Today I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion by the National LGBT Helpline called “The Internet. Hero of Villain of our Mental Health.” This is part of their #ItsGOODtoTalk campaign and marks the start of their involvement with this years Dublin Pride.

There were three panelist; Colman Noctor, James Patrice and Ian Power, and the host was Dil Wickremasinghe. The event was launched by the minster for Mental Health and Older People, Helen McEntee. It was being held in partnership with Air and in their HQ in Dublin.

Colman Noctor, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, was inspirational and came out with a number of important points, all pushed home with examples from practice (without breaking any confidentiality). “We’re embracing the practice of mindfulness so much because we live in a mindless society!” he said and he’s absolutely right. We, as a society, have become incapable of dealing with boredom because it has become such a rare occurrence. The majority of people have a smartphone or small tablet computer which has more computing power than the Apollo rocket that put men on the moon. Due to this we have filled the time we would have used to think and reflect with the chance to pull out our cellphone and check Twitter or Facebook or any one of the multitude of apps we have installed to keep us entertained. I’m as guilty of this as anybody, if not more so.

A while back I changed from a large, first generation iPad to an iPad Mini. “I’m going to sell my Kindle,” I said, “because I can read on the mini just as easy as the Kindle!” At the time this seemed like a great idea but since doing just that I’ve hardly read a thing. And why would I when I can play a game or watch the latest news. I can put a film on or chat to friends and family around the world. Disappointed in how I’d become, a few weeks ago I bought a Kindle.

As Colman said “Parents used to complain about not being able to connect with their kids as they’re always ’stuck behind the screen!’ but now kids are struggling to connect with parents for the very same reason.”

One of my favourite quotes from him today was “There’s no app for the lap!” So true.

James Patrice, blogger, talked about his rise to Irish stardom from being a Snapchatter to a television show host and how social media had affected him. He had positives and negatives to tell. It was interesting to hear him talk about how reading some Facebook comments made him feel and how he dealt with it. It was shocking to discover that these negatives comments were from a woman with grandkids and a man in his fifties. What are they teaching their children and grandchildren? Where have they themselves learned that this is acceptable behaviour?

The third speaker, Ian Power, executive director of Spunout.ie, talked about how Spunout deal with these issues. “More and more people are reporting isolation and loneliness despite being more connected than ever before!” he said. He talked about an EU initiative that’s currently being discussed that would see under sixteens having limited access to certain sites and functions on the internet. He followed up with exactly what I was thinking – what a waste of time this initiative is! Children will, with and often without the help of parents, get around any blocks or barriers put in place. Currently Facebook terms of service state you have to be thirteen or over to have an account and this rule in constantly disregarded by kids putting in a different date of birth. Facebook are one of the worst organisations for not upholding their own terms of service and I can speak from experience!

(L-R) Dil Wickremasinghe, Colman Noctor, James Patrice, Ian Power

I asked Ian that given that the EU initiative is pointless (in my opinion – and his) should the various sites be held more accountable for the content shared. After talking about the futility of the initiative coming from the EU and parental responsibility he said “Platforms should be investing in more humans to moderate content.” This is so true! Particularly of Facebook. Their algorithm and automated response system is the pits.

Dil Wickremasinghe was an excellent host and kept the conversation flowing as well as giving her own personal stories of her online experience. Again, shameful to see some people think it’s okay to treat people the way they do.

The words “troll” and “trolling” have long been used to describe a person on the internet who would post something to elicit a reaction but in my personal experience it covers a multitude of sins. I’m often challenged over my views on movies because personally I have very high (potentially unobtainable in some cases) expectations of film makers. To me, they aren’t high expectations they’re just a set of standards that are just that – standard. To others they appear unjust. It’s rare I get a reply which says “I have to disagree, I think…” more often than not the replies are “You’re wrong!” No I’m not. It’s my opinion and you’re entitled to disagree with it but that doesn’t make it wrong, no matter how misguided you think I am. Regardless of the subject, be it movies, politics, religion or music, it’s better to talk to the person and discuss your differences rather than venting outrage at the fact some doesn’t agree with you. If you get to the point where you’re going to start ranting then walk away. Accept that your opinions don’t match and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

As James Patrice said, “I’ve broad shoulders, I can cope with the comments,” and I have too but not every one does. The same goes for people, like the aforementioned grandmother, that feel it’s okay to publicly comment on someone’s appearance, sexuality, religion, beliefs, whatever!

Before you post something online, even if you know the person concerned and even if you’re profile is public, open and obvious, think “Would I say this to their face?” If the answer is no then don’t do it! You’ve no idea what’s going on behind the screen on the end of the conversation! You’ve no idea how it’s going to affect the recipient.

Finally, as I’ve been doing recently, take a moment to put down the device. Take a look at the world around you. Soak in the atmosphere. Go somewhere private and appreciate the the stillness and peace. Go somewhere public and watch the interactions and take in the noise. Do it now. Close the laptop, turn off the computer, put down the phone, turn off the tablet and television and radio. Be with yourself for a while, not with the virtual world. You’ll thank yourself for it eventually.


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