A recent Masterclass which I attended on “Communicating in the Digital Culture” brought out some fascinating new insights on how we can understand the place of the digital and the virtual in our lives. Studying the impact of the digital on the human is very important. As Rod Dreher points out – the two most important elements which are changing the face of our generation are Sex and Technology.
Fr Spadaro SJ, Editor-in-Chief of La Civilta Cattolica, warned against making a false dualism between the real and the virtual. In the sense that virtual must not be seen as unreal or false. The virtual is as real as it gets and has very real consequences. To play on Russell Crowe’s dialogue from the Gladiator “What we do online, echoes in eternity“. The internet should not be viewed as a bunch of wires, modems and computers; the internet is a network of relationships. Every tool that mankind has used from the beginning of time has served to satisfy a desire. The internet too satisfies two primarily fundamental desires – knowledge and relationships.
Therefore, Think before you Tweet. Some people falsely believe that what they do online is not to be taken seriously. And therefore, we see a magnification of their emotional side, or an uninhibited display of their desires or personality (at least what they would like to be perceived as). We do and say lots of things online which we wouldn’t have done or said so easily in person face-to-face with another human being or in a group. The internet frees up our inhibitions. It’s not uncommon to see some young people having completely different personalities online and offline. That’s Digital Bipolar Disorder!
In short, let’s not be schizophrenic! The virtual is a very real part of our daily lives, more so for the young and millenials.
On a lighter note, being online is to be cool. People who do not have a virtual online presence are so old-fashioned. Don’t you feel the pressure to be ‘online’, always posting something, or commenting, liking or just jumping around!? With the pressure to be online, comes another problem – the problem of having ever-fresh content. ‘What to post?’ is an all-important question. For those who have nothing to post, Facebook comes to the rescue! Bringing back past memories, you can post anniversaries of your friendship with various people on fb or like the latest offering ‘Good adds up’ which is a snapshot of your best posts on fb since you signed up.
As one Indian comedian points out: the pressure to enjoy oneself has increased. I am forced to take a vacation now to show people that I am having fun…and the location matters as well – the more exotic, the more off-track destination, the more ‘likes’ it garners.
And then the gift that makes all this possible…Wi-Fi. Earlier, people searched for greener pastures; today they look for Wi-Fi. Any restaurant which doesn’t offer Wi-Fi is a no-go. I was surprised recently when after having seated ourselves at a table, the waiter promptly arrived with a chit of paper in his hand. What’s this I asked? “It’s the Wi-Fi code.” Where’s the menu? I asked. Couldn’t we all keep our phones inside and instead talk and laugh while we are together at a restaurant?
And now, it’s not just the pressure to communicate…it’s being there on multiple platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and what have you. Why couldn’t we all be on one platform and be one happy family? But NO! It seems every age group wants to be on a different platform or rather teenagers want to have an exclusive platform away from the prying eyes of nosy adults. As soon as adults and more importantly ‘parents’ entered facebook, the teenagers left. Then they were on Instagram. When the others arrived there, they left again. Now they are on Snapchat. I’m there too. But I seriously don’t know why.
Twitter is for the institutional folk. Facebook is for adults and Whatsapp is well – a big almighty mess!
The brilliance of these apps is that every utterly ordinary and uninteresting moment can be made to look chic with filters, boomerang, vids and a host of other tools. The normal world is boring. You have to look at it through a filter. I have to show the world that I am living my life and more importantly having fun – that I’m in the zone.
Finally, an interesting thought to finish with. Tom Fletcher, former British Ambassador to Lebanon, told us that all that we post online is going to remain behind after we die. It’s going to form a digital epitaph or a digital legacy if you may. Just as your CV in a way defines who you are, this digital epitaph will be read 100 years down the line by people who will be searching to see what type of a person you were. Maybe your great great grand-daughter. Remember, this is all the memories that may be left of us after a 100 years. What would you want them to see? What sort of impression would they get?
Scary but exciting at the same time. I’m off to review my Facebook history.