THE INTERNET: IT’S A SHAME WHAT WE DON’T FEAR
It’s a shame. Well, it used to be a shame. People had skeletons in their closets (those “secrets” about people’s lives which, if revealed, would have a negative impact on others’ perceptions about them). For example, back in the day, a girl in high school finding out she is pregnant… that would have become a huge closeted skeleton. Girls would be whisked away to facilities that would “hide” and care for girls in such a “condition” until they gave birth. Talk about shame! And yet, the “shame” factor had less to do with an unplanned pregnancy but more to do with the realization that the girl had broken the primary societal more of being sexually active (the cultural and religious double standards did not apply to boys.
It’s the same ridiculous contradiction that goes as far back as biblical narrative. Remember the Jesus story about “The Woman Caught in Adultery?” The “Law of Moses” decrees that such women should be stoned to death. And yet, what about the man? Where’s he? Did the woman “commit adultery” by herself?).
My friend, Rachael Ali, was a brilliant educator. Rachael used to say, “When we were kids, we knew fear. Fear was a good teacher. But many of the fears we grew up with are now just laughed about. That puts young people at greater risk. They don’t fear danger, hence, much more risky behaviors. And we’ve just about erased any sense of shame. Granted, we were taught the opposite: our “examination of conscience” was a detailed self-interrogation that forced us to admit, and have shame for, every possible mistake that happens in the course of normal human psycho-sexual development.”
So what happens when young people lack fear? Teens and young adults live during a period when the brain is not yet fully developed (notably, the pre-frontal cortex, the part necessary for rational thinking, is still growing). A psychiatrist friend describes it this way, “Imagine your teen’s brain as a high speed race car. Well, the pre-frontal cortex is the brakes! Add social pressure, impulsive decision-making, partying, and other factors, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.”
Shame among young people may have begun its decline with The Jerry Springer Show and found its zenith in The Oprah Winfrey Show. Springer catered to the least common denominator. His brand of television showcased the ridiculous and trashy. And yet, many people loved it. Dysfunctional relationships, along with all their abysmal behaviors, betrayals and dishonesties (formerly, the stuff of “closets with skeletons”), now became the genre of successful entertainment. Nothing was secret anymore. In fact, the more outrageous, the more “exposed,” the better (“I Slept with my Daughter’s Husband because my daughter won’t have kinky sex with him!”).
And while I remain a fan of Oprah Winfrey and truly appreciate much of the good programming she has advocated as well as the triumph she has become for women in a very patriarchal industry, her early years in television introduced a therapeutic-like interview that allowed the “victim” a place to tell their version of a heartbreaking story without a fair opportunity to hear “the other side,” nor any means for follow-up, the crucial, “what comes next?” In fact, it has been posited that the “Center for Global Relationships” (aka Facebook) is a natural consequence of the Winfrey model and its many varietals.
Facebook © certainly has its value and may well surpass the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans in terms of “great Empires.” But its flaws are significant and its undertow pervasive. By nature, humans are psychosocial and cultural beings. While the development of FB has happened at an astonishing pace, its influence and trajectory remain questionable and its perils yet to be fully revealed.
Given its tendency to showcase polarizing opinions as well as its being a dwelling place for “fake news,” internet media outlets such as FB can do much harm. Its most dangerous feature may possibly lie in the fact that such websites can only be programmed by their vendors. While it makes for an overall consistent experience for the user, it denies the kind of participation and future formation by the users that would allow for improvement and innovation, not just for business purposes, but more importantly, for the moral and ethical quandaries that, continually, are becoming more evident.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook, Inc., states, “Facebook isn’t satisfied with owning the most attractive distractions on your phone. It would rather be the place where the most meaningful parts of your life actually happen.” “The Future of Facebook is Your Whole Life,” Sonya Mann, 2017, http://www.inc.com
“The more immersive Facebook’s products become, the more value they’ll have for advertisers, of course.” Ibid.
And that’s a shame.