Saturday, July 25, 2015

Swamp things

“BANAL” and “horrible”.

With those choice words, French icon Catherine Deneuve recently dismissed the Internet, selfies and social media.

The 71-year-old actress criticized the digital age’s “intrusion (into) everything, everywhere, all the time”. She singled out selfies: “photographing yourself all the time… makes everything banal.” She was as withering about virtual reality: “this idea that we are looking at ourselves doing things, without actually experiencing them, is horrible”.

One can shrug off Deneuve. She was made a star by an older medium, after all.

Yet, she isn’t the only one who has a “very limited relationship with technology”.

In his “The New Media Monopoly,” Ben H. Bagdikian cites a 2003 Pew Foundation study that found 42 percent of adults, who were family members and close friends of Internet users, preferred not to go online. Valuing face-to-face activities” as “normal,” these “deliberate nonusers” send handwritten letters.

They are different from other nonusers, who, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, belong to “minority, rural, and low-income families with members who did not attend college”. When they want to, these nonusers go to public libraries or friends’ homes for Internet access.

Why avoid the Internet? Like Deneuve, Bagdikian blames people’s discomfort with the Internet’s intrusion. He mentions the online jargon, “time swamp,” which captures the Internet’s “notoriously seductive ability” to make users lose track of time.

Notice how even print media is swamped by technology? Recently scanning the “Parenting” supplement of a national daily, I picked an article for its headline, which included a new word: “phablet”.

According to the writer, this “extra large mobile device” is “smaller than the regular tablet” and “larger than the typical smartphone”. It is the “smarter choice” for Filipinos, who are the “most connected people in the world”.

Luckily for the editor and PR firm placing the article, I am drawn to new words. “Phablet” did make me wonder why the editor would include an article about a gadget launching in a section on parenting. I count as my children two teenage boys, nieces, nephews, godchildren, and several generations of students. I have a basic phone with a torchlight function (love the word). I use the computer for work. However, I don’t see technology as the “smarter choice” to connect with and stay connected to my children.

Like a real swamp, the Internet is home to many creatures. This includes Prasertsri Kosin, a Thai national who recently opted for voluntary deportation after he got the ire of Netizens. Using his online moniker Koko Narak, Kosin posted that “Pignoys (combining Pinoy and pig)” were the “scums of the Earth” and a “useless race in this world”. In his apology, Kosin said he was just being “playful”.

The Internet was also home to Ananta Bijoy Das until he was hacked to death by machete-armed attackers in Bangladesh. Das was a banker whose blog, “Mukto Mona (free mind),” promoted rationalism and opposed fundamentalism. He was the third blogger killed in less than three months in Bangladesh for speaking out against religious extremism.

Banal? More times than should be tolerated. Horrible? More infernal things have crawled out of swamps, real or virtual.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 17, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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