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Social media – the good and bad

Building-BridgesI had the opportunity last week to listen to a visiting South African scholar and public speaker. His topic was on depression and anxiety, and the fact that more people today are affected by these two maladies.

I would like to explore this subject more thoroughly at a later date, as I am sure this unfortunate situation is also prevalent here.

The speaker, however, touched on something that caused to me to think and to revisit.  He made the point that in the past, probably not so long ago, people would have a personal diary. In that diary they would write their innermost thoughts and feelings and also document a lot of what was going on in their lives.

They would make sure the diary was locked away, hidden, that no one would be able to access it. In the event that someone was able to sneak a peek or read the contents, the owner of the diary would be extremely upset and annoyed. They would not want anyone to know what they had written or done. It was all private.

Today, the speaker says, it is the complete opposite. Technology has made possible the advent of what is popularly known as social media. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and the host of other popular and not so popular social networking programmes, people today instead of hiding their thoughts, innermost feelings and daily activities in a locked away diary, are presenting everything, literally, for the world to see.

And, instead of being annoyed at the prospect of someone catching a glimpse of these writings, the tables have been completely turned. People now become annoyed and upset when after putting it all out there on social media, no one “likes” it, or “comments”, or “reposts”, or “retweets”.   

How many “likes” a post receives is the new barometer of success for many young people. It is indeed an interesting world in which we live!

As I pondered the words of this South African speaker, I delved more into that reality and did some research. I acknowledged that I too, like so many others –– not only the younger generation, am hooked on the technology and the social media phenomenon.  The smartphones have indeed reshaped our lives and introduced a whole new paradigm in social interaction.

In fact, over the same social media, several posts lament the ever-increasing antisocial characteristics manifested. A paradox indeed! Several memes with hilarious twists confirm the “social interaction” of the modern era.

A recent meme I came across was entitled Visiting Grandma. The entire family were all seated in the living room –– sons, daughters and grandchildren. Everyone else was busy on their phones, with grandma seated in the midst of them all looking baffled.  Another short video clip pointed out two equal scenarios with a man. One scenario was with him using his smartphone while out and about, getting directions from it, and totally oblivious to the world around him –– as his head is down busily going through his phone while walking.

The other scenario shows the same man, but without his phone, walking the same path and observant of what is around him while asking for directions and chatting with persons as they passed by. In this second scenario, through his interaction, he meets a lady, and eventually they marry.

The video presents for the viewer the possibilities and the realities of the world around us –– one in which we are totally consumed by the technology and the other in which we balance our lives and enjoy the world and people in it, through human interaction.

Today, much of our information is taken from the Internet. Through the social media, many of us are also taking our news and views. This can both be a good and a bad thing. Unfortunately, a significant amount of information on the social media is misinformation –– sometimes a person’s viewpoint, or simply hearsay that hasn’t been verified. So we have to be extremely careful what we read and digest, and even more careful what we share, repost, retweet and even send out via text or WhatsApp.

As with any other technology, we can use it for good or for bad. I have seen many posts that have become popular with many “shares”, only to be refuted or shown as totally false.

As I researched the topic, I was introduced to the growing issue of what commentators call “social media addiction”. Now, we have another addiction on our hand to compound the ever-growing problems that our society faces. And it is deeper than we think; and perhaps more complicated than we would imagine.

We are hooked on the technology, no doubt about it; and, clearly, the makers of the technology have capitalized on this trend. One blogger, Dragas Bratasanu, describes it so accurately!

He is in a different country and different society, but I couldn’t help thinking, when I read his piece, how global this phenomenon is, and how true his description –– regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender or even class.

He writes: “The first thing you probably do when you wake up in the morning is check your social media. You most likely sleep with your phone next to you; and if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, you check your social media.

“You ride the subway staring at the phone. You miss to catch the eye of that beautiful girl in front of you, or of that kind man who just smiled thinking how beautiful you are. “You drive to work, scroll the Facebook wall and put your life in danger. You ignore your friends when you go out with them, and you ignore your loved ones over dinner at home. You take selfies, post them and wait to be ‘liked’.

“And how nice that everything is free. Facebook is free. But Facebook’s valuation is at more than $230 billion. How can something that valuable be free? It’s simple. You think you are the Facebook user, but in fact you are the Facebook product. The company sells you: your data and the advertising that you see.

“Because you spend your life on social media, instead of doing something else that matters, you are probably the best product to sell in the world. Billions of products, no production cost, no storage cost, nothing. Perfect!

In the short run, Facebook is free, and it seems like fun. In the long run, it’s a tragedy. “You miss endless opportunities in life patiently sitting on the shelves of Facebook waiting for somebody else to like you. Wherever you are now, put your phone down and look around. The real world is much more real.

“The next time you scroll aimlessly across the Facebook wall, remember you are in fact the product that just jumped on the shelves of Facebook, waiting to be sold to advertisers. That’s how we spend our lives.”

This blog is profound and so true, I am sure, of hundreds of people across the globe. We need to check ourselves and see if we also are this consumed. Don’t get me wrong; it is not all bad, as many positives have come about through the use of social media.

I mentioned, some columns ago, that our neighbourhood uses a WhatsApp group to inform and sensitize the residents to possible dangers and issues in our community.  This type of information has worked well. What we also recognized was the need to send our verifiable information and to be extremely careful what we reposted.

Several accounts of supposed incidents in Barbados, causing concern and worry, were posted only to be found to be untrue later. Of course, it is better to be safe than to be sorry, but we must always be careful what we propagate.

This addiction has also caused many of us to engage in dangerous acts, like driving and texting. The blogger mentioned: “You drive to work, scroll the Facebook wall and put your life in danger.”

How true for so many of us who use our smartphones for not very smart things. I noticed on my sister-in-law’s vehicle a sticker in the shape of a hand with the words in the palm saying: “No text on board; it can wait.”

I guess such campaigns have become as important and as relevant as the “no drinking and driving” ones. Coincindentally, I end my column today, cognizant that many of my friends tell me they only get a chance to read this column when it is posted on Facebook. LOL!

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. 

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