Arts, Entertainment & Media
August Mon 17, 2009
One of the many news dispatches circulated some time ago read: «Facebook and MySpace are hazardous because they cause psychological trauma which lead to tragedies, including suicide. The verdict from Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, in an interview with the Sunday Times, is raising a real alarm about social networking sites. “Friendship is not a commodity - says Nichols - Friendship is something that requires commitment and hard work as well.” The prelate is concerned by the increasing inability to build interpersonal relationships as a result of excessive use of messaging and e-mail exchanges over the Internet instead of face-to-face meetings and conversations, or at least by phone. The effect is ‘dehumanizing’, he maintains, and virtual communities can never create circles of people ‘all around’. Thus, young people will have to cultivate relationships that in reality do not exist, and when they realize this, they will suffer serious psychological trauma. “Among young people, a key factor leading to suicide is often the trauma of ephemeral relationships”, Nichols warned.»
As expected, the newspapers focused on the last sentence, announcing in bold headlines that the English prelate was accusing Facebook of causing suicide. Reading the single dispatch and not the entire article published by the Times, it is easily concluded that the thought of Archbishop Nichols is much more articulated and widely accepted.
There is no doubt that the birth of the Web has been the really big media revolution of the last century. It is equally true that the various applications that have been created search engine to social networking are radically changing the way we study, work, have fun, and socialize. In a word, they are changing the way we live.
When asked whether society is ready to absorb and manage such a change, it seems true that we must say no. And the aphorism of McLuhan "the medium is the message" is becoming a very bitter prophecy. The first internet bubble shows that platoons of managers have invested in crazy expectations of technological developments without asking questions about what content they should carry and why. Millions of people buy phones, increasing the performance of multimedia activities with increasingly poor phone connections; and the population, especially young people, has earned more than others from the visually apparent game of technology, while they are increasingly unaware of the research on any quality content. Tens of thousands of marketing managers have squandered nights on Second Life, forgetting that in nature nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, and that what is virtual is not real and therefore does not exist.
To clarify better, and not be accused of remaining in the past in fields such as aeronautics, industrial, mathematical, or even speculative endeavors, virtual simulations are of fundamental importance because they are used to interpret or to better deal with the real. The pain begins when the virtual occupies the whole place of reality. At that point millions of years of evolution are erased, the memory located in the instinctive brain loses fundamental points of reference, and human relationships break up in a disorderly confusion, without a new order on the horizon.
As we have said, the search engine offers the opportunity for huge savings of time, facilitating studies and research beyond imagining, but at the same time news and information that is not verified is certainly at risk of doing serious damage. The social network offers the opportunity to find long lost friends in the whirl of life, to exchange opinions, ideas, reviews of books and shows, but it can also deceive millions of people who think that to meet an unknown friend on the web will warm the heart.
This means simply that for Archbishop Nichols where one of the most efficient means of interactive communication triumphs, the content of communication has become so invalid or nonexistent, that, paradoxically, people are increasingly alone. And because loneliness is certainly one of the contributory causes of suicide, the excess of virtuality, with its fake friends, unreal or surreal, in the end may be an exasperating cause of loneliness.
Father Giussani used to repeat that education is a matter of mimesis and experience. The virtual society is the epitome of mimesis, an uncritical imitation, and, without the principle of experience, it collapses every possible scaffolding on which to build human relations of whatever kind.
If this is what we want, we are simply desiring the end of the world.
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