Sometimes I am in a philosophical mood and I really feel the urge to reflect upon how society is changing and which aspects I consider good or bad and dangerous. It is obvious that technology has turned the world upside down and that social networks have become such a powerful marketing instrument that many people use them to create a personal image and brand and sell themselves as if they were a product. This phenomenon is called personal branding. We live in a world where social networks rule our lives and they don’t only help us keep in touch with the ones we care for, but they are also a shop window through which we introduce ourselves to society and by means of which we hope to be “haunted”. Nearly everything nowadays is managed with the help of our cell phone, but it certainly provides other people with a lot of information about ourselves. If I introduce a number in my mobile phone, it will automatically search if this number belongs to a WhatsApp user and it will add it to my list. The only way I for me to avoid this is by blocking the number, so that the other person can only contact me calling me or sending me a short text message, which is considered already old-fashioned. The problem is that WhatsApp allows others to see your state and if you are or not using the app at that moment and maybe I don’t want people to know as much. We lose a little bit of our intimacy the very moment we download the App.
As a teacher I know that social networks absorb so much attention from our students that it is impossible for them to spend hours without looking at their mobiles. They have to be connected to Instagram, called “insta” by them, so they can upload their photos and get enough “likes” from their followers. Most people nowadays need constant recognition to feel good and this is dangerous because we have lost the capability to seize the moment on our own. We have become puppets of ourselves that showcase themselves to the world through the virtual window which is internet. If you are not in any social network, you simply don’t exist.
Pressure on the young ones now exceeds the pressure teenagers suffered when I was one of them, that is thirty years ago. Back then, boys and girls at school only had to struggle for the respect of their classmates or those that shared their environment. It wasn’t an easy task because we all know that it is not possible to made everybody like you and also that adapting to groups very often means losing part of the own identity. However, teenagers’ environment thirty years ago was somehow limited. But this does no longer apply for teenagers’ environment now. Internet and social networks are an open door to the world, so the young ones must compete to become remarkable and noticeable not only in their immediate environment but in a global market. That causes them a lot of distress. When I was a teenager, having only two friends was not cool but not everybody knew it. And if your character was strong enough you ended up not caring at all about what the world thought about you. Now the world doesn’t give a damn about you, if you don’t stand out or have five hundred followers at least. The universe of a lot of young people consists in searching for admiration from others even if this is only for a few seconds. And the worst about this is that while searching for others’ eyes to lay on them, they lose the chance to find themselves.
A very big part of the daily routine of young people now turns round and is controlled by their phones. And it is also through their mobile that they try to find an identity or a role model to follow. Which is partly why the character of the “influencer” has been born. An influencer is a young person that spends his or her time uploading videos in YouTube to recommend their followers certain brands, to talk about fashion or to tell them how they should behave. These influencers make very good money without any degree or extraordinary capabilities because brands hire them to talk about their products only because they have followers. This way of life appeals to teenagers and young people because they see that being in the limelight is an easy money spinner. This is not exactly good for society because the ones that are supposed to be the workforce in a near future haven’t had as a role model people who have made too much of an effort to be where they are. They live in a world where they have everything they want immediately and those in western societies haven’t learned to fight to reach their objectives and they will have to struggle for a place in a planet that can only offer luxury to the very few. For a minority to be able to have everything they want it takes a vast majority to cope with far less than they need.
Our current western society lets children grow up in an overprotected environment. It sells them the idea that they will reach whatever they want in life, that they have to be happy and that their slightest effort will be taken into account. In schools, institutes and educational institutions we have ended up treating children and young people as if they were something so fragile that they can’t face failure. Therefore, we have helped them to go through a next step when we shouldn’t have. A poor result is a poor result and a person needs to learn to cope with failure to grow up and learn from mistakes. Yet we live in a society in which youth, dynamism, energy, drive and being impulsive are more important than experience, than thinking before acting and more than reflecting upon things. And maybe this will lead us nowhere because even if the young ones have the drive, society needs to rest on balanced pillars and to achieve balance experience is needed, that goes without saying.
Sometimes I envy eastern societies because the elder members and the senior ones in a company are admired and asked for advice. Here in Spain the opposite is true because our culture has become momentary and is based on things that don’t last long. Life itself is experienced as something which is consumed and burned quickly. As all the rest: food, objects, travels, etc.
But if we look at the world today, we can very easily see that from all trends that involve speed sustainable and healthy alternatives have sooner or later evolved reinforcing opposite values. Because of the “fast food” movement we now have the “slow food” movement, because of the “fast fashion” we now have a very trendy “slow fashion” movement and as opposed to “fast travel” we now have the “slow travel” movement. In a near future— and we know in Spain it is going to take ten more years than in countries such as Sweden or Finland — I am sure a slow life trend will soon arise. And it will teach people not to look at what is projected quickly and vanishes up just as fast. It will also probably show us not to follow trends because it makes us tired and, last but not least, it will persuade people to not try to be the centre and to concentrate in living life intensely. This way we will not miss out important moments in life.
But we still have a long way to go. And for those like me who need to enjoy simple and quiet things and don’t want to become network stars, life will be still hard for a while cause we are a rara avis and regarded as if we needed a psychologist immediately. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if living to be in the limelight is not a disorder caused by the society we live in.
I call all this “big brother syndrome”. In the famous programme, common people engaged in living together with strangers in a surveyed house to share their intimacy with the TV audience. The programme was a real success and it showed how the vast majority of the population feels empty. Otherwise it would be impossible to devote time to what happens to people locked out in an artificial environment for the world to see. I can only think of the film “ the Truman show”. Is it that we have too much time? I really think the TV programme made a lot of people realise that one could become a TV star without being outstanding at absolutely anything at all and this lead to a trend in which private things have become public because they sell.
I will keep on following the “slow life” philosophy because I am sure I am capable of distinguishing what is real from what is toxic. I don’t want to live to be judged only due to my “virtual show ups” that I could fake any minute. I don’t. I am aware companies nowadays only search for people who are capable of selling themselves in the virtual world but I also consider that when enterprises ask their employees to share personal details with clients to “hook them” we are simply going to far. We have lost the right to our own intimacy and to be exclusive. Exclusive for those we trust, and we feel at ease and not simply “everybody”. I don’t think it will take young people nowadays very long to realise that sharing a lot of private information does not make them very special. We will then have the opposite tendency to the one nowadays: we will preserve our intimacy and private space. Something absolutely important for our mental and emotional hygiene.