Irish Times view on the ‘Sign of the Times’ survey

We seem to be at a very ambiguous moment; there is something frantic in our equanimity

 

The new Ireland does not sleep easy. According to the Behaviour & Attitudes Sign of the Times survey whose results we publish today, nearly a third of us feel “tired all the time”. More than half of Irish people under 35 “check social media or emails when having difficulty sleeping”. But beyond this literal finding, there is a sense in the survey of a society that is wired in both senses – deeply connected to digital technology but also in a state of high anxiety about its own way of life.

We seem to be at a very ambiguous moment. On the one hand, there is the relative happiness and optimism of a society that has largely recovered from the great crash of 2008. On the other there is a sense, perhaps shaped by the experience of that shock, that contentment is not an easy condition to maintain. There is something frantic in our equanimity.

Nearly two-thirds of us 'feel everything is changing too quickly'

The big picture is certainly that of an Ireland fully plugged in to the global digital economy. Nine out of ten of us own a smartphone (almost 100 per cent of adults under 50), three-quarters of us access the Internet at least once a day and on average Facebook users are now spending 10 hours a week on the network.

And this is a national culture. For all the problems of rural access to broadband, it is striking that people in rural Ireland are marginally more likely to book flights and hotels and buy clothes and shoes online than their urban compatriots. We are increasingly a virtual nation, one in which young people (and increasing numbers of older people too) prefer to send a message on WhatsApp than actually talk to a friend.

On the surface we seem to be fine with this globalised 21st century existence. On a scale of zero to 10 for how happy we feel, the mean score in the survey is 7.6. Perhaps even more telling is that more than 60 per cent of respondents feel they have a better life than their parents – a significantly higher proportion than in most western countries. Underpinning this reasonable level of satisfaction is economics: 37 per cent say they are “living comfortably” and 49 per cent are “getting by”. This is not the wild exuberance of the Celtic Tiger years but it suggests that most of us are managing pretty well. Given where we were a decade ago, this is not to be taken for granted.

But there are still those things that keep us awake at night. There are the 32 per cent who do not see the economy benefitting everyone and the 14 per cent who are “struggling”. There are serious worries about the financial consequences of Brexit. The technology we consume generates its own anxieties – social media are a “source of stress” for a third of us. Nearly two-thirds of us “feel everything is changing too quickly”. Both in our digital and our economic lives, we badly need breathing space in which to reflect on where we are going as a society. We need to sleep on it.

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