It is an exciting and brave new world that we live in where information is an entity similar to the air that we breathe. It caters to your every need by the wonderful tool called technology in the vast space we have come to know as the cyberworld. No single human being is spared from this phenomenon where information about anyone or anything is easily accessible. Suffice to say, data is king.
The dangerous part of all this data being easily accessible is brought home to us during our latest Speaker Series on 22 June 2019 at our 7C Life RealiZation Centre. With a topic like ‘Cyberworld’s Psychological Impact: The Unknown Reality’, the discussion starts off with how the widespread sharing of information in the cyberworld can have a devastating effect of our lives.
A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
The use of social media and search engines is a double-edged sword, suggests Professor Dato’ Dr. Andrew Mohanraj. He’s observed that during family gatherings or social events, the younger generation, in particular, tends to be completely detached. They’re looking at their smartphones instead of communicating with the people around them.
Then again, this consultant psychiatrist also notes that the use of smartphones has brought people together in unexpected ways. When the older folk have trouble operating their smart devices, it is the younger generation that come to their rescue and help them.
Sometimes, however, the internet is used as a means to mask someone who wants to ridicule, embarrass or belittle someone else. It is easy to make a negative comment behind the veil of the social media. Sharing his story, he says that he’d selected his attire for the day in a hurry. His shirt was slightly creased and had shrunk in the wash. If he posts a photograph of him wearing this shirt on social media, he has no doubt that someone will make fun of him. No one, however, is likely to make any comment to his face. Looks like this is a case of cyberbully wolves only howling in the dark.
THE BARE NECESSITIES
This then leads to the issue of what, exactly, should we post on the internet? A young mother in our audience explains that she started posting videos of her daughter’s antics on her social media accounts. Her intention remains to view them as ‘pick me ups’ when she was feeling down. Unexpectedly, these videos have garnered a following from previously distant relatives. Even though her husband isn’t keen on so much about their daughter being shared online, she feels that these videos have brought her family closer together.
“Are your intimate moments among your family members and loved ones necessary to be posted online for the whole world to see?” asks Professor Andrew. Isn’t it fulfilment enough for the mother alone to view such cherished photos? What happens if someone makes a negative comment, instead of the hitherto positive ones? How will this mother cope if the comment wasn’t what she wanted to read?
The act of making ourselves vulnerable in the cyberworld is reiterated by HH SwamiGuru when he speaks about the tracking of behavioural patterns by social media platforms. In the olden days, the personality trait of a person could be tracked by answering a questionnaire of 60 questions. Nowadays, social media giants use various data analytics methods to obtain such data. These are based on your behaviour online such as what you search for in search engines, what you buy online and many other online activities. These actions have the potential to make you vulnerable because trackers generate fake empathy based on what you like and create engaging and comforting content designed especially for you.
This is seconded by Professor Andrew who adds that the military and intelligence agencies around the world also pick up on such behavioural data points and use them to deduce potential or ongoing terrorism activity.
The only logical question to follow this, then, is this – when one has already become a victim of the cyberworld, how does he avoid becoming falling into the same trap in the future? For a start, one must first realise the serious damages that extensive exposure to the internet and social media is having one’s life. Once there is this realisation, it’s then necessary to wean off this ‘addiction’. Seek professional help if it’s not possible to do all this alone.
Also, as children are most affected by the indiscriminate use of the internet, parents must play a crucial part in monitoring their actions online. The trick is not to be medieval with the approach, but to coax the child in a mature manner. In this age when every teenager has a Facebook account, parents should impose a contract with the kid that until he’s a certain age, the parent will have access to the child’s account. This approach not only creates a bond of trust between them, it teaches the child to obey rules and instructions.
Ultimately, the advice is simple. Although the impact of the cyberworld, both psychological and otherwise, has been enormous, we must take steps to protect ourselves online. Simple measure like limiting the use of public Wi-Fi networks, not downloading illegal content and only relying on certified producers are good enough. In so doing, we go some way towards enhancing the happiness and joy that the cyberworld allows us to enjoy.
Vishnu Thanniyachalam is a member of 7C Life RealiZation Centre.