Personal privacy issues versus more advanced technology?

ON July 1, 2022, the social media behemoth that is Facebook ‘released me’ from its 30-day long ‘imprisonment’ when I could not participate on their social platform other than read and scroll and generally be just an observer on the sidelines: I found on Google that the official terminology for such a person is a ‘lurker’ and it is a rather apt description too.

Lurker: ‘A lurker is essentially a creeper who stalks down your Facebook so they can constantly be on top of what you’re doing. It’s not always easy to spot a Facebook lurker, but if you do, there are precautions you can take: delete them, block them, make your profile private etc.

Most lurkers never post on their own Facebook accounts nor do they comment. But they are always there all the time!’

But my 4,959 friends and 6,652 followers (as at June 30, 2022) know that I am neither a lurker nor someone who’d post anything offensive or who would be prone to be censored to have landed me in Facebook jail.

So what had actually happened?

On the morning of June 1, 2022, in my excitement to wish all my Dayak friends and relatives a Selamat Hari Gawai, I had re-used a favourite and lovely image (you could even call it a ‘Greeting Card’) which I had posted before on June 1, 2014 – at that time, without any issue at all.

I am sharing it here today and you can judge for yourself.

The difference between then and now it would seem to me to be a recently-instituted Facebook admin’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) in the form of ‘autobots’ who are now being widely used in social media and public forums to scrutinise, censor and pass judgement on offensive  posts and comments made on various social platforms on the Internet.

They, on their own, had decided that what was acceptable for public viewing eight years ago is now no longer as ‘innocent’ today: I had actually appealed to Facebook Admin on my ‘suspension’ then, but received no response; hence, my 30 days in the Facebook ‘wilderness’.

The ‘offending’ Facebook post of June 1, 2022.

Which now leads me to this week’s topic – what was our life like before the Internet became such a big part of it? Has it enhanced our lives, or made it more stressful and complicated?

How has the Internet changed the way we live right now?

As always there are pros and cons, benefits and dangers. I’d like to list some of the benefits to start with, and these are my personal points of views that I’m sure many of you would also recognise and agree with.

I have found great benefits in the way we have been able to go online and transact our banking matters, make online payments of bills and transfers of funds. We have all seen too, the great advantages of personally selecting, booking and confirming tickets to travel, for accommodation, for all forms of entertainment and other conveniences.

Online shopping has been rather seamless, with the world of books, movies and music opening hitherto unavailable platforms like Amazon, Kindle, Shopee, Spotify and a myriad of others.

Locally, nowadays you could even order a pizza, a packet of ‘laksa’ and have it paid for and delivered within a short time right to your doorstep! You can have courier services, cab, hire-car and travel agency services at your fingertips.

Many online businesses have met with great successes: from home bakers to specialist caterers to florists, DIYs and used goods suppliers; services offering the full range of home-visit physio-therapists, masseurs to plumbers and landscape artisans – they have all been able to reach out and advertise their products and services on the Internet.

We also benefit from being able to read and watch the news, any TV programmes, new mini-series and the latest concerts on our many devices, from handheld smartphones to 50-inch smart-TVs at our own convenient time in the comfort of our own homes.

Best of all, with the wonders of Zoom, WhatsApp chat and Facetime, it had meant that you could video-call or tele-conference with your business associate or your loved ones anywhere in the world so long as they are connected, to talk in real time, on video-calls, anytime of the day or night. You can even attend church services, listen to pre-recorded sermons, attend wakes, funerals, baptism and weddings and other events on-line. All this for free, or for a very minimal charge.

Another great advantage has to be coupled with the wonders of GPS – and the way that Google Maps, Waze and other apps have been so indispensable for us all, especially in navigating ourselves around – looking for directions, on business or holiday, for any possible location and so many other endless possibilities for their use – provided of course that there’s a connection.

Before all this, we only had physical maps and verbal directions to rely upon.

So what is there for us to complain about? What are the downsides and disadvantages or how has the Internet affected our lives in negative and stressful ways?

Privacy is one issue high on most lists. Once you get on to any social media platform, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Linked In and especially if you are on WhatsApp and belong to many groups (WAGs), your first and greatest sacrifice will be your personal privacy.

I know for a fact that a majority of people find this extremely stressful; it is probably the one single biggest issue that has prevented many from either setting up a personal account or being fully active on it (thus, in a sense they too become just ‘social media lurkers’ – not knowing that this very term itself has a rather negative connotation to it).

Your personal life and the lives of your family, loved ones and colleagues will become virtual ‘open-books’ up for scrutiny by anyone who can access your account.

If you are on Facebook and even if you are not a ‘Friend’ or a ‘Follower’ of a certain person, you are still able to see many of the posts and comments made by their friends and followers.

It is, therefore, very important that you check your personal settings on who can view your account – if you take some time to go to the ‘Settings’ and go through the various available security check-points thoroughly: if unsure, do seek out the advice of a more knowledgeable and Internet-savvy friend.

More plus points of the net? Nowadays, you can learn how to do-it-yourself (DIY) – anything from watching the millions of YouTube video-clips; from how to open up the box and operate your latest model smartphone to repairing any appliance or device, to cultivating prize-winning roses, to how to perform complicated tasks and even step-by-step visual and verbal instructions on how to produce a culinary offering fit for a Michelin star eatery.

It really boggles the mind.

What do I miss most from all this ‘life on the Internet’ these days compared to the simple unconnected ‘good old days’?

I miss the fact that booksellers, bookstores and magazine/newsagent stands have disappeared in the last few years everywhere in most of Asia; and that there’s only the odd Popular and MPH bookstores and the local ‘Mom & Pop’ booksellers still trying to survive in Kuching and elsewhere in Sarawak. Years ago, the last video store had closed down, the last vinyl and CD/cassette seller had gone bust, and today, there’s only a handful of cinemas still left to fend for themselves, with ticket-prices upwards of RM25 per seat.

I hasten to add here that yes, there are still a handful of places selling records, CDs and cassette-tapes and also books/magazines, but they can really be counted on two hands. I pray and wish them long survival, with profits to boot.

I miss seeing young children out in the fields, at parks and on picnics with their parents, grandparents and other kids. The almost total blanket use of the Internet had meant that 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds are constantly and almost exclusively, by force of habit, glued to their devices even when they are spending time with each other.

Do grandparents take their grandkids fishing anymore?

I am extremely pleased and happy to be able to say that I have been able, on many occasions, to play board games (Monopoly, Scrabble and others) with my grandson Shane, who’s now 8 years old.  He is still interested in reading physical books and has a growing library, although you can see the slow, but certain preference, shown for his iPad, television viewing and YouTube video clips these days.

How long can we hold back this sure, but certain, change of habit? Would he be able to find his own balance in the years ahead?

I did not experience any personal withdrawal pangs nor had I felt myself deprived or being left out during my just completed 30-day ‘hiatus’ from being active on Facebook (although I also have accounts on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, I am not used to them).

I did browse, scroll and read most of the usual friends and online media posts and comments.

I had also spent more time elsewhere, away from the Net. It’s a good thing if you can balance your own time, personal space and other interests between being on the internet, away from it, with your friends and family and of course having your own personal ‘Me Time’.

Anyway, I doubt very much if anyone else would be at a loss if they were ‘off the grid of Facebook or other social media’– that is spending more than an average of one to two hours scrolling his or her social media.

However, I have found to my astonishment that there’s a huge following for YouTube video-clips (mostly for those inane, really nonsensical slapstick throwaways and ridiculous DIYs or medical-advice gurus – please don’t believe anything they say).

There’s also a sizable fan-base for Korean, PRC and dubbed foreign miniseries and serials that had led to many sleep-deprived device-addicted eyeballs in the mid-mornings in many homes that I know.

I end on a humble note of advice: as far as the Internet is concerned, please do everything in moderation, as your doctor would always advise when you ask him – what should I do – more exercise, less carbs, more greens, or what doc?

Yes, please heed moderation in everything that you do in life, that’s the answer and it’s really no big secret.

Take care, keep well and stay safe. Use the Internet to benefit our lives, but do not be beholden to it.