Before the leap forward

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

It’s the age of technology. It’s also the age of social media. There are many who are upset with social media and the endless chatter that characterizes it. I think they want more technology than social media. I do not believe they can see that happen. Instead, what is I see is the opposite – that with more technology will arise more social media.

There is a deep connection between the two if we look deeper. Technology is an inner game. Those who invent it usually do it in their heads, then in their laboratories (or equivalent). And when that technology is introduced to the rest of us, it again demands an inner and individual effort – our trying to learn and apply the new technology.

Human beings, however, are relating creatures by nature. It is not that human beings want to relate – they have to. Isolation is tantamount to denying life its perpetuation, a perpetuation that happens only when humans relate. Being pushed by technology, from creation to application, man engages intellectually, or largely solely, because technology is not a social animal.

The age of technology, the era of information, necessarily needed its compensating partner – social media – to create as much as possible that balance between living in the mind and relating to others. Yes, social media is not physically personal but it is personal nonetheless in the context of communication. Yes, it is not as intimate as when as senses come into play with communication, but it is much more available to all of us in this age.

We must relate, even if most of it comes via social media, versus the prospects of not having nearly enough active relationships. In an environment where time is under pressure, where traffic takes up three to four hours a day from home to work and back, there will not be that many opportunities for active and friendly relationships. Especially if work does not involve much interaction with workmates. Especially if work is like homework for students – mostly a mind thing.

Because if we do not relate with people, albeit virtually, we will still need to relate. That means we will have to relate with whatever is there, like our imagination, like our phones or tablets, which makes us even more isolated in a world of our own.

Not bad, too, if we can turn isolation to a peaceful aloneness, meditation, reflection. But that kind of solitude is not a forced situation it is one we look for with effort, practice, and usually with guidance from the wisdom of others.

Most of our technology comes from the West, especially Americans or from America, where loneliness in society is by now a usual feature of the environment. But Westerners have a temperate climate, complete with autumn and winter where being alone or cooped up is a simple consequence. We are people of the tropics where sunlight and colors abound, and where social interaction is an integral part of our culture. In our native social setting, to be excluded from others is one of the worst punishments, to be ostracized has, in fact, been a social tool to force someone to stay within acceptable bounds of behavior. We are not meant to be alone and we do not have enough environmental support for social isolation.

Since most of the creators of modern technology come from cultures very different from ours, cultures that have rewarded intellectual activity and accomplishments, the applications they sell, and which we heavily use, will not tend to make us relate actively with others. They are meant to make us stand alone, even if they cover it with the word “convenience.” They will try to make us comfortable with being alone for the sake of convenience. Yet, we pay a steep price for this because our cultural DNA demands social interaction. Ask those in the know about mental health, depression, and suicide.

To attend to their own loneliness, even if they are more used to it, the West developed social media. Through that, they relate in ways and intensity they never used to. At the same time, Filipinos naturally resonate with these social media apps because relating has been the most constant activity in our collective lives. Social media which was not created by us, never deliberately meant for us, now has Filipinos among its top users – because relating is about being Filipino, too.

In an immediate future where technology, most especially Artificial Intelligence, will dominate businesses and economies, governance and the military, education and the academe, the careers of our children and grandchildren will be deeply influenced. I hope we can prepare them for that environment. We must know where we have natural and cultural advantages – then focus there from the Grade School level. Our young are not merely trying to learn academic courses, they have to transition to a world that will not resist exploiting them for their ignorance or unpreparedness.

Yet, we have the raw materials to thrive even in ultra-modernity. We only need to look at what we are, in the essence, what we have, from our motherland, and what we dream to be using our God-given talents and assets. It is not really that difficult to know ourselves as people better. We have a government, we have great minds in our academe, we have entrepreneurs who began from scratch, we have social scientists who can inculcate in us our history, our culture, and we have us, a people blessed with everything except a strong sense of our deepest selves.

Before we look out, we look in. We are part of a global community and we cannot disregard the world. But disregarding ourselves for the world would mean a kind of collective suicide, a surrender of our very identity, and ultimately brings us to engage our global neighbors with a serious disability. We cannot stop the world, but the world cannot stop us, either. That is our choice, not theirs.

Leave a Comment