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Socially Anti-Social?

December 27, 2012

What happened to this week? One day it was Monday, and the next thing I know Friday was already here with us. It felt like the days in between just disappeared and all the hours were merged into one long day. All the same I am glad we made it through another week, and what a week it has been! Obviously, if you are reading this, then it means the world didn’t end on Friday the 21st like the Mayans had predicted. I guess what this means is that they need a new calendar.

Speaking of a new calendar, the one currently on my wall says that this is the 2nd last Sunday of the year before the curtain finally draws on 2012. This obviously means that the Festivities are about to hit the highest gear, what with Christmas day just a day away and boxing-day two days after. Needless to say, the Christmas feeling is all over the place, from public offices, to private offices, to the malls, you name it. There are Christmas trees all over; some very healthy while others look quite malnourished. All the same, this is all in the spirit of the festivities.
 
But even before we reach the crescendo of the season, we have some curtain-raisers here and there in the form of Send-off parties, Pre-wedding parties and weddings. I guess one of the reasons I found this week very short is because I was involved in the management of one such event for one of my corporate clients. As a company, we only do corporate events but since this is one of our corporate clients who asked us to handle a non-corporate event for him, we extended our customer service to him and decided to go full-throttle on his daughter’s pre-wedding party. What a party it was!
 
There were about four hundred invited guests, which means that the likelihood of 75% of them not knowing each other was very high. We had set about forty tables each sitting ten people. Obviously, with such a high number of guests, not all the people sitting at one table knew each other; except for the tables where we had placed the bride’s and groom’s families. Considering that not everyone knew each other, you would expect that at least people would take the initiative to know who was sitting next to them. What I found amazing is that most people seemed not to bother, and even when the Mistress of Ceremony said that people should mingle and get to know each other, those words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Most people opted to use the time to “know” their smart phones better.
 
At that point I couldn’t help but wonder; has technology converted us into anti-social beings, where we are more “comfortable” bonding with gadgets as opposed to bonding and talking to people face to face? It is ironic really, that though smart phones and the like were meant to make life easier for us, they seem to have managed to complicate them more. What was meant to bridge the gap between one person and another has managed to make the gap even bigger. What really happened?
 
Remember the good old days when you would be at the bank queuing to get services, and by the time you leave that bank you would have made two or three friends? Chances are likely that nowadays you do not even take time to look at the person ahead of you, leave alone the one behind you.  Since every phone nowadays has affordable communication options ranging from SMS to Internet related messaging services, people opt to spend their time communicating with the virtual world than to physical beings. 
 
In fact it is so bad that recently, one of the Telecoms in Tanzania captured the scenario in a very interesting radio jingle. In the jingle, a man loses his wife to his best friend simply because since he bought a certain Internet Data package from the said Telecom, he never seems to have time for his wife and family. The sad but humorous part about it is that as the wife is telling him all this, he just keeps agreeing to everything she is saying without really listening. Why? Because he is busy on the Internet! Doing what? Well, being "anti-social".
 
The truth is, there are people who are like this man. When they get home they don’t even have time to get to bond with their families. Between the Television, the hand-held and the laptop, which one will he sacrifice in order to be with the family? Since they are so addicted to their gadgets, they opt to sacrifice their families and in the long-run, there is a detachment. I can’t help but wonder; what would happen to such a household should power go off at around 8pm. Would they even have anything to discuss or talk about? I wouldn’t be surprised if the man got into his car and went back to the office, or to the nearest pub. Why? Because he has lost touch with his family; he has become a stranger in his own house. He probably doesn’t even know what shoe-size his child wears, or what cup size the wife has. Yes, technology has come in between him and all those who should matter to him most.
 
Like the old expression clearly states, everything in moderation, and as someone else said, too much of anything is dangerous/poisonous, meaning we should use common sense to know how to balance everything we do in life. Unfortunately, it has been proven in so many ways that common sense is not common to everyone.
 
My message to all of us today is very simple; do not let technology convert you into an anti-social person. At the end of the day, it is your family that would stand in for you should things go wrong in life. It is those who are physically present who would step in to help you should a situation call for this. It is that wife/husband you have been ignoring and taking for granted who would take you to hospital should you fall sick, and not your virtual friends. Like the Kiswahili proverb says: “usiache mbachao kwa msala upitao”. The application of this proverb would be don’t desert your old friend for a new acquaintance who may not be permanent. Your family is meant to be permanent, but you could lose them if you are not careful.
  
Having said all that, I also acknowledge the fact that there are some people whose families are not with them and so they use technology to keep in touch with them. That is acceptable and understandable, but that does not mean that one should shut himself/herself off from people around such as co-workers and friends. No (wo)man is an island. We were created to be relational beings, not virtual beings.
 
This festive season take a break from the virtual world and come back to the world of the living. Re-establish contact with those you may have lost contact with because you had shifted to your own private virtual world, especially your family. You will realize how fulfilling this will be for you.  
 
I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas filled with love, joy, togetherness and peace. 
 
PS: This article appeared on the 23rd December 2012, in one of the Weekly Newspapers in Tanzania, "Guardian on Sunday", under my column known as "Thoughts in Words".

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