I was wandering through the school library the other day and, without fully realizing it, I began to count how many computer screens were scrolling through pictures on social networking sites.As I tapped the blue handicap button for the automatic doors and waited for them to creek open, I was hit with this sudden feeling of disconnected sadness, only to be confronted by a group of students tagging each other in photos with their Smartphones and PDAs. Now, I don't want to become part of a growing cult of anti-viral/online social networking freedom fighters, but I do think that there is a very depressing side to the compartmentalization and dramatization of our lives in the modern age of technology. I remember a time before the invention of Smartphones that keep us up-to-date on our friends' updates – a time when connections were more often real than not. The moments in our lives are no longer truly free and fresh, but seem to be living photo albums and odd feelings of deja vu.
As I sat on a bench under a tree, thinking about how the lighting that day would have been perfect for an online album to capture all the dramatic and seemingly effortless glamor shots we so long for, I realized that I didn't want it anymore. I didn't want to be a statistic for marketing agencies and advertisements. I didn't want the gossip and assumptions tirelessly passing through messages and comments and like/unlike buttons. I didn't want the Smartphone to keep me updated on all the updates or let me read emails split seconds after receiving them. I didn't want the mind-numbing click of the mouse on the "next" button to take me through hundreds of photo albums, capturing priceless moments of our precious lives which have been stripped of privacy and self-worth.
Objectively speaking, I can say that my state of mind most probably had something to do with a gun being pointed at my head only a few days earlier, during a robbery in which I gave up my phone. After all, how can a life that has been unexpectedly forced into the hands of another person's desperation feel the same – especially when that very life feels that life is, instead, a play put on for the amusement of corporate CEOs and the bourgeoisie?
I cannot, however, argue against the opportunity that this highly interconnected world has offered me: the ability to meet and stay in touch with sincere activists, and with brothers and sisters of common beliefs and values. Some of the people I've had the blessing to meet have truly been an inspiration and, honestly speaking, if it was not for these social networking sites and capable phones, I would probably never have met them. Not only for the purpose of meeting new individuals, but also for using social networks as a means to promote education, information, and innovation has definitely produced positive results.
Allah advised Prophet Musa (peace be upon him): "You should be unknown by the people of this earth, but well-known for the inhabitants of the heavens." (Tuhaf al-Uqool)
The irony that I've begun to realize is that although this new level of connectivity has increased awareness and grass-roots involvement across the world, at the same time it has disenfranchised the true nature of grass-roots. Our activism is often filled with crippling levels of idealism and fantasy, such that we lose focus on our immediate surroundings and issues. While people are starving around our block, we are wondering what is going on several states away. And although the famous motto speaks, "think globally, act locally", what we are seeing is, "daydream globally, act pretentiously."
By no means do I intend to paint an absolutist portrait of true activism. However, we must admit that when we drive from our air-conditioned homes, in our air-conditioned cars, to our air-conditioned schools, work, and places of worship while mindlessly passing through systematically deprived ghettos and slums, wondering how to establish organizations and "religious [culturally segregated] clubs" in the name of religious/social activism – we are only fooling ourselves.
At the same time, I cannot advocate any one solution for all – but to pass off modernity's position on "moderation" as that of Islam would be a lethal mistake. Each one of us should have a clear definition of one's own religious self, such that it is the pious self and its relation to God which defines the moderate path, in light of the socio/political religious requirements – and especially void of any obfuscation brought on by the mind-numbing, ego-bloating works of any of the proponents of materialism.
In my own conscience, I can no longer justify remaining so inter-connected such that I lose focus from my immediate Ummah, and the immediate issues facing it. I think we need a more wholesome definition to activism: one that is ready to accept the true reality on the ground, and serve "by any means necessary". I wish for the moments of our lives to return to genuine spontaneity, to return to a time when we weren't convoluted between the present and past photo albums. Yet I cannot say that to disconnect is a plausible solution for everyone – but I simply wish to wake myself out of this slumber of monotony, in which our lives are disconnected at their very core.