by Valerio Pellegrini
Have you ever said: I’m deleting myself from social networks because I can’t anymore? Then you managed to do it, or you said: how can I keep in touch with my friends? How can I keep in touch with distant relatives or friends? What about job opportunities? How could I promote my products then?
In this short article I do not want to go into the philosophical, anthropological, political and sociological issues that social networks raise and that should be addressed, but in the complexity of all this chaos of issues related to the virtual world, on the pros and cons related to it, I will try to offer my personal experience.
Since I joined Facebook back in 2008 at the suggestion of a friend who was studying in the United States, the question has come up again and again, and I must say that I had not been able to find a final answer as to why I should delete myself or why I should stay. For some periods I deleted myself but then returned to the world of hashtags, posts, chats with friends and photos. In this seesaw of conflicting thoughts, emotions and feelings I recently decided to fast from Facebook, Messenger and Instagram for a short while.
On the one hand I was noticing an increasing sense of nakedness in relation to the audience of the networks and an addiction to feeds, stories, information, chats and friends’ posts. On the other hand, I felt a need within myself to communicate in the public/private virtual space my thoughts and worldview. Between these two contrasting voices I decided to do what I hadn’t been doing for a long time, i.e. to delete myself from the social networks, to see how I would have lived this distance and who knows, to have a more lucid look at this phenomenon and the motivations for or against my stay in the virtual world.
I have been fasting for three weeks now and I must say that I am beginning to feel a certain sense of well-being. I thought I couldn’t resist communicating with someone, seeing the news or posts of loved ones, I was afraid of losing contact with some people whose mobile phone number I don’t even have, I was afraid of losing a means through which I could express my voice or be informed. These fears gradually vanished to make way for a silence that I hadn’t experienced for a long time, a newfound harmony with reality, the need to release the energy that I previously used to communicate in the virtual world, in the real world.
Obviously pandemic times are not ideal for this kind of experiment, but despite this, I feel more and more clarity with regard to the desires that inhabit me and my needs. Before, these deep voices were like polluted, or rather, difficult to focus and listen to, precisely because the possibilities and choices opened up by the virtual world are potentially infinite and the inputs are continuous. Each photo, each post, each story created a different resonance in me, it turned on a light bulb, a momentary desire, it aroused an emotion, negative or positive, but in all this continuous flow it was difficult to listen to that deeper voice inside me, that voice that maybe I really wanted to share in my posts, in my images or in my stories.
I suddenly realised that in reality, when posting or chatting, I was not only responding to the continuous input of a flow that exceeded my capacity to assimilate, but I was also contributing to drowning out someone else’s voice. Mine was no longer a voice born out of silence, but a desire to be there and have my say in relation to something that, without realising it, had already overtaken me. During this fast, I was reminded of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. A desert which in Hebrew is called midbar, which means “the place from which the word comes”. I was also reminded of John the Baptist who declared: I am the voice of one who cries out in the desert, he was the voice of one who cries out in our depths, who groans, who wants to come out, our deepest desire perhaps, in a word Jesus, love, peace.
Suddenly I realised that on social networks I was no longer loving, but simply acting as a sounding board for the many voices that, like a tornado, were increasingly magnifying this inner chaos within me, and this outer chaos in this mega-organism that is social networks.
This dualism that I felt towards this phenomenon that I was experiencing, to leave or to stay, this continuous odi et amo, was dictated precisely by having lost that unifying voice that came from my depths, a voice of love, a merciful look and listening to the other. The images, the words, the stories slowly gave way to a single image, a single word, a single story. A word, an image and a story that are sources of life, generative, that do not need to make noise, to occupy space, to be seen, but that in tenderness and sweetness caress the soul.
Having recently returned to some of the social networks, I realise that I am looking at the different posts and images with totally different eyes, with the eyes of a closeness to others made possible by the closeness to a voice that was previously drowned out by so many other voices and by having lost the fear of losing something, in this case my relationships and my being there.
Having lost the need to be there seems to me to give a different meaning to the time I spend online. It is no longer an eternal present in which a flow of information assailed me and I remained passive, but rather an present of eternity to be inhabited. So I return with the awareness that the virtual is part of the real but, losing its real dimension, it continually seeks love, talks of love, or the idea of it, it continually confesses the need for love that we have, but does not give it. I return with a different awareness of time to live online: no longer a chronos of passive performance anxiety, but a kairos, an opportunity, to give. Those who really want to relate will always find the time that goes beyond a chat or a post or will really use them for this purpose, the eyes are not a screen.
Here at last after so many years I have an answer, mine one, existential, naked, to this phenomenon! Leave or stay? Hate or love? It’s up to you to find your answer!