Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A slow but sure death

There are three kinds of death in this world. There's heart death, there's brain death, and there's being off the network. ~Guy Almes

Once upon a time in a whitish-blue marble called planet earth, mortals lived together happily ever after. In those days of happiness, warmth and love, people were contented to meet, savour each other’s company and have real conversations.

Parents, brothers, sisters, uncle and aunts enjoyed the subtle craft of letter writing. They wrote to far-away loved ones on blue-lined foolscap sheets. With enthusiasm they folded the paper into envelopes, ran their tongues over the sticky borders of the flap then marched down to the post office proudly.

At the post office they were happy to be attended to by the clerk. It did not faze them. Neither did visits to the bank to withdraw money over the counter or standing on queues in the supermarket waiting for the attendant. They cherished human interaction.

It was days of simplicity when rotary dial telephones sat idly in a corner of the living room. People’s lives were not built around it because they lived lives full of human activity.

Then slowly but surely life changed forever.

Now upon a time citizens of planet earth live selfishly ever after. In these days of consumerism, indulgence and want, people are contented to swap mobile numbers but never call each other. They are contented to meet, greet and possibly delete on facebook. They gladly choose machines over face-to-face interactions.

In these fanciful days, mobile phones, laptops and Ipads have become right-hand companions. These are days of instant communication and instant gratification. They are days when the user is king, and where life begins with the press of a button. ON.

The Internet is so big, so powerful and pointless that for some people it is a complete substitute for life. ~Andrew Brown

On the 14th of December, 2011, I read a story on CNN. It said that facebook is encouraging its 800 million members to use a system created by the company to flag suicidal or otherwise violent messages. So if someone is posting unsettling photos or writing status updates about killing him/herself, friends can click on a ‘report suicidal’ content link. The aim is to link the suicidal person with specialists who will be able to help.

I think it is a move that deserves applause even if some critics may argue that motives behind it are selfish.

It also flags up so many issues about the internet such as the storage of personal data and lack of privacy. But one strong point it makes is about how virtual life has become. While technology has brought sweeping progress, it has also eroded the essence of human relationships. It is meant to bring us together but it is pulling us apart.

What do I mean? I’ll use some simple but very practical examples.

Sending mails electronically is an amazing experience. It means you can reach people across the world in a matter of seconds. On the flip side it could also mean sending an email to a colleague at work who is sitting right across you. Cuts out the need for conversation and opportunities for increased human interaction.

Isn’t it funny that when you log into your email, you get an automatic greeting. ‘Hello Lydia!’ as if you’re long lost friends who have known each other from Adam. Here the email tries to simulate a feeling of familiarity and friendship.

Without realizing it, your email becomes your friend.
You can play your favourite music online then leave a comment, bantering with other viewers on the page. Best part is the next time you visit the page, youtube would have noted your preferences from your previous visit, so it can recommend similar videos.

It takes an interested person to take note of your preferences then pander to your needs. Youtube makes an effort to make you feel special. Automatically you have an admirer.

Be it a news site or chat forum, you can read a story then join the gang of commentators at the bottom. Nobody can see you, therefore it is safe to be as rude as you want to be. Afterall, you are invincible. Nobody can arrest you or confront you physically. You wield such epic proportions of power that would be impossible in real-life interactions.

All the friends you’ve ever known from nursery, primary, secondary school and even higher institution live and breathe on facebook. So why bother giving them a ring and asking after their wellbeing? There’s no need for that.

Andy tells you he’s just had beans on toast for breakfast.

Then he tweets that he is sooooo bored at work.

Hours later, he’s on the bus enduring the smell of fish and chips from two teenage girls

Andy just bruised his elbow on the wall – ouch!

Cynthia has just posted the fifth photo in one day of her striking different poses in different attires, pouting her lips with that ‘Aren’t I beautiful?’ look on her face.

She gets a litany of validation from fellow users.

Now you’ve heard all about Andy’s diet, work and peeves. You’ve seen all Cynthia’s Miss World photos; her graduation photos; ones of her Mum, Dad, siblings, boyfriend, female friends; Question: what are you calling Cynthia for?

I’ll tell you a story. Last month I incidentally bumped into a former schoolmate I had last seen ten years ago. We expressed our joy at seeing each other but parted without exchanging numbers. Strange? Not at all. We are friends on facebook. We didn’t say much the day we met but later on we chatted on yahoo messenger. I was doing other things on the internet and at the same time firing off instant messages to her. Very convenient.

The internet – amongst other things – can validate us. It can provide a sense of importance and self-worth. In many ways, it has replaced real-life relationships. That could be a reason why distressed individuals turn to the web to bare their hearts. The internet is the best friend they know.

If we are not already wallowing in it, we are slowly but surely sliding towards narcissism. And that is a very sad thing.

Internet: absolute communication, absolute isolation. ~Paul Carvel


  1. A very thought-provoking article indeed.Its true that the 21st century connected human has lost that basic desire for real-life human interaction.We have instead become distant creatures void of the art of meaningful conversation in favour of vacuous snippets of our consumer-driven lives posted online.hello has now been replaced by the status update or tweet where every sentence starts or ends with the obligatory Lol.

  2. LOL! Thanks, Will. I always look forward to your comment.Without knowing it we are gradually turning into gadgets ourselves...just imagine life twenty years from now...

  3. Meanwhile there is another victim of this so called connected-interaction; language.Many a facebooker or tweeter cannot string a sentence to save their lives.Proper grammar and spelling has become a precious fading art, alien to the IPhone-generation whose everyday language consists of three letter words, exclamation masks, emoticons and general hieroglyphs, that would confuse your grandmother.No wonder in a recent survey a majority of teenagers in the UK said they knew more about Simon Cowell than they do Shakespeare.Future generation? I fear for that future.

  4. Good point, Will. I taught English for a year and it was appalling to find that many students used colloquial and online words in their writing. One even confronted me that there was nothing wrong with writing dat and dose in an informal letter.

    The convenience of modern tech should not mean a slip in standards.