My friend called a few weeks ago inviting me for Thanksgiving. I was excited because we had not “seen” each other for three years. I also wanted to see an American village. Thanksgiving came and we finally met. It was a good time to escape the buzz of activities and people around me. I liked the village, the farm, the cows, and nature. It was time to be away from the virtual world and engage in conversation. We talk about what we had been up to for the first few years, where our mutual friends are and what they are doing. It dawned on me how much we didn’t know each other. We get excited every time we aired our accomplishments and fun times on social media that we assumed everything is perfectly going for us all the time.
This is the danger of “living online”. People strive for perfection that they blanket their inequities and generate single stories. The problem with these single stories is not that they are fake, but they are incomplete. They don’t tell people’s complete selves. We tend to go public during our best of times and hibernate when the sun goes down on us. People suffer silently when they see others “succeeding” on news feed. They lose self-confidence as they compare and contrast themselves with edited and perfected stories. Sarah’s observation in our previous class that people “feel left out” when they see others having fun sums up the main issue imposed by connected world. It’s a psychological problem. When alone, people develop a tendency to be with others, they feel insecure and lonely. The theory of the mind takes control. They imagine what friends are doing and what they should do to fit in. They, therefore, join the virtual world to be with others and seek a sense of self-belonging.
The world of technology has eroded the culture of colorful conversation. With my friend whom we had often texted and made rare calls, we finally engaged in deep discussions on what interests us. We talked about politics, fake news, and whether artificial intelligence is happening. What stood out is how much we often we rely on the superficial understanding of what happens around us. Social media and online platforms have generated a culture of quick scanning and reduced contemplation of issues that affect us. We read headlines that summarize news, denying us the chance to question and criticize. For instance, Muslim militants massacred about 300 Muslims in Egypt and extremists have recently acted individually to murder innocent people, but we just see the news. We don’t ask why or do we come up with solutions. When we unplug ourselves, we finally get to engage in colorful conversations on what matters to us.
Plugged-in world separates us from reality. In high school, every time school closed for breaks, our principal would send out long letters encouraging us to go home and “touch base with reality”. This was his way of implying that we are not aware of what is going on beyond our school lives and social circles. This is what plugged-in world does, it disconnects us with the truths and verities. We dwell on fantasies and promises of social media. Look around the waves of students hurrying around in the yard. They don’t talk to each other. They are on their iPhone texting, “facetiming” or “spotified”. There is a high probability that they are “friends” on Facebook, and “follow” and “like” each other on Instagram. They make and share “memes”. But in reality, they are just “alone together”.
In social interactions, the internet is more of a foe than a friend. It has changed the way we do things, and how we relate. It can remain our friend if people can find ways to talk to each other and build humanity. Our humanity is that glowing center in us, what makes us aware that we should care for others and what make others aware that we accept them even when unedited. This is possible when we talk instead of constantly texting. It’s also beautiful to unplug and be alone sometimes to contemplate and absorb the beauty and the silence of nature.