Many of us frequently bemoan our inability to use technology and social media in particular in a moderated, responsible and conscientious sort of way.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been interrogated by friends for having commented on Facebook at an unearthly hour, or gently reprimanded by loved ones for having been ‘last seen’ on WhatsApp at 5 am.
Equally in number, there are times when I have not replied to important messages until a week has passed, putting them off incessantly while having no trouble in finding the time to scroll through my Facebook newsfeed several times over in a day.
My priorities, when it comes to social media, seem less well-structured than in other aspects of my life; my sense of self-discipline flounders and my will power succumbs to the temptation of flicking through those wedding and honeymoon photos – occasionally (though not often) of people I have never encountered.
These musings led me to believe that the real lessons in responsible and ethical use of social media are to be learnt by stepping back in time to the previous generation, the generation of our parents and grandparents, that has now begun to acknowledge and embrace social media as an important part of everyday life.
Introducing my mother to Facebook a few years ago, while she visited me in England was a memorable experience, largely on account of its hilarity. It harked back to the days of my mother chaining me down to the homework table, adamant that not only was the work to be completed but the experience of learning also be enjoyed.
Her almost contemptuous disregard for Facebook, – based on it being ‘chinwaggy’, frivolous and an incomprehensible waste of time – was difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, I set up an account for her, encouraged her to rummage for her old school friends and family using filters, and she had built up a robust list of contacts over the next few weeks.
Her reaction to all this, as she secretly begun to enjoy it, was like that of a child trapped between ego and temptation. Her Facebook statuses were as endearing as they were amusing, sometimes reading, “Hello Gohar, how are you?” and at other times to my sister, “Saba, how did the chicken turn out?”
Photographs from two or three years ago were being liked and commented on; social occasions from a number of months ago were being approached with freshness and enthusiasm, very much in the present moment. “Having fun in Phuket?” was being asked for someone who had been and returned three years earlier.
The real glacé cherry on top of this rapidly rising sponge was that I felt my mother knew far more about my social life than I might have cared to share in the pre-Facebook days!
I had knowingly empowered her to quite literally track me down anywhere.
It turned out, however, that teaching my mother to use social media was akin to ‘teaching granny to suck eggs’.
I was dealing with an expert here; someone who, after having picked up the mundane practicalities of the system, worked it like an enchantress – deftly, effortlessly and wisely.
In my mother’s approach to technology in general, and social media in particular, I sense an integrity, a discipline and a sincerity that I fail to perceive in myself and in many others of my and the younger generation. She brings to it a wisdom that allows for a perspectival positioning of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, rendering them only as important as they are and worth the time that they genuinely deserve.
For instance, the Facebook ‘Like’ option, clicked by me almost instinctively and frankly a little blindly, is used by my mother’s generation with far more discretion; it is based on genuine appreciation rather than a mindless habit, something that has landed me in very awkward situations.
I believe that's so because my parents spent the large part of their lives with an almost sacred regard and reverence for communication with loved ones, who lived across the oceans.
For them, those three-minute (or six-minute, if the occasion really called for it) long-distance phone calls that involved high-pitched tones full of excitement and relief at hearing the voice of a family member, were no less than a luxury.
Quality of communication was privileged above all else.
And, for them, to now message the same loved ones and receive notification of the receipt of their message within a matter of seconds is gold dust.
So, whereas social media tends to make people like me take people and conversations for granted, making it somehow acceptable to have over 200 ‘friends’ on Facebook, for my parents’ generation, this very communication remains invaluable.
This digital appetite of the generation I speak of is more than just a pastime.
Research indicates that users of social media and internet technology are considerably more liable to reconnect with people from their past, and the rekindling of these connections can offer a priceless source of support as people become older, lonelier and more emotionally vulnerable.
Moreover, social media has served to bridge that widening generational gap that often rendered the social lives of two generations separate and impermeable.
Having said that, for them it is not a substitute for real and meaningful conversations and interactions. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Also read: The fake world of Facebook
I, for one, will continue to try to emulate the wisdom that my mother invests in both her understanding and use of digital technology.
Perhaps one day, I will learn that to flip open my smart phone mid-conversation with someone face to face, is not just anti-social but demonstrates a lack of very basic decency (frankly, how dare I?); that my children should not have to repeat their requests thrice before I look up from my phone to attend to them; that technology, no matter how sophisticated or how enmeshed into our lives, is ultimately, just that little bit less important.
And perhaps one day, like my mother, I too, will exert that striking coolness and nonchalance towards social media and not ‘check in’ when standing at the peak of the Eiffel tower. In fact, I would like to forget my phone on the bedside table at the hotel.