When Step Up Co-Founder, Alice Olins, became digitally overloaded, she searched for ways to fill her time that did not include her phone. What she found were real people and some impressive new coffee-making skills. My phone and I have the kind of relationship that needs professional intervention. I check it constantly and afterwards I feel kind of dirty, like I’ve been used. I’m a repeat offender: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, eBay, ugh, my life is managed from the palm of my hand. I'm guilty on all charges the defence need not stand.
Today there are more phones than people in Great Britain. Isn’t that a horrible statistic? Apparently, we check our phones about one hundred and fifty times a day. 150! And we spend more than double our time attending to their needs, than we do the needs of our own lovers.
Instead of ditching the darn phone (I’m weak willed), I tried another tack. And readers, I feel better already. It’s a novel approach – it's called MEETING UP IN PERSON. I know, crazy, right? And the best bit is that you only need your phone to source, book and find these events; once you’re there though, you can communicate verbally, like actually open your mouth and talk. Eureka!
The first time I went to one of these meet ups, I stayed local. Borough Wines, the off license down the road, was hosting an informal wine tasting evening. It was a hoot, the other attendees were like-minded folk (drinkers) and I didn’t check my Twitter feed for hours.
Next, up: Mothers Meeting. I’d been stalking the website for months, but hadn’t had the balls to attend one of its events. Buoyed by the off-licence affair, a fortnight later I found myself Netwalking (networking and walking – genius) in Hyde Park.
On the walk, I met some amazing women. Women who were also looking for a break from their phones, a release from their solitary lives as mothers; they wanted to chat, laugh, make business plans and forget about bloody Social Media. Because Social Media is a phony, a hotbed for the worst type of narcissism: we’re all guilty of posting images there that make us look prettier, wealthier and happier than we really are. It’s a depressing and hollow place to hang out.
‘People always say to me that Mothers Meetings should be prescribed for post-natal depression,’ founder Jenny Scott, is ballsy. ‘Mothers can become so isolated when they’re stuck at home on their phones. Since setting up Mothers Meeting, I’ve met some of the people whose lives look so flamboyant online. It’s such nonsense, most are really shy and feeling bad about themselves.’
The Mothers Meeting website is brilliant, but Jenny only uses the Internet to drive mothers offline. ‘I’ve seen so many women flourish and grow from just coming along and chatting to each other in person.’ For the record, post-Netwalking I was pumping; and all I had done was walk around a big park and chatted to a few new friends.
‘I think people are missing that sense of community and sharing that comes with face to face connections,’ says Consultant Clinical psychologist, Emma Citron. ‘We know from research that real socialising increases life expectancy as it makes us genuinely happy. Tablet based activities may fill a void of loneliness or boredom but they do not reap the long-term rewards that making and enjoying friendships does.’
It’s a bit like when everyone went nuts for farmers markets. We’d become tired of homogenised supermarket food so we revolted in the only way we knew how: we bought tomatoes at triple the price because they’d been grown locally. They reminded us of a simpler time – a time when we weren’t so digitally fatigued.
Once you’re tuned in to them, these non-virtual events are everywhere. I’ve learnt about probiotics at my local gym, been educated in terrarium planting by a Grace and Thorn, one of London's most stylish florists, and I was knocking out caffeine-fuelled froth hearts after an hour’s coffee class in Soho.
Now, with Phanella, I've entered a new phase in my meet-up journey: we are hosting events of our own. As you've probably seen, Step Up Club held its inaugural powwow in June, and there is so much more to come. We're finalising a work-wardrobe shopping event in association with Fenwick Bond Street for our fashion followers. If you're more into interiors, then how about a VIP networking night at designjunction? And then we're in talks with a top women's glossy to bring you a slick, new panel-led careers night.
The buzz of hosting is just as thrilling as the joy of being part of something that gives your mind time to breathe off line. The fact that we sent out invites on MailChimp, create content using Wordpress and managed the event's logistics with the help of EventBrite, proves that I am probably past redemption. But the point remains that if you leave that phone in your bag once in a while, then there is so much more to life....