SOCIAL NETWORKS: USEFUL OR DANGEROUS?
WHY SOCIAL NETWORKS (IF USED CARELESSLY) RISK BECOMING THE MOST POTENT DRUG IN HISTORY: THE ONLY THING THAT CAN KEEP YOU SEPARATED FROM THE REAL WORLD INFINITELY....
from "running and unreality", by P. Trabucchi, published in 2010 in "Correre"
A person is intent on his cell phone. Around him his friends are talking amongst themselves. He is deeply absorbed in writing text messages without pause with someone far away.
A woman walks down the street, listening to her MP3 player. The effect of the technology she is using isolates her from her surroundings, giving her a sort of separate dimension, a false impression of security.
A family is in front of the television, watching a film in HD. The reproduction of reality produced by this technology is unbelievable: objects on the screen possess a sharpness and perfection equal to that of real life. The visual morphine floods the brains of the watchers. All the adventures, excitement, and empowerment denied them in their real lives is digested passively in the form of a show.
These are only three examples of common behaviors: chatting and text messaging, listening to an MP3 player, and watching the television. Within limits, all can be legitimate and acceptable. When lumped together, however, they present a risk: the erosion of our relationship with reality. At first, they are quite innocent. All of us, every day, send text messages to someone far away. It's a common thing to do. We all have occasions when we need to communicate something important quickly. Sometimes, though, it's not just for the need to communicate quickly, but because it's easier to maintain a superficial relationship with someone far away and "idealized" than to make the effort deal with the people in front of us in flesh and blood.
In these cases, the virtual relationships remove us from the real ones. It's as if these technologies contribute to our losing touch with reality, in the sense that they provide us with a form of escapism from the here and now. This is exactly the effect that someone wants when plugged into his/her MP3 player in order to "tune out". The television distracts (in the etymological sense from Latindistract-‘drawn apart’), takes you away, and removes you from the present. Have you ever noticed how a conversation falls apart when the TV is on? The TV isolates us while at the same time fulfilling a need for escape from our ever-growing isolation, providing us with an increasingly realistic substitute for reality. The only difference between the two being that the virtual one requires no interaction, and thus stimulates apathy.
And so, isn't working with e-mails and SMS's in continuation also a way of being "taken away"?
Technology doesn't just remove us from reality because it makes it more difficult to stay focused on the "here and now", but also because it erodes the deepest fundamentals that keep us grounded in the present. Our sense of reality, in fact, is founded greatly on contact with our physical body, what many authors call coenaesthesis. Coenaesthesis is the body awareness of ones own body, as a sum of all sensations, as opposed to individual sensations. It is the feeling or sense of being alive, of feeling vital. Coenaesthesis has been described as that organization that "continues to function for the entire life, it could strongly be said, as if it were the perennial source of life itself, even though our western civilization has put a damper on its signals" (R. Spitz, 1973). The sensations that come as gut sensations, pain, pleasure, sense of wellbeing or fatigue, the muscular and postural sensations, the perception of weight and breath, the correlation of the body with feelings and emotions: all of these elements give us a sense of really existing, of being alive and a part of life. As children we are much more fascinated and in tune with these sensations, which are stimulated in our games and playing. Then we begin to loose touch with that part of ourselves. Spitz maintained that it was education that pushes detach from this type of perception and to distrust it. I believe that our communication technologies are also contributing to this detachment by concentrating our main forms of communication on the "long distance" senses of sight and sound, thus diminishing the importance of the other senses. It is not by chance that our "actual society is generally defined as a society of image, which underlines that never before in our history has so much importance been given to the visual aspects of being human, of representation, of show and showing oneself, of acting and performance (Romano Biancoli)".
It would seem that the use of new technologies distances us from reality due to two effects: because they stimulate a continual distraction from the here and now, and also because they atrophy and weaken our deepest ties which connect us with reality.
I wonder if running doesn't represent a possible antidote to all of this. Through movement we can recover our relationship with the universe of sensations lost since childhood. Listening to movements, feeling the muscles and breath, perceiving fatigue, interpreting pains and discomforts, concentrating on the rhythm of gesture... all of this brings us back in contact with the body and our surroundings. It's funny how sometimes people start running just to improve the way they look, and they end-up rediscovering reality.