Switch off, tune in, chill out this Christmas

A word to the wise this yuletide – as you go into battle with other Christmas shoppers to get the last few bits for what you hope will be the perfect celebration, there is one simple choice you can make to bring your family and friends closer.

As you approach the trenches of tills, under constant attack from dawn to dusk, you will see them.

Cardboard-packed sentries, sleek lines of lithium soldiers with their indisputable message.

Gaudy signs saying “Don’t Forget the Batteries!” conjure up images of crying children and frustrated fathers, and mothers quietly tearful as Christmas is consigned to failure because of some piece of plastic lacking a few volts.

But we must resist; leave them there at the till, and silence whatever emerges from under your Christmas tree for a few brief hours.

And if you do insist on buying them to power your presents, put them in a pile with all your chargers and transformers and gadgets, and leave them until the 26th instead.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no luddite technophobe. I spend 364 days a year online or in motion, photographing, filming, recording, monitoring, reading, filing.

There is barely a moment in my day when I’m not within touching distance of a screen or a social network.

My office is so full of gadgets (media players, quadcopters and cameras) that I can barely get in the door.

But given all the heartache we have heard in the run-up to Christmas about emigration and poverty and homelessness, this year I want to put them all to one side and just enjoy the people I’ll be spending time with.

This cannot be done while Instagramming a turkey, or while Googling “100 best Android apps” for the niece’s new tablet.

(The fact that she’s not yet two has me wondering if it’s the right present at all).

If you’re lucky enough to have a roof over your head, and some good friends or a loving family to spend it with, hit the “Off” button.

Power everything down, and put it in the middle of the table, and if anyone should crack and head for Facebook, let them do the washing-up.

Make a rule that if it can only be done by one person, or seen on one screen, it’s out.

Instead, do things together. Watch a movie, play a board game, listen to music, talk, cook, laugh. Sing. Dance. Have the craic. Just don’t do it alone, if at all possible.

Do the things that make Christmas memorable – pull a cracker, stick a hat on, catch up, tell rubbish jokes, eat, drink and be merry.

Bring in the neighbour on the night-shift, and give her a turkey sandwich and a whiskey or tea.

Remember too those around you who are not as fortunate, and instead of stepping over them or ignoring them, throw them a kind word or a couple of euro, even if it’s not ultimately going to be spent on a hostel – we will not solve the problems of homelessness or addiction over just one Christmas, so we may as well try to make people suffering from them feel loved and comfortable until we do.

I guarantee I’m not going to find this easy, and nor will most – we have become so entwined in gadgets and communication that we barely have an offline life anymore.

But spending so much time looking at life through a lens or on a screen, it recently occurred to me that the best stories are still the ones you hear face to face, from real, living, flesh-and-blood creatures.

So screw the batteries, and the chargers and the broadband this Christmas; forget them all, but don’t forget your family, your friends or your fellow man.

They’ll light up this dark time of the year better than any shiny online gadget ever could.