Looking back on these years we may see this era in Britain as one where uncertainty and fear have managed to transcend almost every aspect of adult life. Two topics that we don’t go more than a day without seeing in the mainstream media are terrorism and the UK’s relationship with the European Union. But is this era in our history particularly worrisome? Is it the availability of information that’s likely to impact on personal wellbeing and mental health.
Uncertainty and fear can fundamentally create an atmosphere of anxiety and on a macro scale this can lead to cultural change that hardwires anxieties into the population. How many people would now pick up an unattended bag on the train to hand it in to lost property? Aside from that, the EU referendum result has created a great deal of uncertainty. Whilst the outcomes of the UK leaving the EU are beyond the scope of this article, the near future will show us how we as a population cope when certain parts of our society that were assumed to be constants are in fact variables.
The credit crunch began an age of ‘uncertainty being what’s certain’ – perhaps a cliché, but difficult to refute.
Fear & Uncertainty Are Nothing New
If we look back only 30/40 years, the UK amongst other nations was facing rather different threats, an example being the very real possibility of nuclear war at the height of the cold war and then later on a number of economic downturns that had lasting effects on the nation and the Sterling currency. This certainly doesn’t trivialise the problems of today or any other period, but what is different now? We had concerns then, and we have concerns now.
Before the age of social media, news used to be a broadcast medium in which a limited number of sources created the news, and the population would listen, watch or read about it. Of course people would discuss what they found out, but this wouldn’t be on a global scale. This era of information availability has made it such that anybody sat anywhere in the world with nothing more than a smartphone can reach an audience on par with that of major news networks like the BBC or CNN. This ability to discuss has inevitably led to wider speculation of any given topic and a greater level of exposure to the population at large.
Would there be so many conspiracy theories about the events of September 11th 2001 if we didn’t have YouTube?
Freedom of Knowing vs Discretion
One key thing such freedom has created is a lack discretion in what people are exposed to. Back in the 1980s, the BBC would report on matters surrounding the Cold War with discretion and with a sense of “this is what’s happening, now get on with your day jobs”, something which social media communities would not and have no obligation to do today. In a world where information is fluid, it’s only natural that we will have to learn to filter information before digesting it.
Until this time, we’re in a state of limbo, but it could be said that our ability to apply filters hasn’t yet caught up with necessity and as a result the world may continue to feel like a scary place that can cause great anxiety and depression.