iShare, therefore iAm
Sharing is caring. Or that is how the saying goes at least. But how far does the correlation between exposure and solidarity really extend in our rapidly-changing globalised world, where vast amounts of information mercilessly spill over the ever-expanding digital web?
Opening up and reaching out to other people has clearly become quite detached from its traditional form and practice: poking someone no longer implies physical touch, whereas networking is nowadays associated with making ephemeral digital friends and establishing contacts through broadband connections, rather than human ones.
It is perhaps too easy to demonise the increasingly popular so-called social media. After all, it is overwhelmingly probable that you ended up reading these lines exactly because you were redirected on this page through one of these media. The famous "bless or curse?" question that seems to be hunting technology since its inception throughout the course of human history appears now to be more relevant than ever.
And, as always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle: In between the Orwellian nightmare of mind control and the revolutionary sparks of free thought and expression (as manifested for example in the events of the Arab Spring) there seems to lie a never-ending abyss, but in fact the two might be just one mouse click (or a Facebook group invitation) away.
As far as human communication goes, the Internet is in many ways the most extraordinary, exciting and revolutionary development since one Johannes Gutenberg put into practice another brilliant idea in the city of Mainz around 1450. We are still in the process of discovering how it can be utilised most effectively - or abused most terribly. By extension, the same applies to its enfants terribles - the social media.
Of course, the story is not exactly new. When writing first started becoming widespread among learned men, many thought that this would mark the end of intellectual stimulation and analytical thinking, as nobody would have to memorise or remember anything anymore. This sort of reactionary sentiment has survived ever since, accompanying every single groundbreaking occurrence in a long string of technological advancements and innovations.
Still, it would be a grand mistake to dismiss or even neglect the controversial nature of the New and its implications. The major symptom of our high-tech, uber-social (and yet somehow less sociable) age is an existential angst manifested through our striking incapacity for substantial communication, meaningful intercourse and in-depth human interaction.
Disguised in the colourful costume of an outgoing party goer, the true zeitgeist of our post-modern era is in reality best personified in the all-too-familiar miserable, grey and lonely figure with the empty face, inside an empty room, typing empty messages, constantly in front of an empty laptop screen.
People become increasingly alienated while feeding the illusion that they are steadily getting more connected. They share, but do not necessarily care. The phobia of becoming obsolete, or even seizing to "exist" (that is, not being "befriended," "liked," "poked," etc.) is starting to affect ever greater numbers of the global online community. Soon, if not already, anything (thoughts, feelings, actions, etc.) not shared in good social - media - fashion will be deemed irrelevant. Or simply non-existent.
So what is to be done? Instead of dumping your notebook out of the window and joining some (less than likely to succeed) group therapy session, a possible remedy to this awkward yet absolutely genuine predicament could be to employ one's isolation as a means to introspection, self-analysis and internal transformation. To utilise the time spent with one's self creatively rather than wasting it thoughtlessly to fulfil a desperate, vain, babyish and ultimately pointless desire for attention and social acknowledgment.
Sounds rather sophisticated? May be. But it is certainly not implausible. As the British philosopher, mathematician and activist Bertrand Russell was quick to observe, long before the emergence of websites and social networking services:
A certain degree of isolation both in space and time is essential to generate the independence required for the most important work; there must be something which is felt to be of more importance than the admiration of the contemporary crowd. We are suffering not from the decay of theological beliefs but from the loss of solitude.
Solitude, then, could be the paradoxical antidote to alienation. After all, it is all in the mind, as another saying goes, directly descending from the classic maxim: Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Sure. I share, therefore I care? Hmm, think again.