The pace of modern life, into which alienation from our neighbours and indoctrination by social media are hardwired, is making us all depressed. According to organisation Our World In Data, whilst in the last three decades the share of people who say they are happy has risen in developing nations such as Zimbabwe, India, and Brazil, the same figure has flat-lined or decreased in developed countries like the UK, USA, and Australia.
One theory put forward is the rise in income inequality in richer nations. Another is the use of social media. Particularly amongst young people, rising use of social media platforms has been said to increase the fear of missing out, unrealistic expectations, general addictive tendencies and unhealthy sleeping patterns. Whilst a large survey undertaken by a University of Oxford research team recently found that the effects of social media use on teenage life satisfaction are ‘tiny’, political pressure on social media companies to improve their safeguarding measures following multiple youth suicides linked to Instagram demonstrates that there’s a mental health crisis in the West with inextricable ties to our use of this relatively new technology.
Some people will suggest that to “switch off” from our devices is the solution and that liberation from this stress is totally in our hands. Yet modern methods of work, pleasure, and productivity render it practicably impossible to detach ourselves from our mobiles or laptops for over an hour. Others, having accepted this premise, will use the same technology for the advantage of their mental well-being (the success of apps such as Calm and Headspace prove the popularity of this approach). But it seems inevitable that now, at our current stage of technological evolution, our associations with clicking and tapping on the small blue-light emitting screen in whatever form have been polluted irreparably with feelings of low mood, anxiety and missing out. It’s the solemn truth that we have been closed-minded in our search for escape from the crushing demands of social media and modern life, paradoxically looking for new and innovative ways to free ourselves from its shackles whilst able only to envision an alternative in relation to it. If we switch off entirely from social media, we are consciously giving it the power of our subjective denial, and will be defined by it (and we may even miss out on the opportunities that come with social media). If we find solutions within its software, we are succumbing to its pervasive grip on our lives. If we only accept short-sighted solutions then the power of social media to collectively depress us will continue.
The fact is that we have lost our ability to listen. We are taught by our educators from a young age the importance of listening, from improving literacy and comprehension to aiding social development, the need to listen is a valuable asset to any human being. The fast pace of modernity and social media takes this away from us as our days are instead defined by fleeting encounters with strangers, often ones behind a screen, and political discourse is dominated by aggressive rebukes and insults in place of consensual deliberation and informed compromise. We are tired of the sickening rhythm of modern life, and that’s why impressive swathes of people are turning to radio broadcasting, an industry active for exactly a century come November.
After experiencing a lull in popularity in the early 2000s, RAJAR, the official body in charge of measuring radio audiences in the UK, found that ownership of DAB radio sets shot up to a record 66.5% in 2019. Commercial talk radio in particular has enjoyed a surge in listenership. Personally, LBC, with its non-stop political news coverage sprinkled with social debates and comedic sketches, offers the perfect compromise between keeping in touch with the modern world and escaping the addictive authority of low-mood inducing social media platforms. LBC also offers the perfect natural remedy for insomniacs – Steve Allen, with his hilarious analysis of the tabloids and belly-achingly funny stories about his hometown of Twickenham entertains early risers between 4-7AM, seven days a week, pulling in the highest overnight ratings in London.
One crippling downfall of modern consumerist attitudes is that we no longer feel in control of our own lives. On social media, our senses are overtaken by the lives of the rich and famous whose supposedly perfect lives we are taught to envy, an unsettling attribute which we gradually come to internalise. In regularly listening to radio talk shows, the feeling that I could contribute to the creation of the show simply by texting or calling in helped to strip some power away from the gradual social detachment which other media platforms encourage. In the political sphere, social media sites have been criticised for only providing users with access to an ever shrinking circle of “friends” who agree to one’s own opinions, helping to further ingrain and harden our pre-set views. Conversational radio on the other hand gives listeners access to a plethora of presenters of opposing political colours. LBC, for example, is hosted regularly by both Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and far-left Labour supporter James O’Brien, whose pro-Remain rants often go viral on YouTube.
Radio also gives us a sense of wholesome companionship. We forget that our hosts do not know of our existence, and they instead embrace the newfound listening community of knowledge-seeking citizens. Social media is dominated by talking, putting out evidence of our own social successes to out-do those of others to give us an injection of approval, but radio teaches us to engage once again with our most valuable asset, the ears. Social media and television provide us with a pervasive explosion of sensory overload and demand that we feed back into the platform aggressively to keep the toxic, apparently symbiotic, relationship between us as mechanised consumers and the likes of Facebook and Instagram alive. However, talk radio encourages a healthy, sustainable balance between the slow infusion of informed, informative, open-ended discussion and the undemanding request for our consensual participation. Where social media platforms are breaking down and polarising societies, radio call-ins are finding nuances, exploring the bonds between us and building up communities.
My mental health has been aided incalculably by my listening to radio call-ins. At my darkest times, when my ability to communicate with the people I love fractured, and I shut myself away, talk radio meant that I wasn’t alone. I could surround myself with voices who didn’t demand a response, who didn’t question me or my intentions, and welcomed me calmly to the conversation without judgement. I have since come to realise the toxicity of social media, the power it has to isolate us within our communities and the ability it has to destroy the mental health of a person.
Social media brings out the worst in us, and exploits our most negative primal qualities. Yet for those looking for a healthy alternative which doesn’t cut us off from the world around us, talk radio is the perfect beginning to a solution. It cuts out the depressing headlines, the house parties that we haven’t been invited to, the friends we could’ve made had we chosen different social decisions and replaces them with enjoyable, intelligent and inclusive discussions about every aspect of life. Talk radio is not about an escape, but about entering a new way of living, one which values listening, inclusive participation and community, values that our society has strayed too far from. It really does have the power to save your life.