The perils of social media and why you need strong wings

Tales from a Brussels bar
BeerI caught up with Maj in the bar yesterday after a particularly confusing euro meeting, so I was happy to get beer in hand and think about things less complicated. Barely had I settled in my seat, however, before the discussion slid to that bane of modern conversation – social media.

Which was annoying, because Barcelona was playing Stuttgart and an early Stuttgart goal had made the match promising. But Maj had gathered some fellow tipplers around and, while I was admiring the Barcelona team strip, he’d begun to inveigh against the evils of social networking.

I have nothing against social networking, I thought. I like a drink as much as the next man. But it seemed Maj didn’t mean going down the pub. He was talking about phenomena like LinkedIn and FaceBook – and holding forth on the perils of giving away your personal information.

“What do you actually gain from social media?” he demanded. “I mean, do you actually get any real benefit from it, like work for example?” It was a rhetorical question – Maj had his finger in the air and obviously wasn’t expecting to be interrupted. So we waited …

“No,” he said. “What you get is a lot of people wanting information from you! It’s like a plague – an illness that distracts you from getting on with your real lives.”

“All these FaceBook applications for example,” he continued, “they want your information, or that of your friends or friends of friends.”

“It’s a way of building up a database of personal information that they can market to other companies,” he said. “And it’s a way of getting round the European data protection regulations – you can operate an application run by a US company, say – then which government are you to going to complain to if your ID is stolen?”

“I think social media is more for the ‘personne morale’ than the ‘personne physique’,” he concluded,” at which point he put his finger down and we sat for a moment, lost in admiration at this turn of phrase.

I wondered if I was more of a moral than a physical person, but thought it best to keep quiet. After all, my FaceBook page only showed three friends.

Maj gestured to Tam the barman for another round. Niva chimed in at this point, saying that she thought too many people used social media as a way of avoiding reality. “It’s too easy to create a completely false identity.”

“I prefer to deal face to face with a real person,” she said. “After all, it’s important to keep your eyes wide open in life, don’t you think?”

Personally I’d always thought it better to keep them half shut. But since her fiancé was present I wasn’t going to say anything. With no-one arguing, she ploughed on.

“Everyone should have a dream and should follow it,” she continued. While I wondered if I’d strayed onto the set of ‘South Pacific’, Maj opened his mouth to say something.

But Niva was not to be distracted. “The worst thing in life is not to know what you want,” she maintained, “because then you are living life like a leaf!”

I nodded agreement along with the others, impressed at the novelty of phrasing to be encountered in a Brussels bar.

“Most people have to search for what they want, because they don’t know what it is,” she said. “Once you know, you have to go after it, but it takes strong wings.”

“Strong wings?” I wondered. Was it the set of ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ that I’d walked onto? I glanced at the fiancé, who was keeping very quiet.

“Ten years ago I had no wings – I didn’t know what I wanted,” she said. “The worst for us in the communist times was the lack of information – we craved information,” she said. “I left because I felt held back, constrained by a society that had no ideas, that lacked hope.”

“Here we are now, in Brussels, overwhelmed with information coming from all directions,” she said. “But now that I know what I want, I can focus on it and ignore everything else as so much noise.”

Easier said than done, I thought, as at that moment Barcelona scored.

“That’s what I mean by strong wings,” she said, “I can overcome distractions and keep sight of what is real.”

She could certainly overcome distractions, I thought, noting that Maj was still waiting his chance to get back into the conversation. But the match had finished by then – a 1:1 draw – so I finished my beer and said my goodbyes.

Niva had a good point I thought – you have to focus on what is important for you. I wondered if FaceBook had a football-score application.

© Philip Hunt, 2010.

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