Dana El-Ghazal, a member of the QF Communications Directorate, writes about the dilemma she faced in managing her social media presence, and what she did as she tried to stay connected with friends and family in true, meaningful ways.
About a month ago, I was juggling three Instagram accounts – a private family-and-friends account; a public ‘blog-like’ account; and a business account. But once upon a time, like many others, I was wrapped in the cloak of invisibility, treading the world wide web without revealing my true identity.
What I have come to understand, albeit at the expense of personal experiences, that being online has complicated our social experiences and our identities by blurring the boundaries in which we keep our authenticity and privacy intact. And by privacy, I’m not referring to our personal details that big tech companies and governments exploit as data economy. Carissa Veliz exposes all of that in her book Privacy is Power, and I strongly recommend reading it.
Instead, I’m referring to the personal moments we voluntarily “share” and “post”, such as family celebrations, weddings, pregnancy journeys, personal messages, gifts that we receive, and the list goes on and on. Even if we are mindful of this and choose not to, we still fall victims by encouraging this behavior with every “like”, “view” or “share”. And I’m guilty of all the above.
Social media platforms were meant to bridge gaps between people – between companies, consumers, communities, and people from all over the world. It was a means to connect us. But in reality, this wide-open social media culture is severing real human connections. We are being flooded with content, and loud voices are getting louder, drowning out the valuable ones as they gain influence. It’s discouraging, distracting and occasionally distasteful. Influence equates to number of followers, and credibility equates to levels of engagement. Why else would Kim Kardashian have 191 million followers, but Malala Yousafzai have 1.6 million?
Think of it: we can easily be vivacious on Instagram, conservative on our LinkedIn profiles, but also an opinionated debater on Twitter. Without the responsibilities that accompany each identity, the digital world is our oyster. I argue that in doing this, some of our moral obligations, value for privacy and social spirit are being compromised.
I’m still in my late twenties, and even in my lifetime “Happy Birthday” were heartfelt words and wishes that were either spoken or hand-written in a carefully-selected Hallmark card from those who truly remembered your birthday. Almost always, these exchanges took place between two people only. This was then triumphed by who could get the most messages on Facebook’s virtual wall – which is now superseded by artistic, but also somewhat poetic, slideshows on Instagram. This sort of hindsight makes me question if we have become more conditioned to send “Thoughts & prayers” than to really action them.
It was also in my lifetime that privacy was a luxury, and re-connecting with people was a purposeful exchange. I am able to still recall every first day back after summer holidays when I studied in high school at Qatar Academy; it was the most exhilarating feeling and day of the year because it meant seeing and hugging my friends after three long months of distance and detachment. We would talk endlessly about our summer holidays and places we’d visited, sharing intimate stories about those imperfect yet irreplaceable memories, simply because we deeply cared to. Our reunions were beautiful, and some of these schoolmates are still the closest people in the world to me.
Today, we are so “connected”, that I know where they (and hundreds of others) have traveled to, who they saw, places they’ve visited, and what they’ve worn. Three months apart feels like something shorter than three weeks. Thanks to how much is shared, memories are now so perfectly portrayed and archived, every other day can be a celebration of something, or someone.
I don’t have children, but if I ever do, I hope they can have meaningful relationships and experience the true value of sentiments. I also hope their friendships and networks are built on strong foundations, not digital engagements stored in a cloud. Above all, I hope they can distinguish between the “moments to be connected” and “moments to connect”.
What and who do we actually hold true in our heart? Can we take back control to express genuinely and organically without the use of emoticons, stickers and GIFs? Can we consciously and whole-heartedly like people and what they stand for without subconsciously liking their posts or their work anniversaries?
Without a doubt, social media has revolutionized the ways in which we embrace, exchange and connect with one another. Given the pandemic, our connectivity has increased more than ever, but are we really free to still behave and feel righteously? Perhaps some of us still do, though I suspect that social media is deteriorating our “mental and emotional operating system”. And perhaps cyberia is slowly crumbling these leftovers of human interactions and there will come a day where we can no longer revive our authentic selves.