Khofiz Shakhidi: Excessive communication through social networks exhausts people’s lively interest in each other


Indifference overwhelms us like a pestilence, in big cities especially. Chasing the life of Reilly’s attributes we hurry past unbelievably beautiful scenery, real feelings and noble acts. How long can man stay on this side of the screen without becoming a smartphone’s appendix? Hope is not lost as long as there are those “looking at the Orient in admiration,” says Khofiz Shakhidi, our all-time columnist, Board Chairman of GTL Group.

A Choikhona or Chaikhana is a tea parlour in Central Asia. It has always been a place for a prayer, some green or black tea and a leisurely philosophical talk about everything. It is best described by Omar Khayyam:

Living Life Tomorrow’s fate, though thou be wise,

Thou canst not tell nor yet surmise,

Pass, therefore, not today in vain,

For it will never come again.

A weary wayfarer would feel at home in its friendly atmosphere. Time would stop. The guest would find a warm welcome with everyone as, enjoying a bowl of nosy tea, he would speak of distant lands’ wonders and the news of neighbouring states. Visitors would talk passionately and listen closely, play narde and talk business, discuss everyday things and celebrate events of note.

Tired with all these gadgets, some are reaching for the Oriental culture and wisdom carefully preserved by their bearers. Tolle Eckhart’s “The Power of Now,” Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” and many other books on mindfulness, a traditional Oriental value, have been written. The Oriental living “here & now” is about immediate attendance, complete involvement, attention to the other’s words, an unhurried dialogue, nice and expressive gestures and eye-to-eye energy exchange.

The latest gadget is an indicator of success and wealth, being sought-after and valued. You have made it in life. Meanwhile, appearances are deceitful. The truth is on the flip side of the coin — we are being robbed of mindfulness. The 21st century man’s attention has been turned into a consumer product, a raw material of sorts. Facebook boasts of 2.3 billion subscribers. Our attention is traded on a planetary scale. Registration in social networks is free but they take away part of our lives so, in fact, we pay through the nose. How many of us have ever reflected on how often we see people sitting at a table in complete silence and isolation with their iPhones in hand? That is the real flip side of the so-called “freedom of choice.” It is, alas, imaginary. Giving a child a gadget to be used to their hearts’ desire is, in actual fact, depriving them of real freedom. The child is still developing and later will not thank you on realizing what has happened and been done to them. In some 30 years’ time a convincing research proving an undeniable damage to children’s development caused by gadgets and social networks is sure to appear. In the meantime, my children are very seldom allowed to use iPhones.

Adults are also always “in touch.” Excessive communication via social networks kills interest in live people’s lives. The joy of real contact is lost. Like that of the olden days, when we talked for hours about our lives and could not get enough of it. A young couple meet in a park and suddenly feel they have nothing to talk about, knowing everything about each other and having had no time to start missing one another. Social networks impoverish man’s emotional life robbing relationships of their value.

It is common knowledge that mankind is paradoxically passive. Just like a while ago, knowing about the harmfulness of cigarettes, smokers kept smoking, now parents, having no time to decide how to keep their children busy while they are at work, “disconnect” them from reality by giving them iPhones. Adults, too, have forgotten the basic etiquette and during a friendly meeting read incoming messages rather than put their smartphones screen down. There is a new disease called “nomophobia,” short for “no-mobile-phone phobia.”

This story is just like that of tobacco companies advertising cigarettes until the day somebody files a billion-worth law suit against them. We often see commercials advertising unhealthy coffee but not cocoa, its healthy analogue. In a similar fashion we follow the news expecting a new iPhone on the market. What causes addictiveness and harm is advertised most aggressively as it guarantees a profit. The key message of profiteering and lying is, “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” the words ascribed to a man born 120 years ago, named Al Capone. Since then we seem to have been going deeper and deeper into consumerism, paying less and less attention to words of truth.

The package may be nice-looking, its content not necessarily being up to it. In the Soviet Union days we had the famous “Eskimo” ice-cream sold in a very simple paper wrapper, its quality and taste being no worse than those of Snickers or Mars chocolate bars. Advertising agencies, TV, social networks and the media produce “wrappers” playing the same old game. We must not take it at face value. Advertisement is a weapon of lying reproduced endlessly in every manner possible. It is vital not to let that good-for-nothing noise howl down the key message of truth. Being intrinsically convincing, truth needs no amplifying so all you need to do is heed it. Only a few, as if standing in the midst of a many-voiced virtual crowd, try to speak honestly about what is happening around. Everybody is making noise, chattering and yelling while the voice of truth is quiet and can hardly be heard in this context. The world of today deafens truth as letting it speak out loud is unprofitable and against the big corporations’ interests.

That is the case of information on the global warming. It is broadcast all right but, with all that noise on air, people cannot get it. The glaciers of the Pamirs, the wonderful mountain range of my motherland, are melting. The same is happening all along the Arctic Circle. The ice fields of Greenland, the largest island of the planet, are melting too, with a permafrost layer the size of Manhattan having already broken off. These facts cannot be denied.

All revolts and wars in human history have been essentially about truth and culture fighting ignorance. There are two camps in every conflict. The Crusades, the Great French and the Great October Revolutions featured the use of equivocal language and double standards but in time history always put emphasis on the proper aspects. In the short-term perspective lying and ignorance win. Meanwhile, the quiet leitmotif of truth is as strong as a pillar so no deception can last long. Just like people leave all kinds of cultural twists and turns for the value of the common culture of all cultures, the culture of love, the same thing happens in the political realm. When a war is over, comes a time of peace and people start realizing the simple truth of the conflict. All wars are unleashed by Mammon. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business,” is the all-time keynote of ignorance. Comparing human history to a piece of music, we can say truth is the recurrent theme. Everything settles down. Every wave of ignorance is replaced by enlightenment. Having acknowledged the global warming is life-threatening, humanity has started seeking ways to minimize its influence on the environment. So, electric cars and solar power plants are being built. Even the most ignorant people want their children and grandchildren to have clean air to breathe, a good health and a quality education. A way to limit the gadgets’ influence on the young generations is sure to appear soon. The obvious must become visible — iCloud is not a sufficient source of information and Google does not have all the answers, knowing nothing about the warmth of mother’s love, the safety of father’s embrace and friends’ support. Neither does it have any idea of how fast the heart beats on the first date or how one stands motionless impressed by a painting created hundreds of years ago.

I do believe the coming generations will grasp it and “keep everyone honest” by pointing out history’s false notes. Young people are already looking for mindfulness and learning to live here and now in special getaways for meditation and doing without gadgets. The keynote sounds louder and louder and truth is sure to prevail. Sometimes it takes centuries, sometimes millennia but it always returns.