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2013 Grateful 15

I’m not a great fan of social media. Part of me thinks that instead of bringing us closer together, it’s driving us further apart. I loathe the addictive behaviour that comes part and parcel with owning a smartphone. I abhor the idea of 24/7 availability and the expectations this creates. I detest the fact that all too often people in my company would now prefer to text others not present rather than fully engage with me. Perhaps I’m losing my touch.

I worry that Facebook has birthed a generation where envy is rampant, where peer comparison is the norm, and where we look at other people’s lives wondering what we’ve done (or not done) with our own.

While the writer in me admires the brevity of 140-character tweets, the raconteur in me mourns the loss of the colourful prose that used to lead to a final, often irrelevant, point. So keyed up and keyed in are we today, that we no longer have time for long-winded stories and in our  conciseness seem to be relegating swathes of anecdotes to the untold.

And yet, social media has its moments.

Me as a maid in My Fair Lady

Me (back right) as a maid in My Fair Lady

Some months ago, when I was home in Ireland, my mother mentioned that she’d given my email address to a classmate of mine who was one of a few organising our 30-year school reunion. I didn’t pay much attention at the time as I’d no intention of going. Thirty years is thirty years, no matter how you look at it. People move on. They go their separate ways. I’d forgotten the names of many and doubted very much if any would remember anything about me other than that my father had the misfortune to head the investigation into the disappearance of the racehorse Shergar – and I’d heard enough horse jokes to last me a lifetime.

When I saw the date and realised that I would be in Israel, I was relieved. Online one night, looking for some diversion, I searched for the group page on Facebook, curious to see the changes time had wrought. Old photos, old faces, old names popped up. And daily, the numbers interacting with the page grew, the stories started, and the past resurrected itself piece by piece. But alongside that came the updates – marriages, kids, homes, careers – and for the first time I saw the power that Facebook and its ilk has when it comes to reconnecting people.

The Debs... 1982

The Debs… 1982

Before social media, we’d have been communicating by written letters and phone calls – both of which are way too easy to ignore. I’d most likely have read the invitation, checked to see if the few I’ve remained in touch with were going, and if the answer was nay, then I’d have binned it. But with Facebook, the interaction is continuous, the conversations are in real time, and the thoughts of attending a 30-year reunion are now hugely appealing – but I’ll be in Israel. And I’m strangely disappointed.

This week, although I never thought I’d see the day when I’d admit to this in public, I’m grateful to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for facilitating the bringing together of so many people, for giving us a forum to reconnect, and for aiding and abetting in the publication of photos that have kept me amused all week. I’m particularly grateful though to the organising team; to those who decided to run with this and are doing such fantastic job of reconnecting so many. Nice job, lads.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

 

 

Time to (re)take responsibility

It’s not a gun that kills someone; it’s the person who pulls the trigger. It’s not Facebook or e-mail that ruins people’s lives, it’s the person who posts the message – or worse still, mindlessly forwards and shares messages without checking that their contents are true.

Just ask Mark Hendricks. Apparently, back in 2010, a friend of the South Africa native circulated a photo of Mark with the message:

People please beware of the man in the picture, as he is very dangerous and is in the business of selling young girls and boys. He also preys on ladies that are single to get them into the HUMAN Trafficking circle. If you do see him please just ignore him and get away from him as far as possible and alert the police ASAP. PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS PICTURE TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. THE MORE PEOPLE SEE HIS FACE, THE LESS CHANCE HE HAS OF GETTING TO ONE OF OUR CHILDREN

The so-called friend who did this said it was just a prank. A joke. They had no idea the consequences it would have. In 2010, the message went viral and now it’s resurfacing again. It ruined Hendricks’s life once… and no doubt will do so again. The descriptive ‘living hell’ comes to mind.

That the friend was at fault for dreaming this up in the first place, is a no-brainer. Such a level of irresponsibility is heinous. But what of all the others who aided and abetted by forwarding and sharing? It could be argued that they thought they were doing something for the greater good of mankind, but no one obviously stopped to check if it was true.

My mother is fond of saying that paper will take any print. It doesn’t discriminate. And yet our ability to tell right from wrong, true from false, is what marks us as human. With the pressures of time and the myriad of information out there, can we be held responsible for not taking precious minutes to verify the facts? And indeed is verifying the facts even possible anymore? Has the widespread availability of information robbed us of our powers to tell right from wrong? Has the quickening pace of society and the expectation of instantaneous communication put pressure on us to the point that we simply forward and share so that we feel we are doing something?

We need to wake up to the fact that lives can be and are being ruined at the push of a button. And we need to take responsibility for the part we play in this. 

First published at DiploFoundation 30 August 2013