Every day I look at my Facebook newsfeed to connect with family and friends halfway across the world. But I also have a secret obsession—I log on to social media for my daily dose of idiocy—people airing out dirty laundry, low self-esteem, and raving lunacies. I should clean up my friends list, but how can I ignore today’s selfie, the most manic looking yet? How about the lovelorn’s daily melodramatic tirades? Meanwhile, Her Holy Highness has posted another long and lyrical diatribe. It’s entertainment at its finest.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the face staring right back at me from the screen is not just a random ridiculous image, not just a source of gossip or entertainment—it’s somebody’s story, maybe even somebody’s cry for help.
Call me arrogant, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people are also saying not so nice things about my posts. It’s not karma. It’s just that we can’t help it, I think. Our connectedness has somehow given us justification to be mean or to not care, to unplug from values that make us the most advanced species. It’s easy because online interaction distances us from unwanted reactions. Distance emboldens us to bare all without any regard for reputation. And happily we drown in the clamor of media who loves to stoke the fire. The overwhelming feed of information silences our sense of decency.
A virus deadens
When something becomes viral, it eventually loses its power. We start to become numb to the atrocities presented before us or begin to accept the lewdness as normal. When our newsfeed is flooded with negativity, we begin to accept that this is the world that we live in now. When all else fails, we can simply log off.
“Many people are desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, offline training in empathic skills,” claims Gary Small and and Gigi Vorgan in a CNN piece on how the internet is killing empathy. After a while, a graphic photo of a bloody child pulled out of the rubble, or a photo of an accused addict lying limp in the arms of a lover, is reduced to nothing but a dramatic image. At first we are shocked, indignant, but after seeing it over and over, we shut down and proceed with ordinary life. We got bills to pay and selfies to take.
Spotlight is on you
And then a country’s tragedy becomes a stage for our narcissism. Proud smiles standing before the Eiffel Tower, blurred by France’s flag, showing (feigning?) solidarity for the wounded city, floods the internet. But is it really empathy or an opportunity to show friends that we’ve been to the country of love? Is it another venue to show the world who we are? For many, it is their way of lighting a candle for the fallen. For others, it’s a way to turn the spotlight on them.
“These events offer an opportunity to present themselves as ‘good people’ and/or people who are knowledgeable,” writes Karen North a communication professor at the University of Southern California to The Washington Post.
Many lament that people turned the tragedy into just another trending story. “I feel that just changing my photo, writing a few words and hashtag minimizes (even cheapens) the tremendous, horrific reality of what is going on all around the world, not just in Paris,” writes Jamie Khoo in an article titled “Why I’m Not Turning my Facebook Photo Blue, White and Red.”
It is rather baffling how the world focused on this beautiful city while the rest perished in Lebanon, Kenya, and Iraq right around the same time. The days following, my newsfeed was overwhelmed with the Tricolour and #PrayforParis. Only two people out of my close to 800 friends ventured to ask prayers for our own Lumads. Dare I ask, what about the other flags, Facebook?
Stripping and shaming
We are aghast at leaked sex videos, yet we gawk and reshare. We are indignant about our rights as women, yet we ourselves are misogynists when we laughingly twerk to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” If I had a derriere that is remotely as perky, I probably would too.
A whistleblower dares “magkabastosan na” thinking nothing of flinging out a word which translates to vulgar or an act of disrespect. And with that one word, she strips herself of self-respect and robs the other’s dignity. We condemn the accused for an immorality that she supposedly committed, a sin that we more than likely are guilty of as well. The only difference is that she got caught. We cast a stone anyway.
Women have forever fought the demeaning of our gender, yet we tolerate and even celebrate the idea of the female species as sex objects. Empowered women after all are not afraid to own their sexuality. A former Disney baby strips herself of sheath and shame and had sex with a sledgehammer. Some of us are secretly mesmerized. It’s an anthem for the broken hearted. I am drawn to her icy blue eyes staring directly at me. Meanwhile, she’s riding a wrecking ball to the bank with a US$200 million net worth, because we buy her pain. We wreck her.
And what about jokes? A leader of a country jokes about gang rape and later recants. Relax guys, it was just a joke. Another presidentiable says it was just “locker room talk.” But can a jest about disrespecting women or even men ever be funny?
A Huffington Post story points to our culture and what our world has become. “Songs glorifying sexual assault and abuse are Billboard 100s, movies that feature rape and sexual assault are Oscar award-winners…” writes Madeline Wahl in her article about how rape jokes contribute to rape culture. “High school and college students share videos and pictures of rape and sexual assault to their friends and it spreads like wildfire.” Twenty years ago, it would have been shared in hushed tones, if shared at all. In fact, kids would have been oblivious about this world around them, lost in their Walkman.
The new generation
A new culture is raising our kids, with technology and the internet as the main mode of instruction. The tablet is the best nanny there is. When all else fails, we shove an iPad in children’s faces to quiet them. And what they see, they copy—the cool and casual flick of the middle finger or the talking back to elders. I remember opening some Nickelodeon videos for my son and a few minutes later, he stumbles upon Dora the Explorer daring to go where no child should ever go. Technology is a Pandora’s Box that’s hard to close.
When Alex J. Packer, Ph.D. wrote How Rude! The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out, he mentions that many parents believe that kids nowadays are less respectful; thanks to technology. “Texting and tweeting encourage brief communications, which can lead to a lack of clarity, nuance, and sensitivity, in other words, bad manners.” According to Packer, the anonymity and remoteness that technology has afforded us has lead us to become insensitive.
And so it has become that while technology is supposed to make us into a progressive specie, it has reverted us to what we used to be: barbarians. But all is not for naught for humanity. I for one am starting to understand the error of my ways. So please don’t think me rude if I finally unfriended you. It’s only because I respect you.