Adopting the social media we see today with its vindictive traits paves the way to decline. We continuously blame these traits on the progression of technology. In an op-ed published earlier this month, columnist Thomas Friedman asked if social media has played the role of the creator or the destroyer. Friedman wrote:"Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?" He raised these questions as if he was discovering a new argument. Actually, this technological revolution has been empty since its beginning.
When it comes to the Middle East, Arab and Muslim societies have filled this revolution with all sorts of moral collapse, distortion of language, sectarian struggles and tribal arrogance. Meanwhile terrorist organizations have found an online safe haven to recruit and mobilize, accuse others of apostasy and publish videos of murder. In this respect, we can safely say that technological advancement poses a dilemma, considering its charm, simplicity and availability.
Perhaps it is some form of "unconscious Westernization," as Iranian theorist Dariush Shayegan puts it, in which one has no choice but to ride the technology wave - but without fully understanding it. On the other hand, "conscious Westernization" can be linked to basic values of Westernization. In his book "The Illusions of Political Islam," Arab theorist Abdel Wahab Mouadab differentiated between Americanization and Europeanization. He writes: "Americanization proposes technology without imposing any changes on you. Therefore you can stay as you are and enjoy all what technology makes available. Perhaps this was a consequence of disseminating cultural plurality across the world. Such behavioural trends actually cater to the rise of radicals. Meanwhile during the phase of Europeanization, it seemed necessary to alter our values in order to enjoy what technology provides. In the 1950s, France still had a cultural impact on Tunisia, and we were certain that we were witnessing a new universality. In school, for example, we learnt all about the principles of the 1789 revolution."
Historical changes have been linked to changes in societal values. This is why secular education was spread by people who had been taught and raised upon French values and laws. The aim was to build the state on modern values.
Trapped modern society
Separating technology from the values of its creators has turned technology into a mirror which resembles its users; from Osama bin Laden to Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the thousands of ordinary users who are deceived by their influence and are wasting their time on their devices.
It's important to continue to vilify technology as the facade of our modernization crisis.Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Technology has swept the entire world. It even echoes German philosopher Martin Heidegger's concept of societies “being-towards-death” where nihilism is present through mobilizing modern existence. Meanwhile, in Italian Philosopher Gianni Vattimo’s book, "The End of Modernity," he writes in a lamenting tone: "Listening to the call of technology's essence does not mean surrendering without having any reservations over technology's laws and games. This is why I think Heidegger states that the essence of technology is not something technological, and we must be careful of this essence."
It's important to continue to vilify technology as the facade of our modernization crisis. The tragedy of technology has exceeded its functional ability to transform values in the society it affects and is instead dumbing them down. Indeed, technology cannot think for itself, it is just a tool, but it is also a product of modern shifts. It has managed to break boundaries, shorten distances and facilitate communication, but in my opinion, it has not contributed to bringing cultures closer. It has not succeeded in establishing German sociologist Jürgen Habermas’s theoretical meaning of public dialogue.
Friedman's late awakening about social media comes within a much bigger concern as thousands of online accounts have been linked to terrorist groups. Technology is a huge trouble. It provides attractive tools that have become a burden on their users who are lost in their addiction and existential fragmentation. Abandoning these tools and observing them from afar can actually expose their origin and lack of true purpose.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 16, 2016.
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran
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