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No substitute for face-to-face contact

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Matt Hancock MP
Matt Hancock MP

By what means are you reading this column? As recently as 10 years ago, the vast majority of us would have been sitting down to read the print edition, maybe at a kitchen table with a cup of coffee or tea. But now, it very well may be on a laptop, a tablet, or increasingly, a smartphone.

Our smartphones our becoming the primary way that we choose to communicate with our friends, colleagues and family. They allow us to carry our entire social and business network with us all the time, wherever we are in the world.

Social media, for better or for worse, has influenced how we communicate, how we get our news and the kind of news we receive, how we shop, and increasingly, how we think. Its influence cannot be overestimated and the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, there is no going back now.

It is for those very reasons that I have chosen to launch the Matt Hancock app at such a turning point in our digital history.

As MP for West Suffolk, and especially in my role as Secretary of State at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I am well aware of the benefits, and the pitfalls, of social media. Following reports of fake news being used to sway opinion, and with people being hounded by trolling on social media to the point of despair, this app is designed so that all users, especially West Suffolk constituents, can communicate in a civil environment, let people know about what is happening in the constituency, and constituents to get in touch with me to let me know what issues are most important to them. It’s also a community where they can message each other.

I am pleased to report, it is hugely successful and working in the way it was intended to. It is a brilliant way for elected officials to communicate with the people they represent.

If you haven’t already tried it, the Matt Hancock app can be found on your phone’s app store. I hope you will give it a try – and please get in touch via the app to let me know what you think.

Digital social networks are an easy way for people to stay in touch, but they really should be used as the first step, not the only step, to initiating, building and maintaining social connections. It is entirely possible that the reports of depression, mental health issues and loneliness that have been highlighted in the press recently could be symptoms of our reliance on digital social media, when it is real, human, face-to-face contact that we, as human beings, require. Via social media, groups can be found, events are publicised and tickets sold. But ultimately, for the true human experience, people cannot live their lives through their phones and we have to get up, get out and go meet others.

The opportunities for human interaction are being diminished as technology moves on, so it is up to us to be proactive about keeping in touch with others.

Technology has improved our lives in so many ways, saving us time, effort and money – now it’s time to use all those savings to enjoy ourselves by getting out, meeting up, and spending time with friends and family. So why not pick up your phone and make a plan to see someone today – it’s such a simple thing, but for mental health and well-being and in the fight to combat loneliness, nothing could be better.

And after you get out there, meeting up and enjoying yourselves, put the photos up on social media – that’s lots of fun too.

-- Matt Hancock is MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport