Features — 09 June 2018
Back to reality… with no phone in hand

I was pondering on how I have had the privilege to grow up in both the old technological world and the new technological world. I say “old” meaning the days when human interaction was more in person and we actually met people face to face and interacted and made time for each other. In the new world it has become a virtual world; the internet facilitates the new medium.

I am glad my interface with the new world has been while I was already mature and able to appreciate the difference of what it was before cell phones and social media and internet. Yeah, I want to reminisce about the old days, simply because it felt real and I learnt social skills from those human interactions.

In this new technological world, our youths do not know what they are missing out on in terms of real human interaction and they have no concept of using a landline to receive calls or having to have one village community phone, or having to literally dial a number as opposed to punching in a number on the phone, or sitting around with another and just talking with no cell phone in hand. Believe it or not, the cell phone has changed human interaction and dynamics and I opine it has made us more isolated and disconnected, as much we are more “connected” technologically.

My old days

When I was born, for sure my home did not have a telephone. I think I was about nine or ten years old when we became the first family in the neighbourhood to get a telephone and that meant that in some sort of way it became the community telephone. In those days neighbours would ask you if they can give out your telephone number to receive calls. When their friends or family called, it is first to alert that they would be calling back, so one of us kids would usually be sent running down the street to tell the neighbour to come over to receive a call. So you could imagine calls were not constant as they are now.

And in those days, there were phone ethics and protocol and one of those was that you don’t call anyone home before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., unless it was an emergency. Thus once we got a late night call we got nervous and braced ourselves for bad news.

Imagine, I am saying “those days,” but that was just in the late 70’s – early 80’s that I am talking about. I know our youths, who are now born almost with a cell phone near their mouth, cannot imagine going out of the home and having no telephone communication. But in those days when you went out, you did not have the distraction of your phone ringing and you could sincerely give your undivided attention to the company you are with or participate fully in the event you are attending. There was no going on Facebook live to record the event, nor taking selfies, nor taking pictures on a whole. Rather, you enjoy the moment and your memory records it to the point that you can vividly recollect it and describe it to others if you want. Now I believe we take pictures to capture the moments we once only stored in our memory, so we can share in image and not just words.

Oh and by the way, taking photos then was novel and it took days to be developed by the photographer and you had to be selective as to which photo you wanted as each one cost you.  Then as time progressed more persons were able to buy a camera, to the point today that your phone is now a camera as well, with features to even edit your true look in the process.

Those of us from this era have physical photos to show and albums in which they are kept and even picture frames in which they are displayed. With more pictures stored on a phone camera, there are fewer printed and displayed for others to appreciate and with one click they can all be lost if not stored on the “cloud”.

The communication technology

Now I went back to a time in my childhood and adolescence because those were really beautiful times for me. They were times that I felt we were connected, more participatory and more engaged with each other. We had more face to face communication and more gatherings and more inter-personal exchanges. I feel our communications with each other then, were more deliberate and you think twice about what you will say before you say it because there is something about being face to face… the whole aura and energy change!

Today, communication is faster, yet more distant and prone to miscommunication, as a text cannot truly convey the pauses, and changes in voice and expressions that go with the message, and the short-cut spelling, in my view, removes its importance and trivializes it to shorthand.  Plus texts are meant to be short, sharp and economical in words. But even more interesting is that the words themselves are spelt in a short-cut manner, so proper spelling seems to be a thing of the past. I guess I come from that old era where we spell out the full word. Now I got to grapple with asking my kids what is “lol; lmao; wyd; btw;” and a plethora of abbreviations that are just too much to recall. But this is the new era, where communication technology is “advanced” but human relations are the worst!

Now, I say “the worst” because I want to focus on that creature of technology called “social media”, which is a media indeed, but the civility in the word “social” is often lacking. It has become a platform for bullying, insulting, attacking, degrading, belittling, shaming, damaging, destroying, etc etc. anyone you wish to target. Some expose their Family Court cases on Facebook and baby momma and daddy attack each other via this medium with no regards to the record they are creating regarding a private matter over their children’s life.

Now I am not saying there are no positive uses for social media, such as finding persons, soliciting assistance for those in need, getting word out to help locate missing persons, connecting with old friends and family, even finding love. But, the ills that come with it seem to be tenfold; the good that it brings is offset because of the destruction it creates and the use of it to reflect the depraved social psyche we are now dealing with and for some social media just provided the right outlet to get the biggest audience ever. For example, I am seeing it in the context of a small community as Belize where almost everyone knows each other, so when a nude photo or explicitly sexual photo is plastered all over Facebook or forwarded from cell phone to cell phone, that can never be undone. Deleting it does not help, because for the split second it was posted, someone already took a screen shot of it and immortalized it. Then there are those ants by men and women calling each other “bitches,” “pussy”, and all sorts of derogatory names and trimming it with some of the most foul curse words. Or think of the videos posted of women fighting each other on the street, or shootings and killings that desensitize us to violence. You all have seen what I am talking about. And I must add that these behaviours are a reflection of the society and now it can be promoted and spread faster because of the medium so the social deterioration takes place faster.

Sexual exploitation

In my days of old, intimate sexual moments or sexual parts were not recorded and were left private; the most the indiscreet person who wanted to spread word out could do, was tell and talk about what he or she did, but could not provide proof. Today with the click of a camera proof is there and truly very unsuspecting women allow themselves to be recorded or share their intimate photos or videos of themselves with partners they trust. However, if you note it’s the women who are exposed: we don’t see the men being shamed like this, as they are seldom seen in any photo or video and often they are the ones behind the camera taking the pictures or video.

I believe that no matter how much you hate the person, there is no need to post their nudes, as that is a violation of their private moment and their privacy, yet the rate at which it is happening is too alarming for this not to be dealt with through legal repercussions seriously enacted in our laws.

Social media as it is being used in Belize is vile, destructive and a sad indication of the psyche of our people. Imagine, so-called educated men and women launching vicious personal attacks on each other in such a public sphere with no sense of decency being displayed. I have seen where attorneys, high government officials and workers, public figures, and those who have become popular participated in the attacks. As to the political attacks, well, those have taken on a life of their own.

I know we will not go back to the days when we did not each walk around without a cell phone in our hands, but we can surely seek a culture of more respect for each other, where privacy is respected, where face to face interaction is valued and where we do not allow the technology to control us and disconnect us from the beauty of living with human dignity and appreciation for the life of those we come in contact with.

Next time you pick up a phone consider that you must use it in a positive manner and next time you post on social media remember what you write impacts others, but is more a reflection of your own personal values and what dwells in your heart.  And if possible live one day without a cell phone in your hand!

Peace out!

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Deshawn Swasey

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