January 2018

Noun: Autism (definition)
A mental condition, present from early childhood, characterised by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts

Long ago l was looking for a definition of the current isolation syndrome we have as human beings. It’s a syndrome oft-characterised by a somewhat-abstract form of interaction whereby we spend 90% of our time our sights firmly attached to a Smartphone screen, and in which our voice is replaced by a language of letters and emoticons. Particularly I call this syndrome "Social Autism", a disease that makes us live as Avatars in this world of sounds, colours, photos, letters and emoticons. In this syndrome the reality is replaced by this screen that regulates our life, is this healthy? Is it the future that comes to us? Hopefully not.

I consider myself a defender of social networks; I am the first to say that they are an instrument of communication, of development and integration. However, like everything good in life, it can become an addiction. Paradoxically, this instrument of integration can also be an instrument of isolation.

Let’s give a fictitious example: Paul is a writer of articles for a magazine, a task he performs on his laptop from wherever he may be at the time. Paul writes his articles in his pyjamas, orders his food for delivery, talks with his friends and bosses via the multiple messenger platforms that now exist, collects his money from an assigned bank account and makes his payments online. He has a modern projector at home with a decent home theatre and is able to play video games, download or stream movies or series on the web, and can honestly spend days, weeks, months and even years like this. In other words, Paul found a way to live without having contact with the outside world. He lives in a fictitious reality, where his dreams and ideas are more important than the outside. Paul does not find any merit in experiencing the great outdoors; he satisfies all his needs within his own little bubble. He only interacts with people for a purely monetary reason. He serves in this case as a prime example of the “Social Autism” to which I previously referred, and I repeat: is this healthy?

While in our story Paul found that he could indeed do everything without leaving home, but he did not realise that the internet and social networks, though they provide an instrument to enhance our lives, can never truly replace the real thing. In my mind nothing will ever replace the experience of going out to a park and seeing children playing on the swings, or having a coffee and talking with a friend, or going to the movies or the theatre with someone you appreciate. In other words, nothing - absolutely nothing - replaces life.

So instead of using modern technology as a tool of isolation, let's makes use of apps like Google Map or Waze to get ourselves out of the house and witnessing the joys of life; let’s use an application to see what good movies are in the theatres or the best place to drink a beer or some coffee.
Following this ethos, I do believe we could ultimately say that the internet and social networks improve our lives. In short: to improve our life, we have to have one.

In the wake of revelations concerning meddling and interference by Russian parties in the 2016 presidential campaign, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) - the independent regulatory agency whose purpose it is to enforce campaign finance law in United States federal elections - is now set to review the rules which govern the placement and nature of political ads on online platforms, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub revealed at a tech conference on Monday.

The FEC agreed in late 2017 to come up with new rules after congressional committees demanded action from social media companies and lawmakers alike in response to the $100,000 worth of ads revealed by Facebook in September to have been purchased by Russian troll farms on their platform. Congress and the Senate were joined in their plea by various other parties and organisations including tech giant Google, whose influence will surely help proceedings move forward in good time.

Weintraub revealed few details concerning the proposed rule changes during Monday’s announcement, though she did give us an idea of the timescale the FEC will work to as she told her audience, “I’m hoping that we are going to be able move this rule-making forward within this election cycle.”

Also present at the conference was Katie Harbath, Facebook Inc.’s Global Politics and Government Outreach Director, who addressed the audience to make clear the company’s intent to take a strong stance against the issue in the future, and enact meaningful change as soon as possible.

According to Harbath, Facebook will begin archiving advertisements from political groups that have to file with the FEC or the Internal Revenue Service for four years, as well as providing users with details of the money spent on said ads and access to demographical data such as the age, gender, and location of those who see them.

Though Facebook do indeed seem clear in their intent to correct the issue, Harbath admitted they are still working out the details regarding how to best go about these changes.

“Do we do it by ad? Do we do it by campaign? Do we do it by day?” said Harbath, “There are a lot of different options there that we are trying to work through to help provide more of this transparency and authentication of people who are buying political ads on our platform.”

Thanks to technology there is rarely a time when we found ourselves disconnected from the larger world, and while this has been a great addition to our lives it has at the same time served as a kind of curse. We live through what others express through online, whether that be via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any one of the technological means at our disposal. However, we do not all face reality in the same way.

In the recent Prince Harry / Obama interview, the following was said:

“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”

Under these ideas, we must be aware that our approach to reality is not equal to that of any person in the world, and what may be normal for us may be deemed offensive by others. This is due to several factors: the first one is the context; where and when we are living, as well as how that reality affects and involves us. The second one is language; how to tell someone something that may sound wrong when read rather than spoken. The tone we use to express some ideas makes it sound a little sweeter in spoken conversation but when the same sentiment is read as text, it can oftentimes sound hard. The third and most important thing is the ideology; what can I read in the subtext of the written words? What is behind what appears on the screen? Who is reading my content and what may that person think of me? Many times we forget this and write without thinking, caught up in the passion of the moment.

In the aforementioned interview with Obama, one notable item of discussion was this technology, more specifically how interaction through social networks may have the potential to damage our society. Obama said: “The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn't lead to a Balkanization of society and allows ways of finding common ground.”

In this sense, technology is not the culprit; we are the ones who put a burden on the words and that burden must be taken, as the former president Obama, says to a common place. We must learn to speak a universal language on the Internet, a language that has nothing to do with context but with us as human beings. We must discover the common points that allow us to achieve an informed, effective, and above all useful interaction. We must sit down at some point and consider, what does an Englishman in Piccadilly Circus have in common with a Peruvian on Larco Avenue? It is important to leave the “Me” in this language and be able to realise how important language is to express ourselves to everyone. The big problem today is well known: first I write and then I think; however by the time any thinking occurs the message has already reached the recipient. These misused words are the beginning of fights, conflicts and in the worst cases, wars. This is the reason we need to be clear about the following: the problem is not technology, the problem is the way we use this technology.

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