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Social Media Matters

Are Virtual Relationships Taking Precedence Over Real Life Ones?


It seems that they are, because, with technology coming to the forefront, that is the nature of the age we are gradually moving into and there are a few key reasons for this.

First, virtual relationships lend themselves easily to being controlled much better than real life ones. It is far easier and less traumatic to deal with someone when they are more detached because there are fewer expectations to be fulfilled and the costs are dramatically reduced. There won't be much heartache in maintaining the friendships, even if things go pear-shaped. There will always be other friends to fill the gaps.

Second, as online friends are low in maintenance, it is easier to be popular because one can amass loads of friends at little cost to one's time or resources. In real life, it would have taken much trouble and effort to have as many friends and it would have been near impossible to be a friend to all in the truest sense. It would take too much time and effort.

Third, virtual relationships widen the pool of friends available, enhance the quality of experience by dealing with people on a global level and expose one to different experiences that one would certainly not have had with real life friends. Opportunities like this would be very limited in the real world, or would take ages to develop, and so they make virtual friendships far more appealing. For example, on MySpace my friend, Eolie, in France is a wonderful painter. Not only am I able to see her paintings being displayed on her site, and to keep up to date with her canvasses, but she made me a present of one through MySpace, which proudly adorns my site too, for me being 'a good friend' to her, she says. I would not have had that opportunity to connect with someone French in my locality in such an amazing and educational way. We also exchange comments in French which helps my schoolgirl French to be developed even more.

More time to connect with others
Fourth, for people who are older, and would have more likely been lonely and isolated, it represents a chance to meet people of their own age group and to maintain friendships that lift them out of their small world and into something much larger at this late stage of their lives. This is just right for them because they are likely to have more time on their hands and want to have that feeling of value and significance. Often, many older people feel alone and unwanted and friends sites are a blessing to help them make friends with all age groups and to feel included in the process.

Fifth, some of the more creative people can be anything they wish to be, like pretending to be celebrities, or having fan sites devoted to people they admire and yearn to be. In these cases, virtual relationships lend themselves to any fantasy which others can share, like the guy who pretended he was a ship's captain and all his friends played different roles on his ship. Everyone joined in the fun of role playing. However, this aspect can be very harmful if the person is being truly dishonest about him/herself to an unsuspecting admirer.

Finally, virtual relationships are, quite simply, much more enjoyable than real life ones because people tend to be more appreciative of each other, more protective and more inclined to be genuinely approachable. They are like a vast community of like-minded souls, and with little of the emotional hassle likely in real life relationships, hence the experience is likely to be more enhancing and satisfying. Of course, there is always the chance of turning some of those virtual relationships into real life ones, either through dating or other events, which certainly gives the best of both worlds in the end.

Yes, there are a few who could become addicted, especially when that is all they have and it makes them feel more secure and comfortable. But such is life, which always has a good side and a downside in everything in it. We can never make life perfect because that is not its nature. We have to accept the rough with the smooth. As long as the vast majority of people are enjoying both worlds and feeling better for it, long live MySpace, Facebook and Newsvine, I say, because life is short enough as it is not to make the most of it.

Whatever happened to community?
Is the Internet really a web of destruction?


Whatever happened to community? Peter Preston of the Guardian asks, worriedly. Simple. It's alive and thriving all around him, both on the Internet and where he lives. It's just no longer in the form he is used to and expects: the one that fits his comfort zone, that reflects his tradition and heritage, one that is more parochial, limiting and exclusive. That kind of society is rapidly giving way to a more global one which is extending learning and relationships way beyond what we know it.

We are in a period of transition, from one kind of life to another: from old values to new ones, from an authoritative society to a more authoritarian one, from manual to technological, where people are not sure of the rules anymore. The change is awesome and will feel bloody scary. I use the Internet many hours each day but I don't see much of the spam, the orgasms or the doom and gloom Peter writes about. Perhaps because I am not actually looking for them!!

The Internet is like terrestrial life, but in larger form. Anything one wants is there, if one cares to look, both good and bad. Three years ago I met the most amazing friend through MySpace. She lives all the way in Wales. She's White and I'm Black. She had never dealt at close quarters with a Black person before, she said. Our tentative friendship began when she bought one of my books and wanted to ask a question about it, rather shyly too. Three years on and we speak to each other every day. We have met, but somehow that doesn't matter because we talk enough to fill a stadium on the phone. The cultural learning between us has been incredible but we have also been there for each other's joys and pains, fears and foibles, failures and successes. It's tremendous. I am 63 and she is 57. We both live alone but she has a disabled son. I have six other friends I connect with and see occasionally, yet none is as close emotionally to me as Gwenllian.

We often say that if we were prime minister we would dictate that everyone, especially those over 50, get a computer and get out of their lonely existence. There are TONS of people rotting away in their homes with passive TVs for company without anyone to talk to, or anyone to see, affirm or reinforce them as significant human beings. They have only themselves for company, wasting their talents and living in fear, resentment and regret about their seemingly useless lives. Yet they could have a whole new, enriching world open to them with a computer. Obviously Peter Preston is only exposed to the seamier side of the Web, so let me educate him.

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Vast personal resource

The Internet is a place of vast education. On it you can link up with people through hobbies, find a date and shag yourself silly, join local social groups and enjoy regular events together and volunteer to do various things to help the community at the click of a button. You also have your own library with instant advice on anything in the world, opportunities to learn a new word every day, to boost your brain power and stave off dementia, to brush up on your spelling and memory skills, to participate in many online events, to network across cultures and countries or even in the life of your locality.

Most important, the opportunity to have your voice being heard through blogging (as I am doing now!) and the chance to make as many real or online connections as one likes. Personally, I write for three websites relating to relationships, politics and careers with hundreds of thousands of readers globally who seek my information. One news website has brought me into a whole new community of Americans which has been most enlightening. I also have a French friend who has sent me online gifts of her artwork to decorate my profile and we link up regularly together. So we are all impacting on each other, one way or another, which is so life enhancing.

The ease with which it can all be done is mind-boggling too, AND still gives one time to go to the weekly disco (as I do), an occasional theatrical production, a concert and the cinema as well as do some hard graft for the local party or pet project, if one is up to it. My mother and grandmother would be gobsmacked at the busyness of my life and the amazing quality of it because, at my age, they were well in the background, dependent on others, virtually neglected and ignored, not vibrant and independent like me.

As with any major change there will always be immediate winners and losers. If a young person were writing this article, it would give me food for thought, but Peter sounds like the usual fearful older person criticising every change in sight because he cannot cope with it. He is grieving for his passing world by rubbishing the present. Nothing uplifting in that. But our world has to evolve. Change is as inevitable as night follows day, otherwise we would still be using the horse and cart. This is just another radical stage of our evolution. If newspapers as we know them have to die, for example, to give way to something more beneficial, so be it. The old has to make way for the new. I find it ironical that someone would use the Internet to complain about the damaging effects of the same!

The community is alive and well, Peter. It is just no longer in your own back yard for you and the traditional power brokers to easily control! :o)

What do 'Friends' really mean on social media sites?


I am a member of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. On occasions I have read bulletins from my 'friends' talking of culling their friends list because they never hear from some of those friends. They complain about the lack of contact and mention expectation of better behaviour from their 'friends'. But, if I used that logic on my list 'friends' (over 3000 on MySpace and 700+ on Newsvine), I would be down to about 100! Yet many of those silent friends read my bulletins, laugh at my jokes, appreciate my presence and, just once in a while, make contact to affirm me and thank me for being there.

These sites are social networking phenomena of the greatest magnitude. Nothing that happens in the real world can be attributed to a community of so many people in such close, yet detached, proximity. Relationships will ALWAYS be superficial because of the detached nature of the media in which they thrive, and the fact that you will never meet 99% of your 'friends'. So a different kind of attitude needs to be cultivated to make the best use of social media sites and to enjoy them fully.

Imagine you have only 20 friends just now on any site. Your 'friend's list will contain 5 groups of people as follows:

The first set (2 'friends') will message you, comment you, talk to you, regularly, and love you as a real friend. They will massage your ego and will always be there for you. They will also express a desire to meet with you because the great chemistry is most likely to be mutual. If anyone fancies you, they will be in this group too. On the whole, this is an affirming, reciprocal group.

The second group (4 'friends') will be there for you too, but in a more detached way. They are likely to make their presence felt on significant occasions, those holidays and celebrations, and times when it matters most to you. Those who fancy you, but lack the courage to show it, will lurk about in this group, near enough to admire you, but not to show their feelings fully by being in the first group. The third set (7 'friends') you might hear from, or you might not. They benefit from just having your presence and they give little back. They are what I call 'peripherals', but in the likely occasion that you need help, they will be among the first to offer it. Often it is the people we least expect who surprise us in this regard. They too admire from afar without revealing too much.

Being self-absorbed

The fourth set (4 'friends') will be self-absorbed. It will be more about them than anyone else and they get their sense of value from others (like you) fawning over them, looking at their pictures, commenting them often, listening to/sorting their problems and playing to their tune. They might never send you anything but, without your presence, they would feel insignificant and invisible. They are the ones likely to hide their 'friends' on their own profile (like on MySpace), showing only themselves, or put up barriers to becoming friends (though they're on a networking site!). They will always be telling you about themselves, and expecting you to read their profiles, while not in the least interested in you or what you have to say. They will post zillions of blogs, for example, expecting you to read them, but never once read yours because being self-centred is more appropriate to them. Sharing isn't. Their lack of confidence keeps the focus only on them.

Finally, there will be the simple takers (3 'friends'). You are just a market to them for their products and their desire to achieve; a mere stepping stone to their aspirations and they tend to be pretty mercenary with it. You only hear from them when they want something and at no other time. They will be always sending bulletins round to ask for your attention, your vote, your time or your cash, but with never any time to share your news, grief or happiness because they too are self-absorbed to care.

As you can see, unless you really make an effort to be highly selective, the random nature of social media sites means that at least 65% of your friends (the majority) will always be silent or just takers. You will get very little back from them. That is because friendship goes on a continuum from love to like to indifference to self-centredness and then dislike. Those on the love/like end of the range are there for us and will always reciprocate us, while we are there for the ones on the self-centred/dislike end of the range. The ones in the middle will merely react as is necessary. It means we are all there for each other in one way or another. So, think again before you cull your 'friends', judge them or criticise them, unless they are truly annoying, because each serves a purpose in his or her own way.

Being the World to Someone
Friendship is not just about what comes back to us. It's what others receive from our presence too. Often we might be the whole world to someone who might seem indifferent, simply because they haven't got our confidence, security or assurance. Just because they are silent doesn't mean they don't care or appreciate you being there. One can always spot the self-absorbed and the person just seeking a market. The others who really need us and benefit from us, or who might secretly admire us, are more difficult to spot. So I allow people to be who they are, and accept them as they wish to be, so long as they are not being offensive.

I have lost track of the many times people I have never heard of after that first 'add' acknowledgement, suddenly write and say "Thanks for your bulletins, they really make my day or made me smile, though I have never told you".

I never make assumptions when it comes to people because the best friend is one who can be him/herself without trying to fit into our little aspirational boxes. Our disappointment in such 'friends' stem from our own unfulfilled expectations of them and those expectations do kill friendships. When I am asked for a friendship add, I simply read a person's words on their site and make up my own mind whether I want to be friends or not. I bear in mind that social media sites are for making friends, and I either like the sound of a person or I don't. They do not have to 'qualify' in any way to be my friend.

It is easy to jettison your 'friends' because they are not conforming to how you expect friends to behave. But to have real friends we have to be a friend to them first, not just wait for them to act! We have to say hello too, make contact and affirm them. We cannot rule them out and delete them for doing the very thing we do not do. We really have to be that friend we are seeking before we begin to judge. Just be thankful that you're fortunate to have friends and enjoy their unique individuality, whoever they may be.

Technology's Impact on Society and Relationships: Good or Bad?


Technology has dictated the current pace and perspective of our lives with a dominant and unavoidable impact. When I look back to just 30 years ago to see the difference in lifestyle, knowledge and behaviour over those years, it is somewhat alarming to comprehend.

When I had my son in 1971, the amenities seemed positively primitive compared to those of having a child now, which are much more inclusive too, being designed to involve the whole family with the birthing process, instead of just the mother. The changes in the home, particularly in furnishings and lifestyle, are just remarkable to an older person like me and would have been phenomenal to my grandmother who had so little: no fast foods, no television, no freezer, no washing machine, no dishwasher, no phone, no electric light or oven, no microwave - all items considered essential to maintain our current standard of living.

Back then, the only gay person I heard about in the UK, or came in contact with, was Quentin Crisp, through the TV drama of The Naked Civil Servant. Yes, gays were around, but they were regarded as oddities, living against the teachings of the bible. Open prejudice against them meant only a few were brave enough to admit it. Now gays are marrying like everyone else. Moreover, far fewer people in Britain are religious now and the only times they see a church are when they cannot avoid the necessary social rituals. Yet, we still pretend that Christians are in the majority in an increasingly diverse society and clothe social behaviour in singular Christian ethics.

While all this change is going on, we are still demanding certain kinds of outmoded behaviour of people:

*Paying homage to the nuclear family instead of acknowledging the relentless rise of single households;

*Ignoring the fact that fewer and fewer people are getting married, while we try hard not to notice the increasing number of extramarital relations (and divorces) occurring by the minute. The latest survey reveals that at least 60 per cent of both men and women are being intimate with people other than their official partners. Yet we continue to treat such people as though they are in a minority, as though they are home-wreckers; pretending that only a few misguided and selfish' people would behave in such a manner. 

*Continued denial of the increasing diversity of a developing society which is in an anxious cultural transition. 

Thanks to new technology, which has liberated people from their home location, there is now a self-righteous orgy of diminishing trust, betrayal and deceit in operation; one which is far removed from the much-vaunted Victorian values of family loyalty, commitment and selflessness. The mobile phone has become an indispensable item for illicit lovers, confirmed by a survey conducted for famous divorce lawyers, Mishcon de Reya.

Thanks to the growth in the number of mobile phone and Internet users, adultery is taking on new life in a dramatic way and conducting illicit affairs has never been easier. One only has to go on the Internet to see how many married people of both sexes are openly seeking new relationships with no intention of leaving their partners. Disguised as seeking 'fun', the eternal search goes on to find that elusive happiness.

Why social networking sites are anything but 'social'


There are hundreds of millions of people on Facebook and MySpace, the two most well known networking websites. However, the list on Wikipedia is endless, including popular others like Bebo, Friendster and Google's Orkut. Some people, like me, use the sites sporadically for our own functions, in ways that align with our lifestyles, others find it difficult to leave them for long, while some users are addicted to them, unable to do without them for any length of time.

Daily we are encouraged to use social networking sites as much as possible: for pictures, for videos, for chat, for storing everything we value and sharing everything we have; to bare our souls so that they can have their traffic! Sounds wonderful, friendly and very sociable, especially to newcomers. But, in actuality, social networks are parasites. They feed off the intense need of users to belong, to feel significant and to be valued. They take from their users without giving anything back. Notice how wealthy MySpace and Facebook have become on the backs of their users' input! Users do all the work with their presence and activities while social networking sites simply collect the money! I guess that's a fair exchange.

However, there are four main things that are very wrong with online social networking, especially among people who use it a lot and are not allowing themselves to develop in a full emotional sense.

First, they gradually lose their social skills. While social networking sites enable detached connections with people all over the globe, and even in one's locality, 'detached' is the operative word. These are not likely to be friends that one can cultivate on an emotional basis, but friends that fulfil the need to feel wanted and worthy in a most superficial way - without accountability. The detached nature of such friendships does not demand too many social skills, loyalty or understanding and, in fact, gradually erodes such skills over time. Anything we don't use, we lose. If we are used to simply connecting online and not with our neighbours soon we lose the ability to even hold a simple conversation, as is becoming obvious with too many people who struggle to interact with others. Some networkers are so used to dealing with others from afar, from a safe distance which they can manage, the thought of meeting 'real' people who would engage them face to face can often be frightening, one which leads to even more isolation and dependence on the networks.

Second, loss of empathy for others. If we deal only with superficial characters that we are never likely to meet, people tend to become inanimate objects too, seemingly unreal and robotic. Constant exposure to online people, without experience in the real world of emotions, gradually robs us of our own empathy towards others. We tend to treat people in unfeeling ways or in ways that emphasise our power over them. We are never likely to come in physical contact with them, so what does it matter? It is difficult to feel really empathetic when one is far away, one is detached and one is unlikely to ever meet face to face, hence the slow rise of online bullying and the immediacy, frequency and speed with which friends are despatched and replaced.

The Essence of Being Human
Third, a distorted view of reality. Servicing social networking sites can be very time consuming. When one is immersed in social networking sites that gives one a feeling of belonging, it is easy to overlook the bigger picture; to use what happens online as the basis for judging reality. But online society carries no emotional investment. One doesn't have to feel anything for the people one interacts with or do anything for them except to share our pictures and presence. However, in real life, within our family, neighbourhood and community, such empathy, feeling and care are what marks us out as being truly human, what connect us together in our spirituality and what bond us in times of need and crises. If we are missing out on these physical and emotional connections, we are missing out on life itself.

Finally, a sense of isolation. Being stuck in front of a computer many hours each day, endlessly, is not good for our psyche or emotional development. We not only lose basic social skills but we become isolates, lost to what is happening in our reality which is being replaced by the false reality of a detached world; one we can neither feel nor experience physically, unless we form genuine friendships which can be transferred offline. Gradually we come to prefer such online existence to the real world because it plays to the ego while keeping us secure from stress of the physical one.

In moderation, there is nothing wrong with blending the activities of a networking site to the physical activities of our everyday lives. That is simply adding another dimension to our existence. That is why I do not agree with those who feel that we should all discard networking sites and go back to the good old days of physical interaction. That is going from one extreme to the other. More important, such an argument ignores the realities of exercising choice in an adult and sensible way and the fact that we have to keep moving with the times.

The problem comes only when social networking is seen as an alternative to actual living, feeling, loving, caring and sharing with another human being we can physically interact with. That would be a key issue which simply stores up more emotional problems for the future. Worse still, the exploitative nature of social networking sites, sites that exhort users to share everything while they share very little of the rewards with their users, is a disturbing one. Like the non-existent emperor's clothes, it will be a matter of time before their true nakedness will be revealed. In the meantime, they lull their users, especially the ones who are addicted to them, in a false sense of security while dulling their social skills and draining them of basic emotional empathy.

Crucial Aspects of the Facebook Age


The FacebookAge is indicative of the dramatic change in the world we have known, primarily in the way we now relate to one another. This age is characterised by the following: individual expression, technology, communication and connections.

1. The Facebook age is the age of the individual. An age where individual expression is paramount compared to the old age of collective information, suppressed information, information censored by authority and being denied access to it. Emphasis is now on personal profiles, extending one's reach globally to others, instead of just to our extended families, and sharing in a cultural enrichment of artistic, social and literary expressiveness. The blog is now king which gives everyone a voice. People have always wanted to be heard and now there is an instant personal comment and expression on every world event. The ubiquitous blog gauges world opinion through individual utterances, while giving the blogger authority, presence and significance.

2. Technology defines the MySpace age. Without it, we would still be back in old times, doing things in the limited traditional ways: being limited to our geographical, cultural and social boundaries and in both our imagination and creativity. Technology offers complete freedom of expression, in a new order and with new tools, which is sometimes frightening in its implications; one that is still feared by older people while being bewildering in its array of possibilities. Without technology the Facebook age would simply not be possible and its development carries with it the need for new mindsets, new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching the fascinating lives we now lead and accepting what is possible.

3. Communication is at the heart of the Facebook age: communicating with ourselves, with others and with our world, and with a new kind of urgency and voice. Everyone is encouraged to communicate through the use of technology, using all forms of the multimedia available, which is why sites like YouTube, Photobucket and Itunes dominate. There is the constant need to upload, download, make a video, blog and play music. These sites are witnesses to new and creative forms of expressiveness which bridge all social and cultural barriers.

4. Connections: friendships and connecting with others appear to be the raison d'etre of the Facebook age. We are all encouraged to make new friends across the globe, send out our pictures, our thoughts, fears and aspirations to share with everyone in our special circle of friendships, and to have them appreciated, validated and reinforced. If you are not connected to others you are not yet a part of the Facebook age; an age which leaves loneliness and isolation behind and offers a tantalising world of new experiences, new friendships and exciting new connections, well outside our own small and limiting localities and social and cultural boundaries.

Are you addicted to the Internet?
What actions should count as being addicted?


I don't think I am addicted to the Internet, and very few people are, though I could happily sit at my computer all day and write/learn to my heart's content. In fact, some days when I have felt pressured with work, I have spent up to 14 hours on it. I find that when I am away in the company of friends, or attending an event, I don't miss my computer at all, I don't yearn to be back on it, neither do I even think about it.

But if I am somewhere which is not too exciting and feeling bored, then I keep wondering what I could be doing if I were back home and then I start to think about being on it and can't wait to get back home to it. I really enjoy working and learning on my computer and can appreciate how easy it is to be addicted and not have the time to nurture other aspects of one's life.

So what is your relationship like with your computer? Would you say you had a healthy attitude to it, or could you do with some counselling to keep away from it? :o)

Has Society Got its Priorities Confused?


With all that has been happening with celebrity bad behavior, especially with the famed Hollywood girls, I don't believe that society has actually lost its way or its priorities. I think it is a combination of things which is directly attributable to the rapidly changing nature of our world and our inability to deal with the new expectations, new freedoms and new responsibilities that are emerging from that change.

The world is in a massive state of transition, especially developing countries in the West, which have had to cope with the incredible rise in technology in such a very short time. The old order of thinking, the old expectations, the old boundaries and comfortable infrastructures relating to appropriate and acceptable behaviour are rapidly being eroded without anything which is universally acceptable slotting in their place.

This is leading to a lot of insecurity for older folks, as the younger ones, armed with this new knowledge and innovative power, assert themselves and set their agenda; one which is causing anxiety for their parents who are not quite sure how to deal with it. However, the young themselves are not yet equipped to set up this new order and need guidance too. Faced with such awesome responsibility without much help, many are rebelling against the uncertainty themselves, hence the seemingly strange and inexplicable behaviour of some of the ones in the limelight.

We have always had a world where parents taught their children, not the other way around. This is a new world where children are the experts, one where parents are anxious for their welfare but are not versed in new technology to use it to stem that anxiety. In this insecure and lop-sided situation, where foundations like religion and the family are falling away, it is easier to question priorities, to hang on to outdated and irrelevant values, to condemn people for their behaviour when it seems inappropriate, or to wish for the good old days. But none of that reactionary behaviour is going to be of much help because we cannot turn the clock back. We can only go with its time, and the focus on celebrities just now, for whatever reason, is what this time demands.

New kind of living

We have to accept, once and for all, that if we have a new technological age that dictates a new kind of living, then we also need a new mindset to go with it. We cannot use old solutions to new dilemmas. We have to acknowledge what is happening first, put away the fear and natural condemnation we often feel with change and work out, individually and collectively, what the new age and innovations will mean for us and our children, and the best ways we can each react to them.

Hiding back in the past and knocking everything which does not align with the old ways of thinking is not an option. Such an attitude will solve nothing. It merely keeps us back there, fossilised and fearful with nowhere to go, stuck fast on the periphery of life as it rushes mockingly past us. The priorities are already being sorted for us now, whether we like them or not, by the new technology around us. However, the fears we have are preventing us from acknowledging those priorities and working out how to use them to build a new way of living for the greater good.

All the badly behaving youngsters, including our celebrities, are reacting to a different time without set authority - a very insecure time but the only time THEY know. The innovations of our modern age, the education for all and the freedom and independence men and women now possess are heralding a different kind of age where people are searching for new values, new meaning, new purpose and new answers to the best use of those freedoms.

This major transition, from one point of order, structure and gradual death to the current point of rebirth and rebuilding, will eventually settle down again, some years from now, with new ways of thinking and living. Until such times, society is unable to help either because society itself, as we older folks know it, is also disintegrating. It is in a state of flux without signposts to guide it until the people understand the process better, feel more comfortable with its effects, and collectively decide what really matters and how it can be harnessed beneficially to give us all new confidence and greater pride in our future.

This ride is about to get a lot more bumpy before it finally settles down!

Is the cult of celebrity affecting society adversely?


The cult of celebrity has risen in importance at the same time that belief in God, or a higher being, has been waning, and television has become more dominant. People have a natural instinct to look to someone for reflection, affirmation and authority: whether a hero, mentor, protector or higher power, and what makes celebrities popular at the moment is exactly what they symbolise and represent, that 'higher' being, with many people turning away from religion. They are wealthy, out of reach, and mysterious, living lives we only dream of and getting the attention we crave. It is not surprising that insecure fans yearn to be like them.

Celebrities tap into our need to be significant and they realise our dream of freedom, riches and fame - a potent lifestyle combination which many people desire, especially younger ones on the threshold of life. Celebrities these days, especially those emerging from reality shows like American Idol, are usually ordinary people plucked from obscurity to be famous, and that gives many others hope that something similar may happen to them. Now with the Internet and television running a constant stream of celebrity images, news and gossip, people are bombarded daily with a lifestyle many aspire to. The net effect has been a dramatic shift in society regarding values, priorities and aspirations.

Our values are changing in that many people are no longer famous for doing something regarded as ethically and socially beneficial. Many celebrities, like Paris Hilton, are famous simply for having a wealthy background and being famous. Naturally, because there is no substance to their fame, they tend to be boring individuals whose looks and background become the currency for attention, but are equally transient because they lack depth. Our priorities are also changing in how we view one another because anything to do with celebrities tend to take centre stage. Celebrities are the hallmarks by which everything else is now judged and they set the tone and standard for fashion and behaviour. Nothing guarantees an audience like having a celebrity involved. Thus the cult of celebrity is dominating all aspects of life, especially when it comes to media attention and establishing social priorities.

Finally, society's aspirations are changing too, primarily for occupations, where the more glamorous jobs are now sought after, especially media related, as many youngsters seek their own 15 minutes of fame to emulate their heroes. That explains the glut of reality shows on television at the moment as people seek personal exposure to be significant even for a few minutes. With celebrities so accessible, their presence makes everything seem possible.

There is no doubt that the cult of celebrity is changing society beyond recognition, especially when technology is helping to boost that adoration and worship. But, like any fashion or fad, it is likely to be replaced by something else, or to change form, when its current appeal has faded.

Are the media helping to create a new kind of deadly 'celebrity'?


"Just think tho I'm gonna be (expletive) famous," the young man who shot 8 people at the Von Maur mall wrote in his 'will'.

I will not defeat my own objective by giving him publicity here too, but sure enough, the press immediately fulfilled his wishes by plastering his name, photograph and other personal details everywhere it could. Others who were shocked by his actions rushed to do the usual: condemn the shooter, remind him of what scum he is, how he will burn in hell (no doubt some of these passing judgement were good, upstanding Christians), how much more rotten than other humans he was and, of course, emphasising that the focus should just be on his victims.

Forgive me if I don't join in the usual condemnation scrum, because I think the shooter is a massive victim too, a victim of our society and its current values; the way it treats people like him, while encouraging many others who are equally vulnerable to join the melee and to keep on shooting. To understand the problem with these very sad youngsters, we have to look at something fundamental.

Every single one of us in this world desires four things above all to make our life worthwhile: To be significant, appreciated, valued and included - what I call my SAVI concept of emotional fulfilment and wellbeing. We all desire them in different measures, according to our aspirations and priorities in life, but when they are missing, it can be a very painful life, indeed, and many youngsters cannot cope at such times with feelings of unworthiness and worthlessness. Their emotional health would be in chaos.

To be valued and appreciated
A few years ago to be valued and appreciated were the paramount needs, hence the emphasis on having a career in the professions. In our current relentless celebrity culture, to be significant and part of the in-crowd has moved to the top, aided and abetted by the corporate media which need to make money at their readers' expense. So everything is reported, ad nauseam, even when it is not in the public interest to do so - take a bow, Britney Spears, the new media fodder.

The result is a devaluing of many things we cherish, a downgrading of human compassion so that many things are now acceptable which we would have shunned before. In the absence of solid authority, we appear to be making up the rules as we go along which is leading to much confusion and insecurity among the young, whose main goal is to be like celebrities to compensate for what they might lack.

The prime example was the shooter of 32 people at Virginia Tech University. Obligingly, to help the press, he even made videos of himself, complete with suitable combat attire and matching words, so they could have all the information about him to hand. What did our media do? Immediately obliged in return by making sure he was given the maximum oxygen of publicity. In the meantime, all those vulnerable youngsters having unhappy lives, feeling unwanted and unloved, excluded and unappreciated, are getting one singular message as they watch such shooters: Doing good doesn't make you famous anymore, because we do not put appreciation as a priority in our modern society. Being famous for fame's sake is now the thing. What better way to be really famous than to take innocent people with you in a glorious shooting spree? They can see the relentless coverage other shooters get. To them, that's a sure-fire way to leave their mark.

And they are not wrong either, so long as society keeps accepting such atrocities as the norm and encouraging them through its silence, its complicity in sharing the media story in all its gory detail and, worst of all, ignoring the shooters and why they would wish to do such a terrible thing. Until we seek some answers and put some responsibility back at the top of the agenda, we will get copycat repeats.

Lack of Parental Authority
Society cannot wash its hands in smug satisfaction off those shooters when they commit their vile acts. Our society helped to create each of them with the focus it has put on celebrity, the lack of love and affection kids now have while it puts paedophiles as priority, the lack of parental authority and guidance that is missing in the face of new technology and the essential need to belong to a close and meaningful family/group which many isolated youngsters are denied. Perhaps the first simple act is to stop giving any publicity to terrorists and public outrages like that. To stop treating them as if they are celebrities, so that we can gradually regain that essential sense of balance and perspective.

Some kind people call that shooter 'a loser'. Yes he was, just like our society - the biggest loser. Yet no one knows his pain, and that of others like him waiting in the wings to wreak havoc, neither can we dare to judge that pain without first asking ourselves what we are all going to do about it. Perhaps we could start with the media and its own responsibility to the society it serves.

Why television shows lose their appeal over time


No matter how good the programme, it is inevitable that the best television shows will lose their appeal over time for four main reasons:

First, it is difficult for producers and programme makers to sustain the originality and quality of a production due to a natural loss in creativity over time. One can only think up so much material around a new theme. Soon, the programme becomes repetitive and lacking in new ideas. That is why so many good programmes do no survive more than two or three series because of the natural law of diminishing returns when too many story lines have to be found.

Second, every TV programme reflects the culture, nuances, ethics, beliefs and social protocol of the time. TV shows largely reflect how people think and behave and what they value. For example, right now, reality shows like Big Brother and American Idol are the rage. In a few years time, something else will take their place when the public gets tired of them. As our values change, and what we seek to entertain us also changes, those programmes will lose their appeal. So, as society changes, so will the programmes on TV, if they are not to appear old fashioned and outdated. They have to move with us and our development. They have to truly reflect our interests for us to want to watch them.

Third is due to natural human evolution. As we evolve, the programmes that were very appealing when we were younger cease to be appealing as we get older because maturity brings a desire for different experiences to match our new state. I used to watch the very popular Australian soap opera, Neighbours, for years when it first came to Britain. It resonated with me as a younger person and reflected life in an escapist way. Then suddenly I stopped watching it ten years ago, without knowing why and haven't watched it since. Yet it is still the same programme, and is probably updated to reflect current audiences too, but I have simply outgrown it.

Finally, nothing lasts forever. For television to retain its appeal, it has to be innovative, fresh, creative and relevant. If any of those elements are missing, audiences won't be impressed. No matter how great the programme, it will only appeal for so long because, in time, it would cease to innovative, cease to be fresh and, above all, cease to be relevant to public demands.


(Photo images used on EmotionalHealthGuide.com courtesy of dreamstime free photos).