“The key to helping youth navigate contemporary digital life isn’t more restrictions.
It’s freedom - plus communication. What makes the digital street safe is when teens and adults collectively agree to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations...” - Dr. Danah Boyd.
To begin with, this is not at all a self-pleasing ego-excursion. I need to aver, with all the earnestness I can muster, that my preoccupation here, is to raise the alarm.
This urge is brought on by a series of soul-searing tragedies that have deeply scarred the collective soul of the Sri Lankans.
The self-imposed deaths of a number of our innocent children in the recent past, have devastated the totality of our national conscience.
Implicit in this gloomy and sorrow fraught episode, there is a facet, that should alarm us all, as a nation. Some irresponsible and thoughtless people almost cynically and casually attribute the cause of this profoundly moving catastrophe, to external influences.
But, if we adopted the right perspective, we would be pointing an accusing finger at our own selves.
To be specific there are some who attempt to place the blame for this unhappy episode, on social media - Facebook being the most prominent among them.
On the other hand, such a rash assumption is not quite warranted.
When the communication and media landscape at global level, was undergoing change at a surprising clip, we were not quite prepared to absorb these vast and fast fluctuations.
Many of the elitist intellectual leaders in our land did not fully appreciate that the future will come at us, with this swiftness. They were not ready for it.
They did not heed the compelling words of media sages and prophets. The greatest communication seer of our age - Arthur C. Clarke resided among us.
The God-father of the communication satellite forecast, as far back as 1970, that someday, satellites would bring the accumulated knowledge of the world to our fingertips.
The domestic prophet’s earth - shaking prophecies did not awaken most of us to this dramatic future.
In the same year futurist author Alvin Toffler, presented his impactful work Future Shock, to the moderns, to prepare them to what was in the offing.
At numerous academic lectures, seminar presentations, group discussions and related events, I kept on speaking about Toffler’s Future Shock. I was keen to drive home to those who listened, that if we are not adequately prepared to meet what was coming, we will suffer a Future Shock.
I am not being wise after the event. Nor am I keen to derive an unseemly delight, with a cynical “Didn’t I say so.”
Way back, in November 6, 2010, the “inaugural meeting to launch the data-bank for the Diploma Holders of the Journalists Course at the University of Colombo,” was held (of all places) in the canteen of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institution unlikely meeting place was arranged at very short notice, by the academic in-charge of the Diploma Course at the time - Kamal Waleboda. The quick shift of venue was a tribute to his enterprising thinking.)
At that assembly, I presented to Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, the chief guest, a report of suicides of teenagers, who were the victims of social-media hectoring. The minister was moved.
I have been alert to the urgent need to prevent a future shock, to avoid grief and tragedy and to derive the vast benefits offered by Facebook, Twitter et al.
Today Mark Zuckarberg’s Facebook realism has burgeoned into a relationship-based databank of at least 140 billion recorded friendships. (Report dated 8/15 July 2013).
On the 10th anniversary of Facebook - in January M.Z. was quoted as saying, “Facebook was started not just to be a company but to fulfil a vision of connecting the world.”
WWW (the world wide web) came into being just 25 years ago, (March 12, 1989) through a proposal written by Tim Berners - Lee who felt that his idea could be implemented throughout the world.”
Today the number of websites exceeds 600 million. The search volume per day is over three billion.
Given such a world of mind-boggling information and multi-million of friendships, one can imagine how bewildered users would be if they are not fully disciplined in the ethic of their utilisation.
It is here that we should once again consider the imperative of self-searching.
What have we done in any substantial way to prevent the innocent children of our land falling victim to these massive digital oceans, when they try to swim there without the proper discipline and the right mechanism to absorb the treasures they can offer.
In a praiseworthy public pronouncement, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, insisted on the need to attune the users to the rigid discipline essential to enrich from the universe of knowledge the social media are ready to offer-mostly free.
“Futurism” should become a compulsory area in all the institutions of Sri Lanka’s educational system.
I heard that in an extremely remote area in Sri Lanka, Dambane, students from relatively underprivileged social backgrounds, derive extensive benefits from the Internet and social media, as they have received the proper guidance and due discipline, in the utilisation of knowledge machines.
Imputing the fault on external influences, is not at all the right way to do so. In the immediate slip-stream of the tragic losses of children’s lives, an immediate national policy has to be implemented to prevent a “culture shock” and litanies of tragic outcomes.
Discipline - the key
This is how, supreme spiritual leader the Dalai Lama responded to the crucial question, “Do Facebook and Twitter help or hurt our happiness?”
“It depends on how you use them. If the person himself has a certain inner strength, a certain confidence, then it is no problem.
But if a person’s mind is weak, then there is more confusion. You can’t blame technology.
It depends on the user of technology.” This gem was elicited by a question posed by Elizabeth Dias to Dalai Lama.
This is a holy mantram to chant in the face of any troubling issue, from the myriad of social media of our day.
By Kalakeerthi Edwin Ariyadasa - www.sundayobserver.lk/