Una Mullally: We can use the new decade to claw back freedom from technology

It used to be a privilege to be on social media, but it is now a privilege to be off it

Mark Zuckerberg,  founder of Facebook, listens during a House committee hearing in Washington, DC, US. File photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, listens during a House committee hearing in Washington, DC, US. File photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At Kate Tempest’s concert in Vicar Street in November, she arrived on stage before the gig “began”, informing the audience that the performance was indeed about to start, and before it did, she would appreciate if people kept their phones in their pockets for it. She provided those eager to document the evening with a few moments to take a photograph of her before the music started, and finally, she asked audience members to be aware of the specific feeling that is our compulsion to reach for our phones. She asked us to notice and identify when that feeling happens, and what that feeling is, the lust to rush to the pocket where our slim rectangles of aluminium and glass are wedged, constantly, subliminally, explicitly, cravingly demanding our attention.

I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about how this decade just ending has been characterised by an enslavement to being online, but I’m often less adept at identifying what those feelings that underpin that development are. There is addiction, of course; compulsion, distraction, the pull of attention. It’s no coincidence that these are some of the fundamentals of the engineering and design of social media platforms.

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