The Superficiality of Social Networking: The Holiday Edition

Category: Techtoday
An old Filipino overseas worker once told me of his long years in Hong Kong as a driver for a British diplomat. A devout Catholic and a family man despite his penchant for loose women, this driver told me that his first Christmas in Hong Kong was the hardest. The British family had left for London and he was all alone in a city where he knew no one and the language was beyond his meager skills to make friends. He told me that as midnight was minutes away during Christmas Eve, his chest tightened and he couldn't breathe. His eyes welled up and felt the loneliness break even his steadfast resolve to make a little bit of money so far away from his homeland. There was food in the refrigerator (with a jar of Grey Poupon no doubt), but no delicious home-cooked spread. There was a small gift from his employer, but no children to hug him and no relatives clamoring for his hard-earned money. So what did he do? He picked up the phone and called long-distance. He talked to his family for hours and didn't even waver when his British employer lightly scolded him for the impressive phone bill he racked.
The story occurred in the 80s when computers weren't in everyone's house and Linus Torvalds wasn't bitten by a penguin yet (this is my prerequisite reference to Linux). This Christmas Eve, I was all alone in my rented Shanghai apartment, shivering next to my BFF, the living room heater. Unlike my Filipino OCW friend, I didn't feel a tightening of the chest or loss of breathe - I almost choked on my chocolate doughnut though. After ravishing my microwaved dinner of rice and vegetables, I went over to my Lubuntu-powered system and pulled up my email. I was happy to see only two messages, one from Apple about their new iPad Mini and a message about making my penis bigger (obviously my spam filter needed optimizing). I used Skype to chat with a friend and knowing that no one else in my small circle of friends and family will be sitting in front of a computer, made a long distance phone call home. I could almost hear the binary impulses run through the cellular lines, jump digital switching units and possibly even pass through a few COs before my call connected.

It's during the holidays that social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook lose all meaning. The relationships built and maintained over such networks is superficial at best unless established far prior to the required digital sign-up. Greetings over posts and boards are only felt briefly and passes faster than a torrent of Game of Thrones or an email over a T1 line. Photos posted in services like Flicker and Instagram are mere shadows of events and emotions, cheapened doubly by Photoshop editing and file compression to JPG and PNG. Memes in Tumblr may be digitally immortalized, but it lacks the physicality of a hug, the slapstick comedy of a spilled eggnog, or a poorly told Christmas joke.

So drop those smartphones and set aside those tablets. Close those browsers and forget about those Google+ circles or that ridiculous "Like" button. It's the holiday season. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas or New Year or the end of the Mayan calendar, go with the flow and be happy with everyone else. The beauty of a holiday can never be experienced in a digital greeting card or social networking site. Like most things, you have to be there. Literally and not digitally.
Sincerest holiday greetings,
Your friendly neighborhood writer of Unsolicited But Offered.


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