As the summer holidays come to an end for many, it is hoped New Zealanders have been able to relax, unwind and let the stresses and strains of the previous busy work, school or parenting year subside. Hopefully, too, people have managed to put down their digital devices for long enough to spend some quality offline time with friends and family.

Work/life balance is becoming a thing of the past in the digital age. Expectations are that workers are available to read and respond to emails and make and take phone calls on their mobile devices 24/7.

Those devices, combined with social media, have hooked children and adults alike into a self-perpetuating frenzied cycle of checking, updating, reading, watching, playing, streaming, downloading, liking, posting, sending, tweeting, retweeting and rechecking.

In so many ways this technology has been a blessing, offering us the ability to communicate and learn like never before. But it has also been a curse. It has robbed some of us of the ability to have a conversation with the person sitting next to us, and the ability to write in constructions formerly known as correctly spelled words and accurately punctuated sentences.


It has fed our instant gratification narcissistic gene, has created a culture of envy and desire, need and greed, and provided the perfect anonymous arena for bullying, degradation and exploitation.

It has been blamed for mental and physical health problems alike, has made instant and often odious experts of us all, made us quick to judge, broken down the normal barriers of caution, restraint, tact and sensitivity, turned some of us into trolls.

The online world is an illusory one, too. As humanity fell, like Alice, into this promised wonderland of access and opportunity, Big Brother was watching, scooping up all our vital statistics, thoughts and moments, information both intimate and inane, and using the data to form algorithms to manipulate us into buying, wanting, needing, liking, loving, hating and hurting.

Several high-profile Silicon Valley former executives and designers — from the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook — have spoken out about the unintended consequences of this "brave new world" and the harm being caused through exploiting human psychology and distorting human behaviour and interaction.

If it sounds like shock tactics, have you considered — or counted — the number of times you check your mobile device each day, the hours you spend online, the unease you experience when your device is not within reach?

Moderation, as in all things, is surely key. It might be time to remind ourselves to have a real life and take a social media holiday instead. Certainly it is timely to reflect on how and why we use various online platforms and forums. It is important to remember what we like or dislike will be fed back to us in the online echo chamber — so read, discuss and visit widely and wisely in order to be better informed and empowered. And, if nothing else, take time to consider whose need you are actually feeding online.