Speaking on the subject of social media at a media conference in Bangkok about a year ago, I essayed the opinion that perhaps the most troubling aspect of social media is its tolerance and encouragement of anonymous authorship.
Perhaps the most trenchant critic of social media is the author Andrew Keen (The cult of the Amateur). He believes that social media makes us behave worse, not better. “The Web’s cherished anonymity can be a weapon as well as a shield.” Misbehavior using anonymity has widely occurred, in the form of “trolls” and “sock puppets,” and bullying.
Keen is not alone in nursing reservations about social media and networking sites
In a major article on recent research findings, Science editor Sarah Knapton reports that psychologists are warning that embellishing the truth to impress friends on sites like Facebook may implant false memories.
A fifth of young people admit that their online profile bears little resemblance to reality, and that their recollection of past events has been distorted by their own fabrications.
Young adults, aged between 18 and 24, say they frequently lie about their relationships, promotions at work and holidays.
Previous research has suggested that social networks are damaging to autobiographical memory.
Psychologist Dr Richard Sherry, a founding member of the Society for Neuropsychoanalysis, warned that it could also lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness.
“Being competitive and wanting to put our best face forward – seeking support or empathy from our peers- is entirely understandable,” said Dr Sherry.
“However, the dark side of this social conformity is when we deeply lose ourselves or negate what authentically and compassionately feels to be ‘us’.
“When this starts to happen, feelings of guilt and distaste toward ourselves can create a cognitive trap of alienation and possibly even a sense of disconnection and paranoia.”
In short, social media have the power to ‘undermine the coherence between our real, lived lives and memories.”
Thoughtless extravagance or conspicuous consumption
It is a reflection of how times have changed in this country that the harshest criticism hurled at Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera for their over-the-top wedding was the pedestrian “thoughtless extravagance.”
The vocabulary is completely different from when I was cutting my teeth in journalism. In the face of ostentatious display of wealth, social commentators then bluntly called it “conspicuous consumption”—a term from sociology and economics.
When ABS-CBN patriarch Eugenio Lopez Sr. and his wife celebrated their wedding anniversary sometime in the Sixties, the festivities were so lavish that they were criticized for “conspicuous consumption.” ‘Tis said that champagne flowed freely from a fountain at the reception. One columnist in the Lopez-owned Manila Chronicle, Renato Constantino, could not help but level criticism. This led to a dustup that ended with Constantino leaving the Lopez Museum. Some also lost their jobs at ABS-CBN.
The term conspicuous consumption was introduced by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in the book The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions (1899), to describe the behavioral characteristics of the nouveau riche (new rich).
Conspicuous consumption is the spending of money on and the acquisition of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power. Sociologically, to the conspicuous consumer, such a public display of economic power is a means of either attaining or maintaining social status.
“Invidious consumption,” a more specialized sociological term, denotes the deliberate conspicuous consumption of goods and services intended to provoke the envy of other people, as a means of displaying the buyer’s superior socio-economic status.
What Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera did for their nuptials is perhaps more fittingly described as “invidious consumption.” Theirs was just hyped to scandalous status by their showbiz celebrity, and the eagerness of notables like President BS Aquino to take part in the orgy of excess.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio is correct that the Philippine Civil Code forbids “thoughtless extravagance.” In Article 25, the code states: “Thoughtless extravagance in expenses for pleasure or display during a period of acute public want or emergency may be stopped by order of the courts at the instance of any government or private charitable institutions.”
But this leads nowhere. What court, what government, what institution would order the nuptials stopped, when the President of the Philippines is first in line among the guests?
Dingdong and Marian are too young to be already accused of decadence. So thoughtlessness sounds right.
Stunt and punishment
The case of tour guide Carlos Celdran becomes pathetic by the day. After losing in the Regional Trial Court and in the Court of Appeals, he now plans to bring his plight to the attention of Pope Francis when his Holiness comes to visit next week.
In ruling on the case, involving his insolent disruption of church services at the Manila Cathedral, the appeals court affirmed the Manila Regional Trial Court’s conviction of Celdran for offending religious feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.
Celdran was meted a penalty of two months and 21 days to one year, one month and 11 days of imprisonment for shouting inside Manila Cathedral in 2010 and calling out the Church for meddling in government affairs while holding a “Damaso” sign referring to “Padre Damaso,” the Darth Vader in Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere.
In its 23-page decision, the appellate court said: “The RTC was correct when it found that in conformity with one’s right to free exercise of religion, the faithful may, within the limit set by laws, rightfully practice and observe their beliefs, unimpeded by unfair interference from other people.”
It rejected Celdran’s defense that his action was a legitimate and protected exercise of freedom of speech.
Most people sensibly choose to express their views within the bounds of the law. Celdran chose to do his speech outside the law.
Celdran could be a victim of his own exhibitionism. He succeeded too well in calling attention to himself and his stunt. He has few supporters and defenders even among the trigger-happy human rights crowd.
Now, he plans to employ the same tactic during the Pope’s visit, by putting himself up as a victim.
With this column, I will feature every Saturday what I call a weekly journal.
It will consist three or four entries from my journal and notebook, each of which will consist of around 300 words. I used to write a daily front-page column called “Good Morning” for the Daily Globe, Today and the Times, which was strictly of that length. Each daily greeting, sometimes cheerful, sometimes mordant, was a quick comment and note on the passing scene—political, social, cultural, economic, whatever. I got the idea for it from the writer-painter and bon vivant Emilio Aguilar Cruz, who started it in the Globe, when I was editing the paper. I liked the discipline of writing in very limited space.
Instead of feeling claustropobic, I found it oddly liberating and encouraging of insight and humor.
“Good morning” was successful and interesting enough to earn a loyal readership and a standing invitation from Anvil Publishing for me to assemble a collection of my good morning pieces. I hesitated in doing the book project, for fear that many of the pieces would be dated.
Now, with the weekly journal, I will continue the daily exercise, but in a slightly different format.