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Reconnecting face to face

The growing backlash against social media is interesting to watch. For all its great intentions when it first started (and who knows when that was, as it took me years to be convinced to join), there does seem to be a lingering sour taste. So whilst some of us desperately try to keep up by posting reels on Instagram (not so Instant anymore is it?) and others flock to TikTok, it's so refreshing to see that the old version of "social" hasn't changed. Nothing will ever replace face to face interactions.

For me this is palpable at the theatre especially. The joy on everyone's face and their enthusiasm just for being there is wonderful to see. And that's even before the performance has started!

I'm no expert but I believe psychological studies show the benefits of something as simple as gathering around the dinner table with people will do wonders for your mental health, self confidence, social skills and general outlook on life. This can be hard to replicate with a screen.

It's the time when we hopefully switch off the devices and out of our stupor, and savour in the people around us, sharing news, worries, hopes, fears and questions. There's something to be said for being in the moment, where we tune in fully to our surroundings. Listening to more than just the first three words coming out of the partner's mouth or trying to understand the teenager's point of view on a topic, or even just focusing on the flavours, textures and smells of the food being eaten.

Is this what is meant by mindfulness?

Fancy word for something basic. And sad that we forget the basics in search of the next "thing". Boredom sets in so quickly. By now, we must have caught on that this is never going to stop. The effort required to keep up is exhausting. Very unrewarding too. That's how I see it anyway. If you look at an early video I posted when I first started my Italian cooking classes, there's a slogan at the end. It says something like "to live simply is to live well". What inspired me at the time was my Dad. Whilst he did have a busy life, it was not complicated.

If I could ask him today if he was satisfied with life, he may have said yes or he may have said no. Our answer will change at different stages. In fact just days before he passed, unprompted he told me he was very happy to know he had a great family who loved him and he was so proud of us all. He may have known he did not have long here. He was not sad as he said this. I can clearly remember the expression on his face. Quietly satisfied.

That's quite an achievement. Yet it didn't happen by chance. Rather by years dedicated to family – through hard work, building towards something tangible, being there for us, giving up a fair bit of his own dream – which in turn gave us the foundation steps to building our own lives and dreams. From my Mother, we got the value of gathering as a family unit (often the extended family would number 30+) over food for any occasion.

And when I think about it, those occasions were many. From birthdays, Christmas and Easter, anniversaries, graduation ceremonies, engagements and so, no event went unnoticed. She would even hold a traditional lunch with a group of girls entering their teen years, signifying their entry into young womanhood. I would love to ask those women today, if such an event had an impact on their life.

If I was to compare this with a class we held for a group of disadvantaged teen girls a few years ago, I wonder what their answers would be? And whilst one simple lunch may not be life changing, a lifetime of connections are.

Today, for many a continuous sense of connection is missing, often replaced with everything except time together. Subscription movies, music, sport. I'm no saint. I've had my binge sessions. But isn't it a shame that there is no tolerance for waiting. There's no anticipation or excitement. We can't seem to wait one week to see the next episode. We can quite literally click Next and sit there for hours on end. Does it matter that the husband is in the other room watching John Something (do you notice you can't remember the names of what we watch either?). The wife is in the lounge room watching reruns of Mom. And one child is locked in his room playing Dungeons, the other in hers on Insta. Yeah, real social. Yet we're still not satisfied. Something is lacking and we can't quite put our finger on it.

During the first lockdown, I was encouraged to run online cooking classes. Remember the plethora of TV ads with five minute demos on how to make Chicken Korma? Good ol' blue eyes Curtis Stone. I'd watch him any day!

I thought about it and then ran as far away from the idea as I could. I'll leave the online video learning to others. It's not my thing. Because the main benefit of being physically present in our classes – or being anywhere for that matter – is the social aspect. Learning a new skill is a bonus. The conversations had around the dinner table eating what we have just made are the most enjoyable part of the day. And seeing eyes light up as the freshly made Italian dessert and espresso come out is great! Pre Covid, people could not leave our classes without giving my mum a hug. It was amazing – total strangers a few hours earlier but the sharing of a meal and a bit of a conversation was enough to break down any insecurities and build a connection. The human touch. It can't be beaten. And it's good to see it coming back.

Sure I'm showing my age, and yes it's me rebelling against the constant tech changes. But good things take time. Instant is not necessarily best. We wonder why many young people are afraid to speak in front of others. For some, it's more than fear, they don't have the skills. It's been replaced with their impressive dexterity at texting. This is ok if we were meant to live in isolation. In reality, this is not a great swap.

So as we play catch up (and young people move onto the next best thing), have we lost sight of the only thing no one can give us? How will social media give us Time together? If anything, it's worked its magic to divide people. It's not there for you and me. It's self serving only. Just look at the change in approach at live events re copyright. It wasn't that long ago when filming at these live events was banned outright. (Strangely dancing was banned too but at least we still had the privilege of drinking champagne from a real glass). We'd try to sneak in a photo here and there. And the brave would even take a snippet of film. Mind you, the glowing screens were a give away!

Fast forward to the Louis Tomlinson concert last week (One Direction fame). Literally everyone in the audience had their phone on Record for the duration. Of course, somewhere along the way, the social media gurus must have realised this kind of free publicity was too good not to be exploited. Insta Reels and Lives must have been on overdrive that night! Maybe not Reels – I'm still learning how these work ...

No amount of listening to Louis on Spotify will ever replace that moment in time. Standing practically cheek to cheek with hundreds of other like minded screaming fans, sweating profusely as they scream their admiration to him will be etched in their memory and last a lifetime. Just ask anyone who saw The Beatles when they came to Australia. Sadly this was before my time or I would have been there!

I realise that for many, going to a live concert or the theatre is not an option. However, this is not the point. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, the more we've been given, the less connected we've become. The more we have at our fingertips, the more out of touch we are.

What's the answer? I don't have that. But give me time with you face to face over a coffee or dinner. Or a conversation over the back fence or by phone. To show I'm not totally anti, and whilst Facetime throws me into a panicked run to the mirror for a quick teeth and hair check, actually this is great when you are nowhere near each other. Delayed flights be damned. We don't need them. My grandmother who was 62 in 1977 when she passed away said, "wouldn't it be wonderful if I could see my children when they rang?". She was onto something.

Social media has been wonderful in many ways. Though it's lost its way a bit and should take a leaf out of its original philosophy which was to connect people. Rebranding with different words that invoke community and connections would be a good start. "Insta", "TikTok" and "Snap" all give the impression of fast and fleeting.

Thankfully, nothing will prevent us from staying connected in person. We've just ran our Xmas in July lunches at Fifth Ave Katoomba Retreat and those who attended lapped up the energy and excitement of coming together as a group. Enjoying good company and good food. In a beautiful part of the world. It's not rocket science. And giving others our time, especially to our young people, will help us stay healthy in mind, body and soul.

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