Last Sunday I decided to wake up early and enjoy a beautiful rainy day sitting at a bar in Valletta. Tourists, wrapped in their waterproof coloured raincoats, were rejoicing in Republic Street, having no intention to waste even a minute of their well deserved holiday. The Maltese instead ran for cover from the couple of drops as if there was no tomorrow, as if at any minute, instead of the luxury MSC cruise ship, Noah’s ark would be docking at Marsamxett harbour.
Amused, I sipped my cappuccino. But suddenly, my gaze rested on the table beside me. Four tourists were sitting for shelter from the rain and having a drink. Yet, at a certain point, they had been simultaneously taken over by a bout of what I would call a social blackout.
Armed with smartphones in hand, they were literally stunned and hypnotised by the smart contents of their smart phones – Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Grindr, etc…
For your information, the four tourists had been attached to the screen of their phones for a whole hour and a quarter. I then left, leaving them in their contemplative and religious silence.
According to the website wearesocial.net, the internet has now reached 81% of the Western European population, and this is good. However, what should frighten you is the fact that we spend an average of 2 hours and 25 minutes on social networks. Yes guys. We spend more time checking our profile than having aperitifs per day.
If you think that I’m going to continue a panegyric on how Facebook or any social network represents the Antichrist of the 21st century, you are very much mistaken, but I would like to lead your reflection on what those 2 hours and 25 minutes may imply.
Let’s start with Facebook. This surely infernal invention has literally invaded our lives, bringing a number of evident advantages – the ability to communicate at low cost (all you need is an internet connection), to contact present, past or future friends, and to inform yourself of coming events. In short, it is a real window to the world, though I would say it is more so a courtyard of our times. Yes you read well. I consider it a courtyard, because Facebook has replaced the nice old lady intent on minding everybody’s business and reporting them to everyone else without forgetting to add her own version. Today, we report our business to everybody directly on our own! Facebook has completely erased the barrier of privacy because every time we post a picture, it becomes the property of the network, and users can do whatever they want with it. No honey, your privacy filters will not save you! It’s like going for a walk and you distribute a picture of yourself to everyone, or going up on stage in the middle of a feast and start shouting how wonderful or shitty your day was! However, putting aside the problems of privacy, the effects it could have still shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when publishing photos of children.
What worries me more than Facebook and all its more or less similar variants can be summarised in three points:
1. The rampant exhibitionism that flows into the cult of personality. Most of us give in to the impetus of creating a majestic narrative of ourselves where our friends, who are our audience, die of envy from our stupendous life. As if…
2. The possibility, given to a herd of idiots, of giving their useless opinions to the world. Please leave the scene to someone slightly more intelligent to express his/her opinion which might give a substantial contribution to this mad world.
3. The loss of time that could be used for more constructive activities. I’m not only referring to reading, studying or watching documentaries. Do you still remember what it means to call, using a phone, that old friend whom you haven’t seen in a while? Or go for a walk alone to decompress?
As with everything else, ‘in medio stat virtus’! We absolutely have to learn to handle social networks in a healthier way and give them the importance they deserve. Our social dimensions cannot be replaced by electronic devices. Applications such as Socials Addict, which measure the time you spend surfing through the profiles, may help you become a bit more aware of your online activity. And lastly, but most importantly, do regain contact with the real you and with the world around you. Otherwise, the imaginary person that you’ve created online will soon enclose you in the cage of your own loneliness.
Also, do you know the effects electronic devices can have on your brain?