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Blue pill, red pill

October 28, 2013

So, engaging graphics and playing-to-the-crowd sentiments aside, the video above is well worth a gander.

The main thrust of its narrative is a warning to all that we risk creating an increasingly lonelier state of self through the persistent use of social media, ironically pitched as social media can be as a way of improving an individual’s ‘connectivity’ in the world.

In the olden days we used to wake up, make tea, brush our teeth and collect our frozen milk bottle off the doorstep. Today, we’re more likely to check our email, Twitter and Facebook accounts before we even dip a toe out of bed, let alone respond diligently to any line of enquiry emanating from other human beings in our house.

Many of us are guilty of indulging in social media – for any of the escapist, solipsistic and egotistical currency from which such indulgence can be derived.  A new follower on Twitter, a flirtatious ‘like’ on Facebook.  A gushing comment in response to one’s own blog-post (if you are really fortunate).

Many, too, have leveraged the powerful viral nature of social media to positive and impactful effect – public awareness campaigns have flourished, social and environmental issues of importance given online oxygen and allowed to breath afresh into the hearts and minds of anyone prepared to handover a password and allow their days be punctuated by adverts, alerts, and affectations.

These are bite-sized morsels, mainly, which leave you unsatisfied yet craving more.

The video above helps present a sinister angle on the destructive mainstreaming of social media, but after watching the video I found myself push back on the more negative sentiments it conveys, as I have done many times in the past when presented with all the clear arguments for not smoking.  “Yes, yes, kind sir, I know these facts…what you are saying makes perfect sense to me…but, right now, all you are making me want to do with your argument is go out there and smoke cigarettes…”

Of course, actual “face time” (as opposed to the apple branded Facetime you can have via any iFriendly gadget) is really how society most often “gets things done”. Whether in business, in the classroom, on the shop-floor, or sat hand-in-hand at the movies: replication for anything else is yet to be invented.

This year, I’ve traveled to South America, North America, Europe, across parts of Asia, and at times been spell-bound by the people I have met along the way.  In Cusco, Paris, New Delhi, Hanoi.  Up mountains, at conferences, in cafes.  With each encounter I have learnt something different.

Earlier today I was woken up in Saigon by my restless daughters – keen as they were, and always are, to replace my perfectly functional alarm clock with, instead, energetic leaps onto my bed accompanied by their inaugural demands of the day.

This afternoon I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and watched the Indian Ocean waves lapping against the shoreline outside of my hotel. Inhaling deeply as I strolled the promenade, the distinct wafts and noises of local street-food eagerly being sold by friendly hawkers.

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Street-food on a Monday evening, Colombo style

I relish the fact that these ‘moments’ for me were/are my own.  Divorced from technology, happening in real-time.  No air-brushing, no embellishments.  Kinetic, sensual, impulsive.  In our connected world, isn’t it empowering to think that the ultimate way of connecting oneself to life around us is still best executed in the flesh?

Let us not forget that.

But let me not pretend to myself that that is enough anymore.

For there is a growing part of me that craves the type of connection that social media provides.  To fly a few time zones away from my children, safe in the knowledge I can see them on a webcam should I need to, joke with them, show them these very same waves, watch their giggling smiles, is something to embrace and cherish.  A feat of technology for which I am most grateful.

As far as I’m concerned, to share thoughts and images, instantaneously, in different forms and to different people, deserves more gratitude still.

The sky is the limit when it comes to technological capabilities.

In the film The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, is offered a choice (“blue pill, red pill”) as to whether he is prepared to plunge himself into the real world, and in doing so step away from the fake world (his current reality) created by robots.  Once decided, he cannot return to normal, nor to his old life.

Thankfully, our dilemma with social media is the flip to Neo’s conundrum.  We can return, and keep returning, when we feel like it.  Heck, we can even successfully and skillfully balance between the two, taking seriously only that which we know is worth taking seriously.

But, ultimately, as society evolves, so too do the opportunities which exist for leading the ‘2.0’ life that social media platforms carve out for us.  If the sky really is the limit, then I personally warm to the idea of reaching as high as we can.

Provided we make sure we take in all the views whilst we do so.

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This sunset was brought to you by social media (but it was me who got to enjoy it first hand)

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