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Social Media: mirror or distorted lens of society?

The calendar reads 2020. A major pandemic has touched the entire planet, changing the living and working conditions of billions of people. The “dream” of telecommunications has begun to replace, to some extent, the possibility of face-to-face human contact for many. Processes that traditionally took place with the physical presence of people in the same place, now happen with the same people coming together only virtually, with the press of a button. However, this is not the only thing that has changed in the world, and the pandemic is not responsible.

The calendar reads 2020. Fifteen years ago, the ability to maintain a place where one could record personal opinions published on the internet was a real innovation. Everyone’s personal circle could suddenly transform, and our voice could gain a megaphone. Ten years ago, the ability to express oneself through the publication of complete ideas had already been replaced by the ability to express oneself through the publication of 2-3 lines or even words, commenting on anything. Five years ago, the necessity of existing within this strange online communication began to be identified with the ability to exchange opinions of any kind. Today, whatever is said on the internet is as if it does not exist. Society is born in the virtual reality, phenomena are built there, and then they pass into the so-called “real life.”

Online life is a precursor to reality

Although the calendar reads 2020, when it comes to the “mutation” of human communication, at least on a mass level, many people, including millennials, struggle to understand and accept this change. This very underestimation of online conversation often leads to the presentation of golden opportunities for mass manipulation, as has often happened in recent years, especially in the face of significant political events. The world that considers online conversation inferior to the “real” one often refuses to accept the created atmosphere as real, but experience shows an incredible effectiveness of all efforts to control social conversation through the internet.

Although the calendar reads 2020, online communication is still considered by many as something secondary, resulting in its quality plummeting uncontrollably, as few make a serious effort to improve it, at least within certain social circles. This has the immediate result of human communication itself reaching unspeakable low levels, which although initially appear to evolve under a specific anonymity, quickly turn into permanent behaviors in the so-called “real life.”

Since the calendar reads 2020, not 2010, nor of course 2000, it is necessary to speak clearly about the way we communicate on the internet because on this date and especially with the unprecedented conditions that have formed worldwide, the biggest part of our communication with the world happens there, behind a screen, above a keyboard. It is necessary to seriously examine the terms under which we want our communication to take place with our acquaintances, communication between strangers, the ways in which impersonal but effective exchange of aggression will stop dominating over substantive exchange of opinions, experiences, and concerns.

Whatever doesn’t exist on social media doesn’t exist anywhere. To put it even more clearly, the so-called “internet,” which may seem like an infinite space of information, has now turned into an inexhaustible source of the best and worst substances that exist in society, passing through a filter: social media. Let’s think about how many times in the last week, month, or year, someone opened a browser window to type in a website address. All the information that comes to each of us, or at least the vast majority of it, has passed through a “filter” called Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram, LinkedIn, or whatever other medium has the ability to repost (and actually first publish) material that is posted on some online space.

The largest media outlets worldwide, which a few decades ago were an essential element in starting one’s social life on a daily basis in printed form, obviously with the corresponding cost, are now striving to reach more people in their online form, even if a large part of their content is offered for free. Large media mechanisms spend generously on so-called “advertisements” that are nothing more than the appearance of their “product” (in the reality of mass communication) to potential buyers who will not pay any price but will have the opportunity to get in touch with the specific medium.

Today, whatever doesn’t exist on social media, doesn’t exist on the internet and as mentioned above, whatever doesn’t exist on the internet, doesn’t exist in real life. In just a few decades and under the naivety of the general population, who always underestimate the power of technology, considering themselves indifferent, the game has been shaped with very interesting and dangerous terms. Some big multinational corporations have essentially acquired the right to manage these types of “filters” for what exists and what doesn’t exist in society. And if 2 decades ago it was enough to give someone a piece of printed paper, today if you don’t find a way to capture their attention for less than a minute while they’re lost in endless and disconnected information, you will never communicate with them.

The quality of our lives through the quality of the internet

How much has this change affected the quality of our real lives? The answers to this question may vary, but presenting some facts may be important, either to draw a conclusion or to reflect.

First of all, the main mass communication, which is carried out by the Media, has completely changed its character. In previous decades, an article, for example, that concerned an important current issue, contained several thousand words describing the events, the connection between the involved persons, the analysis of various relationships, strategies, interests around the main story and finally, usually some comment either in the form of an opinion or in the form of questions about the outcome of the story, on behalf of the writer. Today, most Media make sure not to write more than a few hundred words, which only refer to the basic information that someone can collect and understand at a glance, reading it while waiting for their coffee, standing inside a means of transportation, in a queue for a service, or even in a moment of calm in the midst of a conversation in “real” life. Analysis and thought have been replaced by an information bombardment and the development of a position in the production of punchy comments that aspire to become the “cool phrase of the day” in conversations among people.

And if the quality of major media outlets is forced to bungee jump in order to meet the moment of our intellectual nadir, it is the quality of communication between individual people that has taken a dive into the depths of the spiritual substation. Essentially copying the communication pattern of major players in the online space and seeking validation of personality through mass acceptance, in an effort that never stops for many from adolescence and beyond, there are not a few who wish the internet to become the space where their social profile is built. As the construction of this profile, for the reasons mentioned earlier, actually concerns their acceptance in society, they willingly or unwillingly use the exact same tools of impression: a photo, a short catchy comment, are usually what is shared between “accounts” on most platforms. It is not coincidental that in younger ages, social networks that only allow the circulation of audiovisual material are gaining the majority’s preference.

Gradually, this online culture, as trivial as it may seem but harmless, gives way to the culture with which we behave and communicate in real life. Our discussions become a continuous exchange of comments and one-liners, supposedly “smart jokes” that usually hide behind the “joke” a whole bunch of black and reactionary ideologies that prevail in the field of “relaxation”. Our contact with new places and new locations is judged by our ability to capture it as spectacularly as possible, but not as realistically or as emotionally as possible, in photos that we will forget exist in a few days. The confirmation of our value comes through the imposition of the dictatorship of the surface, against the humility of any concept that contains depth.

The comfort with which an online conversation takes place, which appears safe due to the perceived anonymity and physical distance, offers an excellent field for communication of offense. However, this communication from public discourse passes to personal online conversation and from there to our “real” communication, where day by day we become more aggressive people, developing the need to offend in order to stay afloat in this battle of social surface. Even the “democracy” that may exist in a close-range discussion has been learned to disappear, as whoever arbitrarily has “rights” over an online conversation (group or account administrator), can “erase” with a movement whatever has been said by others, often even in spaces that should be surrounded by some greater responsibility, such as collective online spaces centered around the professional occupation of the participants.

Online behavior is a social issue of “today”

The calendar reads 2020 and for this reason, there is a great need, at least for the generations that are expected to live many years with online communication, to consider how we want this space to function, which is by nature and invention social. Children born today will have no problem taking this situation seriously, because they will live their entire lives in a telecommunications environment, not knowing the world before it. We who were born before 2000 are today like the generations that did not know how to deal with television, who watched soap operas instead of documentaries. Perhaps if those generations didn’t automatically turn on the TV so much, there would be no Big Brother today. Maybe if our generations comment less and read more, future generations will have a better foundation to build their own online and therefore social culture.

When I started my first personal blog in 2007, the ease with which I could share my opinions more fully with people I didn’t have time to talk to was something that seemed like a miracle. How wonderful our world would be if one could drink their coffee and read the thoughts someone else shares. Today, writing for this blog, which we started in 2017, I know well that in order for someone to read these lines, they will have to go through the series of filters mentioned above, just like someone else who may want to talk to me. We are so close and yet this chaos of the relatively new culture built in the media that define our social behavior separates us. Perhaps if we change our behavior within them, our lives will also change, following the same direction but on a different, parallel path.

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