• 29 تموز 2014
  • أقلام مقدسية

by: Dr Ali Qleibo



Cyber-reality adds another dimension to experiential reality; it does not simply mimic it. Its platforms supplement the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, they irrigate the deserts that our lives have already become. It inures us from lonely anonymity by connecting us in infinite networks of digital friendships.  The social platforms provided by Instagram, Twitter and Facebook play a pivotal role in the conditioning and production of Palestinian contemporary digital identity. Though one belongs to the group yet the social group is merely an aggregate of individuals and not a guild, a union or a political party; cyber reality does not impact socio political field of action.

 Throughout Palestine smart phones are ubiquitous. Here, there and everywhere Palestinian adolescents and a rising number of mature adults are seen alternately peering over their smart phones and thumbing the tiny keyboard receiving and sending messages. Whether at traffic lights, in a restaurant, café, family dinners or while following television each silhouette is engaged in keeping up with his/her own newsfeeds within their respective internet community. -“I avoid using Facebook,” my daughter Aida snaps in answer to my nagging questions on her use of social media. “Instagram is better, faster and less cumbersome.” She sees my puzzled look, “In the Instagram one simply takes a picture and sends it with a caption. The platform allows for brief responses that include “likes,”, “share” and one liner comments.  Facebook is too long; too much writing, too many video clips, too many links and too overbearing.” Social media networking exercises a radical role in shaping Palestinian society by providing media platforms in which an “online”/”offline” identity is dialectically produced at the juncture of man, machine and culture.

_ “As I shower I may hum a melodious song totally out of tune playing with the lyrics. Alone and self absorbed under the shower I may sing to myself unabashedly. Safe in the privacy of the bathroom I can indulge myself singing out loud.” Abdulrahman used the shower image to illustrate the self indulgence that underlies the banal trivia of highly personal feelings and reflections one reads in social media platforms.    “New media technologies are not merely communication tools” my friend further explained, ”rather the structure of Facebook is set up as an alternate “online” reality to foster, promote and prod individual users to make public what in “offline” reality would be totally improper public behavior. Cyberspace provides new opportunities to reshape society and culture through providing socially acceptable venues of expression for "hidden" identities. In this sense computer-mediated communication platforms have become a significant Palestinian channel of cultural expression.”    Cyberspace is the site of computer-mediated communication, in which online relationships and alternative forms of online identity are enacted, raising polemic questions about the social psychology of internet use, the relationship between "online" and "offline" forms of life, and the rapport between the "real" and the “virtual.” The smart phones, laptops and note pads enable total cyber social immersion. They facilitate enhanced speed and breadth of information dissemination and provide for one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications.


Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions the members of the cyberspace community are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought named Cyberspace. Whereas Whatsapp and Skype are limited to one to one direct communications Facebook, Twitter and Instagram encompass wide variety of content formats including text, video, photographs, audio, PDF and PowerPoint. The Social content is a by-product of the culture specific details produced within the Palestinian community in compliance with the constraints and parameters set up by the machine. - “In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone.” Abdulrahman adds, “One can read what one’s neighbors are saying or have recently said, but not what either they or their physical surroundings look like. Cyberspace provides new opportunities to reshape society and culture through "hidden" identities. And it is precisely this “hidden” identity that enables excessive narcissistic exhibitionism replete with trivia, banal truisms and melodramatic sentimentality.”


-“I’m gonna cry my heart is hurting for Brazil.” writes Layla during the bombing of gaza. The level of alienation and egoism spills over in the timeline of the newsfeed coupled with total absence of self restraint. Another self obsessed writer who always posts photos of mansaf, grilled fish or stuffed aubergines prepared by his wife or in restaurants announces cheerfully on the morning of Gaza’s tragedy… “Good morning worldddd” 

In the “online” identity the majority presumes himself/herself a gifted writer: inspired, sensitive, caring and artistic. Overnight everyone is a preacher, a poet, a moralist and a politician. There are some who tape their own voice as they sing off key. In fact online identity by the very structure of Facebook prods such surrealistic postures encouraged by the number of likes, commentaries and shares they yearn to score. “Only superstars get thousands of likes.” explained my daughter. “The most the people we know can score is a couple of hundred likes. But one must be very ingenious to score high. They must also engage in reciprocal like to increase their popularity.”

 In Facebook there is a feature of map share. So we learn that Sami is in the VIPs lounge in Dubai on his way to Beirut and we see that Ali is in Beit Jala in Hosh el Yasmine restaurant and we see that Samira and her friends were at the American consulate reception to which they add their photos glamorously dressed. The following profound revelation scored four likes, expectedly from the children of the middle aged fathers who wrote it. I quote verbatim. “It’s true what Logan Lerman said on brother and sisters. “Growing up I had a very normal relationship with my brothers. But, over time, they became my best friends, and now I hang out with them all the time. I’m very close with them now and for ever.”

 Further below on the newsfeed we see that Dana has changed her profile picture with a highly stylized selfie that projects a highly sensual cover girl glitzy look. Men opt for the rugged image out in nature to project a virile image inspired no doubt by the old Marlboro ads. In another newsfeed one writes his religious social reflections for the morning, a second downloads the icon of St. Theresa of Perpetual Help, a fourth puts a verse of the Quran or a wondrous picture of some natural phenomenon and requests the viewer to put a like for which he/she would be rewarded by God, a fifth takes a picture of his car, a six downloads photographs of his voyages, of the glamorous party they were at, a critical analysis of society, of political events with links to video clips, marvels of the planet earth, surprising events, natural calamities, wonders of nature, charming animals, accidents, comic situations , status  or state of mind and words of wisdom dispensed lavishly and freely…

A huge input of information keeps one constantly submerged in this social network. One promoting Christian Moslem interfaith tolerance, another one promoting Israeli Palestinian understanding…. Everyone in social media has something to say, everyone has become a poet, a philosopher, a politician, and one way of the other each promotes himself “Offline” anonymous individuals assume “online” a new charismatic glamorous persona: charming, erudite, caring, compassionate, involved, witty, funny, charming, self righteous, indignant, angry, pious and profound. Whether this online persona bears correspondence to reality is another point. Hypocrisy, double standards and lies abound but this is beyond the scope of this article.

Facebook becomes a platform for self advertising, pandering one self, giving vent to one’s dreams to be and ultimately become “other”. In MBC television this “otherness” is succinctly expressed in a commercial whereby the blue silhouette of a man bent on his smart phone is approached by his young daughter. At her touch the figure assumes natural colour, life and feelings as he embraces the child as though he has returned from a distant voyage. In fact underlying this charade lurks a compulsive narcissistic exhibitionist drive. It involves extolling one’s virtues (real or imaginary) and making them public. One dramatizes aspects of one’s identity (real or false) to the point of making a caricature of oneself and puts them on display to be admired by his/her network of friends, followers, and fans in the desire to be viral. Crafting posts that appeal for likes, favourites, and reblogs becomes the means to and end; the success of the image reflected is registered by the number of likes and complementary comments…The score provides instant gratification. Incentives go from being motivators toward a goal to becoming the goal themselves.

 ronically in the quest for scores one tunes one’s image, one’s narrative to reshape one’s online personality into the image to be seen; inadvertently social media metrics become the reliable basis for the online persona. Those fragments that are seen are those confirmed to exist; the identities we foster for ourselves are reinforced by the attention they receive online furthering the rift between the offline and online persona. “Favorites”, “likes” and reblogs have become the criteria indexing and validating the relative success of the projected self.

- ‘The news update is constantly downloading in timeline. On one’s Facebook‘s page one has a chronology of one’s own life, of everyday, and of each hour.” My daughter warned me. These are synchronically available to everyone in your circle of friends online which subdivides into those we answer and those we chose to ignore.”

- “For not everyone on your Facebook is really your friend rather the majority are kept as voyeurs in the ongoing farce and as potential admirers and fans whose approval increases your score ; but they remain invisible. Most of the messages are unread. Likes are reciprocal courtesies among digital friends.” Abdelrahman explained.

- “Success in social media is proportionate to the willingness to be “commodified”. To achieve this end one must caricature oneself to gain wide acceptance and recognition in terms of which self value and esteem are validated.” Aida interjected.

-“Yet you will find no comments that register scorn, poke fun, ridicule or  outrage by the inane trivia or half baked ideas that one runs into on the newsfeed. The oppressive conformist pressure of Palestinian society dominates even Palestinian social media where you mostly find likes and complementary polite comments with no contradictions, oppositions or negative responses.”  Since these systems are built for brevity the design has had far-reaching effects. With our lives captured in a few lines and photographs, we have developed a flair for the melodramatic. We interact in ways that push each others’ buttons: we adopt bratty, flippant personas online; we prod until we produce visceral reactions; we over dramatize our reactions and utterances to draw the viewers’ attention.  Salwa’s timeline constantly enriches my Facebook page with a daily stream of news feed replete with commentary and shared links. Her repertoire includes sensitive love poems, angry prose riling against the weakness and incompetence of the Palestinian Authority, hypocrisy of social conventions and the laconic apathy of the silent majority. In her online persona, she is alternately outraged, needy, melancholic, boastful, and sentimental, and is consequently rewarded with responses. Through being flattened she has become more easily amplified. Every now and then Salwa regales us with photos in which she is the epitome of beauty, opprobrium and class of course in the right company.

 Narcissism, exhibitionism and fear of loneliness lurk behind the compulsive addiction to the most popular Palestinian platforms for social interaction; Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Social media perpetuates narcissism for broadcasting ourselves, posting photographs and externalizing our inner life by providing a system rewarding the production of one’s image that is public albeit on the expense of sacrificing the sanctity of our inner lives.  Social media’s destructive aspect lies in the “commoditization” and externalization of our inner sanctum.


-“The “online persona” enables the Arabs and Palestinians in particular an alibi wherein private political social precepts find public expression albeit in cryptic messages and gut reactions in form of comments and attached links. Social media provides the locus, albeit digital, wherein it is possible to break the foils of socio-political censorship and even self imposed taboos in a public discourse.” My friend Khalil, upon reading the draft of my article, pointed out.

-“Digital friendships are compatible with Palestinian concept of offline friendship: free of expectations, pressure and demands and in this sense it fosters a negative social trend.” Khalil concluded. Social platforms sweep innocent individuals in nets of virtual friendships at the expense of the complexity of connecting with friends with whom we care for. Internet friendships inure us from experiential reality to substitute it with virtual flattened cyber reality and an illusory network of digital friendships. 

“Visibility is a trap” Foucault foreshadowed this conundrum in his major opus “Discipline and Punish” had warned. In fact social media represent the embodiment of the nightmare of idealizing the social in which individual liberty is forsaken.  

 Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter; the new digital world in which we reveal ourselves prods exhibitionism. We want to show off and promote ourselves. To build our identity the digital reality serves as our platform. We reveal ourselves; Network knows where we are, locates each and every movement, thought and feeling. We live under inspection, surveillance and conformity. In the process we are all becoming information.  Hyper visibility is the new experience. Yet the more we reveal the more we lose our solitariness.

Heaven hell: The digital revolution by idealizing virtual reality has created a cult of the social. We are no longer on our own. Everything is socialized. Social media platforms eliminate solitude. But we need it.  To be alone and to discourse with oneself is central to the human condition.