which may lead to Saudis finally shedding off a hydrocarbon skin. Foreign investment will be greatly applauded outside the Kingdom by environmentalists and CEO’s. Inside the Kingdom, the economic cake will have a new look in years to come. Think oil, think again.

Remembering Election Night 2015

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General Election 2015. #GE2015. Whatever you want to call it, its come and gone under the guise of Russell Brand videos, selfies, Scots and PR machines. I had the privilege of working for the BBC Results Service – chiefly sending updates to the BBC Results Service about estimated declaration times and the final result cast at Northamptonshire South. Unfortunately, no one sent me the memo of a 7:15 AM declaration. BBC Northampton had no clue either – being a seasoned expert gives no guarantee of preparation!

An air of election fever quickly gave way to a more sombre mood. Even in a Conservative safe seat in the East Midlands, it was surprising to not see a more euphoric celebration from the Conservative candidate.

The surprise of the night was the rise of UKIP – perhaps not too surprising. In vote terms, they came third in the area but recorded thousands of votes. Travelling into the small village of Towcester could not have opened my eyes to the contrast of demographic and environment not just to London, but the nearest town of Northampton. UKIP posters were clearly visible on many houses – I even had the luck of driving past the UKIP candidate outside a makeshift polling station (which was the local pub). This visibility showed how the fractured elements of those not voting Tory would support. UKIP have not made gains from the Conservatives; in real terms, they have stolen Labour supporters who have swum to the Right.

Keeping abreast of developments across the country was a fascinating and exciting part of the night; but even more so, the stories of volunteers in the local area – young people staying up to be part of something bigger. A daughter of a miner and staunch Labour man, now a 50 year old Conservative. Shifts in the sand that will become move in rapid movements in our fractured society.

For now, beauty sleep cannot come soon enough. What’s next?

London’s Burning: Why We Must Rethink Our Connections

Holborn 1955 – FlickR CC credit courtesy of AllHalls

This week saw 2000 people evacuated from the streets of Holborn in central London following a fire beneath its pavements. Black smoke rose up a manhole and filled one of London’s most busiest streets with fumes. For me, it was an early end to the working day midway through Wednesday afternoon. Internet and telephone lines muted at the offices in the timeless Somerset House – where I currently work – bringing a hasty, confused end to what started out as sheer annoyance at yet another example of awfully retro internet connections. Office workers prowled the doors and made another cup of coffee, unable to comprehend not using the computer.

For all its awful consequences on the local economy (especially for the many theatres shutting down, one of which hosted Benedict Cumberbatch), the Holborn fire brings to light two technological/cultural issues;

1) Our over reliance on the internet for both business and pleasure. A cultural addiction with being connected both in the office, and then back home, is alive and gnawing through our humanity. As a journalist, connectivity is a front line issue which both plunders and rewards my word indulged soul. At its best, online platforms brings ideas, stories and people together. At its worst, the small screen causes the most chronic of insomnias. We are still in an experimental-grey phase with how online works in our lives.

2) Our perceptions of the internet.

We now class the net as a thing, an invisible ether hanging by a cloud somewhere across Silicon Valley, as far as the Greek Gods and Goddesses resided from their mortal worshippers. Wifi and cloud based systems for storage exacerbate our views of what the internet is. It is not ‘out there’. Our systems are very much connected physically through cables and lines. An engulfing fire two minutes from work suddenly shook my physical alertness in place. Briskly walking down the Strand back onto another red bus back home brought into mind the multitude of cables, pipes and tunnels under our feet, mingled as one. Technology is geographical, solid and a part of the landscape. Like a sewage problem, sometimes it must be visualised to remind us of our vulnerability.

Something to see:  The worlds internet cables under the oceans chartered and illustrated in medieval map style