Saturday, March 16, 2013

The pitfalls of social networks.

By Conn Bardi

There is a knock on your front door. You open it and a stranger walks in uninvited saying ‘You don’t know who I am’ (Social Networking). A scary thought to ponder on considering that, on a daily basis, we open the window to our lives for everyone to peep into our private world. Would you let an unknown person to walk uninvited into your house? The answer is probably no. So why do we allow our personal information to become a free for all and sundry?

There is more to just being less careful with our personal information. Our methods of social interaction have changed over the years. The slogan ‘it’s good to talk’ has become ‘it’s good to text’. In 2011, the BBC reported that 58% of people used texting as their main form of their daily communication, compared to only 47% who made a daily mobile call (BBC News, 2012). Moreover, this transformation in the way we interact has affected the way we write. Words such as through are now commonly spelt as thru. Even the more mature in age, who initially appeared baffled with the newly discovered text language, are now using it on sites that impose word limits. These linguistic adjustments are an indication that the impact social network sites are having is very powerful. They have bridged the generation gap and even traversed cultural divides, by creating a common platform for exchange of information. In other words, we are adapting quickly to the new ways of social interaction that have imperceptibly crept into our daily lives.

Consequently, this phenomenon is having us spending more and more time reading our online friends posts, and updating our status. Moreover, it is said that those who refuse to participate in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter could find themselves marginalised (Hough, A., Williams, C., 2013). This constant pressure to keep feeding our virtual world with our thoughts and movements creates an illusion of friendship. The more friends we have the more popular we feel. In turn, this puts us under more pressure to spend even more time on the social networks to increase the number of our followers. Holiday albums, family celebrations, personal events are now more public than they have ever been. Maybe we are hoping that everyone else will rejoice with us; even accept us more. Perhaps we expect to be told that our semi-naked physique at the beach is godly. On the other hand, we may wish to spite our ex. One way or another it appears that social networks have become a communication necessity rather than a luxury item, with people pouring their lives out on them.

It logically follows that social networking is becoming necessary if we are to be accepted in today’s fast developing technological world. This rapid advancement is availing us to a plethora of information. How do we know what is true and what is not? Scepticism plays an important role in protecting us. It will help us avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime. ‘When you see a post come up on Facebook that seems incredible, always think before you click’ (Social Networking). Equally, we need to apply the same principle of thinking before we post any information about us. Do we really want everyone to know that our home will be empty for two weeks, whilst we are on holiday? Childline advises to avoid giving away too much about ourselves, be aware of people who might operate under false identities, and be sceptical of the identity of the person with whom we are chatting. We, as adults, may also benefit from these useful guidelines. It is worth bearing in mind that there are persons who will benefit from disinformation. Remain sceptical, and question the motive behind the writer. Furthermore, change the security settings on your profile, so it can only be seen by people that have your permission. Always choose you virtual friends carefully. Why would someone purporting to live across the other side of the world suddenly want to be my friend? What is their motive?

Sometimes their desires are clear. They want our hard-earned cash. There are a number of virtual worlds, where various games of chance can be played. Card games, roulette tables are all portrayed as a glamorous and alluring activity. Players are novel-fashioned stereotyped with sexy women and potent men interacting in an erotic atmosphere of financial success. They fuel our need for escapism and hedonism by offering us a pseudo-world of make-believe existence. The reality is quite different. The keyboard controls us in the shape of an avatar. We are but a mere convergence of pixels displayed on a two-dimensional monitor. It can be an expensive pleasure in a non-existent world. When the computer is off, we are more alone than before; and probably less well off.

In conclusion, social networks are having a powerful impact on the way we interact. By their creating a level communication platform, they have bridged the generation gap and broken down cultural barriers. We have no option but to adapt to these modern ways of social interaction, or face possible marginalisation. Even our language is changing to meet the demands placed upon of us from the rapid technological developments that are indiscernibly creping daily into our lives. Are we allowing too much of our personal information to become public knowledge? Remain sceptical of the identity of the person with whom you are chatting, and be aware of people whose identity you cannot verify. In other words, do not forget that there are people who benefit from misusing our personal information. Therefore, ensure that you question the motive of those who are not your true friends, and personalise the security settings on your profile, so that it can only be seen by those who have your permission. The reality of friendship is quite different in a two-dimensional world where we only exist as an avatar controlled by a keyboard. In this technological universe, our life is a mere group of pixels that ends when the computer is off; launching us back to our daily grind from where we besought escapism in the first place. The circle can be vicious, and we have to guard against falling victim to its alluring. In other words, beware of becoming a perpetual victim of the social network addiction. It appears, nevertheless, that social networks have become a modern necessity rather than a luxury item. In accepting that they are here to stay, we need to embrace their potential whilst protecting ourselves from their pitfalls.

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