It doesn't take a genius to see the correlation between the rapidly increasing virtual nature of our lives and the disassociation, anxiety and difficulties with mental wellbeing that some of our young people are facing.
There's nothing we can do to halt the progress of amazing technology; it will continue be part of our lives and already it is integral to the lives of our children. What we can do, however, is wake up and see that the more that we rely on an interface or 'cloud' to provide our entertainment and interactions, the more that we are losing the part of us that makes us truly human - the part that needs to connect to other people and not just to flat, glowing glass.
We are on the brink of a whole new era of virtual experiences with the launch of Google Expeditions/3D virtual headsets where you can strap your phone into a headset and experience 360° visual immersion to a host of places around the world... and beyond.
The idea is that you can now get a whole classroom of kids to wander along the edge of a volcano in Iceland and a second later you could be in an Indonesian Rainforest looking at primate life.
You can go anywhere. You can 'meet' other people and 'go' with them. We are going to have to be very careful with this.
How is anyone going to be content in their slightly damp terrace in Bognor, when they could 'be' wandering the boulevards of Cannes and 'seeing' the turquoise waters and fluttering palms? But as wonderful as it is, it's not the truth. And as with all deceptions there will be a price to pay.
And the price we are paying for this, right now, already, is an upcoming generation of people who are not able to deal with each other in a way that serves them well. They are unfulfilled on some level.
I am suggesting that they need a few anchors, a few more 'REAL' experiences. Things to touch, hold and feel that will help them to know that real life is real, and real life really is better than anything offered on a flat glass screen; stuff that will never really belong to them. Here are the ideas:
1) Write a Letter to Someone They Love.
We, (well me, the over 40 generation...) we are the last generation of people who had to write on paper to each other. We didn't have the internet, emails and Skype in our early years. This is why I still have a box of 136 letters from 1995 when I met my ex-husband and he was away gymnastics training in Germany. I still have them. I can still see his handwriting, touch the paper he touched in that studio flat in Heidenheim, and maybe share them with our children one day when they might want to believe that Mum and Dad did start out by seeing all that was wonderful in each other.
There's an undeniable magic about finding a real letter on your door mat. It is a portal to someone else and it tells you that they have thought of nothing but you for the minutes it took to sit and write it. And post it. How flattering. How human.
2) Buy a Photograph Album.
Go through your phone's camera roll with the kids. Choose your favourites and get them printed. Make them real things that you can touch; turn the pages over. Take them to grandma's and look through them together. Sit next to someone on sofa and share the photos. You will find that you chat, interact, laugh. You will have a totally different experience to the FB share experience. Plus, you'll know what to say if you have to answer that question about what you'd rescue in a fire.
3) Feel Your Music.
Touch it. Show the kids a record player, a CD player. Go and find a friend who has a collection of music that you can touch, feel, sort through. Remind yourself, and the children, that once, when you owned an album, you owned it. You had it. You listened to all of it. Buy an old record player if you can, the kids will adore it. Buy weird vinyl from the charity shops. Get to the library for CDs. When your music is all in a cloud there is nothing you can touch, no covers to stroke, it's not sensual in the way it used to be. Let the kids start collecting CDs. It's cheap, charity shops have stacks.
4) Have a Pet.
A real life to look after. Nothing virtual. Many good lessons for life here.
5) Have a Few Games Nights.
I have to admit that I grew up with no culture of board games. I had enough brothers and sisters for 40/40, Murder In The Dark and 5 a-side, so we didn't really need them and we would definitely have lost all the pieces. But, there's a recent resurgence in the board game market for a good reason and I'm getting on board. It's about interaction, following rules, being fair, having fun, sharing, laughing, being a group. It needs no wifi. You can turn it off. Invite a few mates. Get your kids to invite a few. You will not regret it, it'll be structured by the game and easy. Just get a few snacks in.
I totally recommend DIXIT, I hadn't seen it until this September but it's brilliant. Creative, beautiful, inter-generational brilliant. It's big in other countries; I'm amazed it's not well known here too.
Visit my blog to let me know what other ways you have found to get a bit of a balance between the virtual and the real. It's a hugely important mental health issue as we whizz into this crazy future.