Social media has become a blood clot

2014-06-01 15:00

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Milisuthando Bongela worries about the next generation

Wi-Fi is the lifeblood of the 21st century. In an era where connectivity is the gateway to ­opportunity, education and a million windows on the world, one of the touchstones of the ­digital age – social media – has become a blood clot.

In 2013, the Japanese government ­introduced “fasting camps” after tests revealed 500?000 12- to 18-year-olds were certified internet addicts.

They spend the majority of their time ­involved in online activities and suffer withdrawal symptoms, depression and insomnia, which impacts on their school marks as a result of perpetual surfing. Some suffer from deep-vein thrombosis from sitting down so much.

In 2014, the ANC sent text messages to the electorate, promising free Wi-Fi to connect young people to the world.

While this is a commendable provision in a society with a considerable youth bulge, most of whom are unemployed, I worry that our youth already suffer from a different kind of collective clot: deep-vain thrombosis from addiction to social media.

Five years ago, ­Facebook and Twitter were significant symbols of a new era in human achievement. The social was the operative, connecting millions to myriad other worlds.

Five years later, Facebook and especially Twitter are at a tipping point now that people have become the product, with capital rewarding the rise of the ­individual. It’s no longer about us, but about me, my selfie and I.

Regrettably, checking my social media accounts is the first thing I do when I wake up, the only thing I do consistently throughout the day and the last thing I do before I sleep.

As I result, I live in a constant state of distraction, straddling a real life and the virtual life of “keeping up”.

But the reality is that instead of connecting me to my real friends, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become my friends by virtue of the amount of time I spend playing with them and watching for people’s reactions to me and my posts.

Consider deranged 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing spree in California last week, allegedly because multiple women had rejected him throughout his life – and because of the extreme effects of self-perception.

The cult of the self has resulted in the explosion of Instagram, where the most popular images are of people’s own ­faces, bodies at the gym and their style – cameras angled to point inwards ­towards the self.

The self-reflective gaze of the 21st century isn’t about self­evaluation but about self-valuation, not about self-reflection but a reflection of an uberself, which has become more egocentric, insecure, isolated and selfish.

What kind of society is this self­grandiose generation going to become? How will this un-African approach to ­society influence the idea of ubuntu?

Will our children’s inherent human ­empathy survive the power of the minimise and delete button in the face of something uncomfortable?

I’m toying with the idea of quitting “living for likes”, but my career depends heavily on staying in the loop.

I know I would be a better person if I minimised my information sources and stuck to reading books and newspapers, talking on the phone and visiting people in real life to find out how they are instead of checking for their projected selves on Facebook.

But the ubiquity of Wi-Fi traps us in the middle of two extremes. How can we use social media to divert our attention from scraping the barrels of the human ego?

#BringBackOurGirls didn’t bring back the 200 kidnapped girls in Nigeria.

I had misgivings about the point of it all, but its merits lie in galvanising large groups of people to care about something they didn’t care about.

There are lessons to be learnt from this. What would a national #BringBackTheDignityOfTheMiners or a #BringBackThe­MoneyFromNkandla campaign do to ­influence social activism?

Perhaps quitting wouldn’t affect social change, but inverting my camera might.

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