Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I tweet, therefore I am?

We've all quoted Descartes often enough, but perhaps we're doing a lot online that we're not even thinking really hard enough about. Younger folk might find it hard to imagine, but there was a time, not too long ago, when people didn't share their every waking moment with literally millions of complete strangers. Do I feel the need to post what I have for breakfast, a new hairdo I try or every dish that comes my way in a restaurant, together with the ubiquitous pictures that go out there in cybersphere for all eternity?

We seem to have hit an age of zero inhibition, where every detail of our lives isn't too mundane or sordid to share. For some, it's cool to gain as many friends on the internet, and even cooler to live in the glare of publicity. For many more, internet "followers and likers" are more prized than flesh-and-blood friends, because they hold the elusive key to universal popularity.

I am quietly appreciative of Facebook friends (I don't have that many) who frequently post either inspirational messages and pictures of their growing families. I am amused by those who consistently post pictures of their own buffed and toned bodies at the gym, or elaborate meals they have cooked and eaten.

Occasionally, however,  I am taken aback by some online altercations between seemingly total strangers. A while back, one of my acquaintances started an exchange of words with people I presumed to be friends of his FB friends. It started innocuously enough on a political note, then steadily descended into accusations and ugly name-calling. What struck me was how childish it all was, the "I've got more toys than you have" and "my father is more important than yours" kind of jibes that reamed through the entire thread which lasted more than 12 hours. What was jolting was that this steady stream of verbose boasts and rants were coming from my acquaintance, a no-longer young man who should have known better. The silence from his family members and usual group of FB friends was also deafening in its embarrassment for him.

Do we think we can say whatever we want because we can hide behind the relative anonymity of the internet? Just because we have a username and voice on these social platforms, does it justify our going on and on about this, that and the other ad nauseum? I know, those of us on the receiving end can choose to gloss over, ignore and even unlike these posts. But whole generations of people are being initiated into this world that has shrunk into a computer monitor, phone screen and now watch face. They are mindlessly taking and uploading pictures of themselves, their friends and pets and sharing them online.

We've heard enough about predators and con artists who have found the internet to be a boon in their nefarious activities. But oftentimes, lives are also turned upside down by ordinary postings.  The speed at which the internet functions is frighteningly fast, and once the information we post goes out, it's almost impossible to retrieve or even erase. It's out there in the cloud forever. When once we could mull over what we write, as well as edit whatever we want to share, today, at the click of a button, words and pictures can spread like wildfire to hurt, harm and destroy.

Admittedly, I am also publicizing my blog on social media, in the hope of gaining more readers. I am making use of wonderful tools online for sharing information and opinions at a fraction of what it would cost using conventional media. Like others, I claim that everyone has a choice whether or not to visit my website. I am just disturbed that by having all our interactions online, we lose out on the connectivity with real flesh-and-blood  people. And not only that, we also neglect to pause awhile and ponder the effects of our posts. What happened to taking responsibility for our words and actions? And what happened to common decency?

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