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'Smartphones stop Swedes from talking'

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'Smartphones stop Swedes from talking'
Smartphone addiction? Photo: Shutterstock
08:52 CET+01:00
Swedes aren't known for being the chattiest group in the world, but they're among the most obsessed with social media and smartphones. With one in three people now using photo sharing app Instagram, writer Matilda Lignell argues we must all learn to switch off.
I cannot not help but laugh quietly to myself as I sit in a cafe in central Gothenburg. The doors open and in walks a group of four friends chatting and seeming to be having a great time. They get their coffees and sit down at the rickety vintage table next to me.
 
But within the space of five seconds all of them pick up their mobiles. One positions his latte mug and saucer next to the biggest bun on the table. A camera flash goes off. Coffee break image on Instagram - check! The picture looks cozy and the likes are sure to be rolling in as other friends check their phones on this grey autumn day.
 
But what is the reality? The reality that I see before my eyes? Well, no-one is saying a word. Silence continues around the table as the people remain fixated on their mobiles.
 
What happens to us when we stop talking to each other? When did we stop being present in the here and now?
 
How are we ever going to be in the here and now if we are constantly trying to be somewhere else too? On the beach via someone else's Instagram, in a text message conversation with a friend while you have coffee with another, or being woken up by the ping of work emails in the middle of the night?
 
Always being available is a modern problem. And a first world problem, yes. You may be reading this thinking Swedes and others are lucky to have cell phones, jobs or beaches to photograph. 
 
But does it make us happier to be constantly connected and reachable? I don't believe that for a second.
 
In a society where more and more young people are experiencing burnout, we must ask ourselves why. I'm no expert. But I am one of the young people who has hit a wall. Not feeling adequate is a big factor. Today, the pressure on young people is so much greater than it was for the last generation. Education, jobs, housing and social status are all causing anguish for us.
 
Today there is so much more to choose from. You no longer have the choice of two universities in your home town, you have millions of schools worldwide, with millions of different programs that are just waiting for you to choose the right one. And choosing the right one is of course important to help you get the right job.
 
High unemployment among young Swedes is not new news. Not being able to support oneself in turn creates a vicious circle. No job, no home, no freedom.
 
But the biggest problem for us young people today (which did not exist 30 years ago) is the connection between social status and social media. In a world where we compare ourselves with others too much and value ourselves based on how many likes our latest selfie snaps get or how many retweets or comments we've had online, it seems that we left our self-esteem somewhere in a sandpit (yes we played in sandpits, there were no iPads back then). And if self-esteem falls and we can not confirm and love ourselves, we begin to seek further confirmation via social media ... And oh how wrong that choice can be.
 
Do yourself a favour today - yes you reading this - remind yourself that you are fine as you are.
 
Whether your photo has two or twenty-two likes, it was still a picture you liked in the first place. Who cares what others think? Stand up for yourself. And the next time you drink coffee, leave your phone at the bottom of your bag and be there for your coffee companion or if you are alone, for yourself. Who knows, you may begin to live in the here and now instead of uploading an image that just pretends you're living in the moment.
 
Look up from your screen and discover life before it passes you by.
 

Matilda Lignell prefers to read a newspaper than check her smartphone over coffee. Photo: Private
 
This is an abridged version of Matilda Lignell's debate article for Göteborgs-Posten, translated by The Local.
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