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Keeping Social GAStyle - 10/09/2014

In the first of a series of articles, the newly formed Health and Well-Being Committee of Derry GAA discuss issues pertaining to the responsible usage of social media and technology platforms available to the GAA community.

Everywhere you look recently, it’s the ice bucket challenge. Literally, millions of people worldwide have lined up to video themselves being drenched in icy water, all in the aid of charity. In many ways, it’s terrific. Charities benefit and everyone has a laugh. Perfect.

Like most of these things, the craze will pass. However, social media and the effects of the rise of technology in our lives are here to stay. As with any profound changes to people’s lives, there are also consequences, some of which we may or may not be aware of. The GAA community is no different.

How many recent conversations at training, or around the club or at school, have started with, ‘did you see on Twitter where…’?

Social media has now largely replaced print and TV/Radio as the primary source of ‘news’ and ‘opinion’. Social media has no editor, of course, except the user. Debate and interaction is now conducted within a 140 character limit where access is free to easily engage with persons or organisations not previously possible.

Take the World Cup, for example, which was one of the most talked about events of all time on Twitter. Most of you will be familiar with the scene; it could also apply to our own games, the Ulster championship, All-Ireland series or the domestic club championships.

How many of you have sat glued to a TV or at a match whilst simultaneously refreshing your Twitter feed for opinions and witticisms of celebrities or your friends (yes, the funny and slightly unhinged ones)?

Thanks to the mobile phone companies’ selective coverage, you won’t refresh your Twitter feed at many GAA grounds in rural Derry. However, there’s a name for the constant desire to do so. It’s called FOMO.

Recently recognised as a genuine psychological disorder brought on by the advance of technology, the Fear Of Missing Out leads to a situation where many people no longer live in the moment. People can be watching the most incredible game at home or attending a sporting event, and the primary and natural reaction is to reach for their phones or tablets to absorb the opinions of others. Many of us do it and quite often those around us are the ones who suffer, silently.

You know the scenario: you arrange to go for a drink or dinner with friends or family and the first thing you do is to reach for your phone to see what others are doing. Many people are oblivious to this fact, and the longer term effects it can have on relationships.

FOMO, and the type of sentence starters mentioned previously, has actually prompted many people to feel the need to join social media in the first place. Age is no discriminator either.

In our community, players of all ages, match officials and parents all combine into one big virtual reality world. Communication is a key ingredient to any successful community but we also must be careful. The rise of abuse where people comment in a fashion they would not do face to face is erosive and dangerous. At times, the need for attention is driving people to comment in a way they would not normally do in a normal given situation.

The BBC presenter, Jamie Theakston, summarised this recently, saying:

“Being popular on Twitter is like being on the cool table in the cafeteria of a lunatic asylum.”

The rise of incivility is an alarming trend related to the rise of technology in our lives. So too is the rise of isolation. More and more frequently, people are spending more time communicating with, and on, technology platforms than face to face. People can feel connected but, in reality, they are not. This too is potentially erosive to our community.

Young people (and older ones) also need to be aware that the use, or misuse, of social media can have a lasting damage on career prospects. More and more employers will now check up on a potential employee on Facebook or Twitter before making a final decision on a hire.

It happens, so we need to be aware of it.

The ‘harmless’ photo or controversial comment is easily taken into a different context, and a whole new meaning extracted. We have seen high profile episodes of this recently in the GAA community. Our advice on this is simple: if you are not happy seeing your comment on the front page of a national newspaper, and to accept the consequences that come with it, don’t put it on social media.

Of course, it’s not just relationships that can be affected by the rise of technology. Our committee is mental health and wellbeing. That includes physical health.

For many of us, our mobile phones are the first and last thing we interact with daily. Quite often young GAA athletes complain of suffering from a lack of sleep. There is no doubt that in a lot of cases, technology plays a role.

Once you finish a match or training session, your body needs time to relax and recover. Quite often we ignore the mental part of this recovery, which is turn affects the physical recovery. Staying on social media, online games or surfing the web until late at night is affecting sleeping patterns. Proper rest and recuperation through deep, restful sleep is well established to be one of the most important factors in athletes’ development.

Quite often, the issues dealt with under the umbrella of health and well-being revolves around alcohol abuse, gambling or substance abuse. The factor relating all these is addiction. With recent studies revealing that the triggers which cause us to constantly check our mobiles are the exact same brain functions responsible for other additive behaviours, the parallels are clear, as are the warning signs.

Like anything in life, moderation is the key. Technology and social media has the ability to enrich our lives but we must also be aware of the pitfalls.

So, tonight, and from time to time in future, put down the laptop and put the phone away. Talk to people instead and remain active. Your team-mates and club might just thank you for it. Your mind and body certainly will.

Following a motion at Congress 2013, the Health and Well-Being Committee of Derry GAA was established in January 2014. Contact Michael (07969527058) further information on any of the issues discussed, or to find out more about our work.