Twink Macaraig (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2016 - 12:00am

“I am anti-social media. I never got it. I always thought that friends, by definition, were one’s inner circle.  People with whom you shared a history, vocabulary and sworn secrets that would be relayed to no more than two other people.  Now, friend is a verb. (I should say, a verb again. Because when I was a kid centuries ago, the worst threat that you could make to anyone who crossed you — as in, refuse to lend you her jackstones — was,  sige ka, I won’t friend you na!)”

That’s the beginning of a column I wrote ages ago just when Facebook was exploding and my hubby was among its innumerable casualties. It described my frustration that he was growing his army of FB friends and followers at the (somewhat hyperbolic) expense of his work and personal life. It ended with a truce, whereby he agreed to put in more time playing Pictionary with the family and I promised to be more understanding —which is not to say to understand more — of social media.

I’ve held up my end reasonably well.  While Facebook continues to elude me (see Deliberately 9/6/16) and Instagram is too selfie-driven for my muffin-topped mien (and don’t even get me started on how weird Snapchat is. Disappearing images. Whuu-ut?), I’m happy to say that Twitter and I flock together.  Its format suits my linear thought process. I get to sift through a constantly running Twitter feed — like old-school newswires — that help me decide which stories to dive into.

I appreciate the discipline it imposes — simplify, crystallize, edit — the 140-char limit giving you a built-in pause before posting (though not long enough a pause, apparently, to deter the likes of Anthony Wiener).

If one were to use dining options as metaphors, FB is a huge, reasonably-priced buffet like Vikings. Twitter is shabu-shabu — morsels gingerly dipped in a hotpot, then taken out and consumed — the flavor subtly enhanced by the various bits others have also put in — before the process is repeated.  Shabu-shabu isn’t for lamon.  There’s a straightforward-ness to cooking bite-sized food in a clear stock that’s as simple as it gets, though, again, those with designs like Anthony Wiener can really screw up a good shabu-shabu.  (Josko, tell me I did NOT just mention bite-sized food).

Twitter works really well for sharing quick, impersonal observations about current events. Heavy debates are — just as fisticuffs were in the years before the Internet — better taken outside.

But using the online repartee as a launchpad, I’ve made flesh-and-blood friends whom I first met online.  From the retweets of @PublishersWkly, the casual bon mots about the Corona impeachment, and the Grammar Nazi tendencies, I gathered that, while we held opposing views on major things like Benedict Cumberbatch, they liked fiction of the kind that wouldn’t appear on NBS bestseller lists.

We now meet regularly as members of a Book Club (Oh how O), armed with our respective assessments of a book we’ve all agreed to read. I’ve found that while it can be gratifying to sway the room into concurring with you that The Miniaturist is overwrought prattle, there’s nothing like having your opinion bend and shift upon being subjected to group evaluation. Convictions can change, even transmogrify as others offer unexpected reasons to see things differently — sharing their own insights and interpretations, raising points that might have been missed, dismissed or downplayed — such that previous 2-star ratings on average become a solid 3.5-stars across the board within the span of a couple of hours. And when that happens, it’s…. sublime.

One way or another, the Digital Age has taken reading — an introspective, solo endeavor — and expanded it into a visceral, communal experience (such life-altering experiences make me hopeful that books aren’t doomed to follow the route of cassette tapes and fax machines). Reading has expanded to include cheap wine and amazing home-cooked potluck contributions. It now can also involve taking in the dynamic between you and the book and others who’ve read the book, plus  the pivotal characters in the book, the book’s author, the book’s author’s other books, and the actor who is producing the film version of the book, all the while still enabling the most important relationship — you, the book, and your soul.

Speaking of the which, another individual activity that New Media can elevate is prayer. In the last months, I’ve been joining my high school classmates in novenas seeking healing for those of us suffering from cancer and serious illnesses. In hi-tech fashion, a combination of FB Messenger’s Group Call service and an international conferencing website had as many as 80 gels (with a hard G; that’s how our Algebra teacher referred to us) spanning three continents, to recite in unison the words Benedictine nuns carved into our collective subconscious while growing up on Leon Guinto during the martial law years.

From Luzon to Lyon, from Singapore to Switzerland, from Dumaguete to Delaware, from the Middle East to the Mid-West, from KL to LA, all responded, as if by reflex, to the familiar entreaty sent forth by Hannah in Jersey and Bodat in Seattle: LET’S VOLT IN!

Social media helped us achieve a joyful, glorious triumph over distance — whether measuring miles that separated us, the length of time since we’d last seen each other (in some cases, over 35 years), or how far removed many have been from practicing religious rituals, such as the rosary.

They’re like prayer-cum-pep rallies. We had spirit, yes, we did. With Sister Christine’s youthful alto (that hasn’t changed a bit from when she was Flora May Pinto, our crackerjack banduria player and head Girl Scout) leading from her convent in Pittsburgh, Sister Guerite joining in via Viber from Rome (besides two Srs., my batch boasts an impressive array of honorifics; about 30 Drs., quite a few Attys., and even one Capt.), it felt like the Blessed Mother herself was one of the gels. Our rallies might have taken place at an ungodly hour for the Europe-based, but with the love being transmitted through the speakers, we were certain God was volted in, too.

Which is the reason, having reaped countless blessings from social media engagement, I’m baffled by indications a large swathe of the online community has turned into a lynch mob.

I understand that the anonymity social media affords is essential to the central principle that anybody, even a nobody, can have a voice.

But how certain netizens embrace this anonymity to hurl all caps invectives on those they disagree with — even for news reports, ferchrissakse — is stunning, not least for the foulness of language, more so for how blithely they flaunt their deficiencies.

Bereft of premise, logic, form, or originality (uniformly, they eschew all punctuation except exclamation points), they seem in competition for who can be the most vile and vapid at the same time.

How is invoking an author’s mother, sexuality, or age warranted when nothing the author wrote deals remotely with any of those subjects?

Can it be anything but kachipan to insult someone’s looks, especially when the insulter’s profile pic is a still-life, Hollywood star or Caucasian baby?

In what universe does it even occur to someone to wish dread disease or threaten the most revolting kind of violence upon a reporter whose lone offense is that he wrote something you didn’t like? From what dark place do you hugot such venom?

And, as someone acutely aware of the value of time, I have to ask,Why?

Are they imagining a future when their turds of wisdom will be memorialized? Do they congregate and trade congratulatory high-fives to celebrate their zingers?

Tinawag kong lola, slut at hinayupak in one sentence si bitch presstitute. Ma-gangrape sana siya!

Touché! Pa-share ha?

Ginawan ko ng meme yung p* * * *nginang lola niya screwing MacArthur!

Pak ganern!

Wala yan! I told a Supreme Court Justice na full of s* * t siya. Akalain mo, nag-quote ng Constitution sa Twitter?!

Serious shade, brah! BURRRNNN!

Okay, so some of these vulgar creatures are that thing they’re fond of accusing journalists of being — bayaran. Some are really bots — programmed automated responses to social media posts. In which case, motivation is clear.  Manipulating the Net’s vast powers to create the impression of popular sentiment can be profitable.

But if you’re an honest-to-goodness troll — as opposed to a paid troll — my question stands. Why spend any energy committing online slander, especially when this pursuit is, ultimately, counter-productive?

Why obstruct introduction to perspectives that inform, if not enrich, your own?  Who knows, it could lead to one day having something to say that you’d stake your real name on, and not have to hide behind a J-Law avatar anymore.

Why forego the opportunity to interact with those who challenge your beliefs? Maybe you’ll find that they’re interesting guys whom you can imagine enjoying a beer with sometime. Maybe you’ll discover the pleasure of being part of a genuine discussion that necessarily includes an exchange of ideas (i.e. if a bunch of you are just echoing each other’s expletives, there’s no exchange taking place, is there?)

Why close off the possibility of discovering that someone who seems nothing like you may also be a human being, undeserving of rape, torture and butchery (shockingly), just like you?

Instead, by your anti-social, sociopathic behavior, you’ve missed out on fully exploiting social media’s rai·son d’ê·tre.

(What I couldn’t appreciate six years ago because my hubby was being annoying, I know now.)

Social media is about connecting.

But how can connections be made when you’ve poisoned the hotpot?

Who will make connections with you when you are indistinguishable from the products of a computer program?

Faceless. Brainless. Gutless. Soulless.

Just like bots.

* * *

Feedback is  welcome. Email  Trolls, pls. don’t bother cursing me with cancer. Been there, got that. Boom panes.

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