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Disconnection notice

UNTIL VERY recently, I have lived under a metaphorical rock.

It is with shame that I admit that I have not watched the news, international or otherwise, in months. I hardly read the papers anymore, not even the comics page. In fact, the first time I saw Gloria Arroyo in a neck brace last year, which was actually the first time I heard that she was not quite well, was on my news feed. There was a photo that was edited to show the former President decked out in a Naruto costume with a Konoha headband on her forehead. Before that, I had no inkling of the political drama that was unfolding in the national media. I was unaware of anything of national concern, for that matter.

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It is with shame that I admit all these things because it is not as if I do not have access to television or newspapers. I have all this and the Internet at my disposal. I should be able to keep up with what is happening to the world around me, but for some reason I find it so difficult. There must be something wrong when you are oblivious to current events but can log in to Facebook with your eyes closed.

I was not raised to be like this. At home, my parents would regularly read the newspaper delivered to us on a subscription every day. Our meals together were almost always spent with the table facing the TV set, which was always tuned to a news channel. In high school, we had assignments in which we would take a news article and react to it. Where I study now, rallies are commonplace and almost everyone has a firm stand on whatever issue is hot. Having said all this, I cannot justify my ignorance and indifference.

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Not an isolated case

In spite of my upbringing and environment, here I am, glued to my computer, worked up not about poverty or corruption, but about the irreversibility of the Facebook Timeline. And I believe that I am not an isolated case. The evidence is in the constant barrage of mindless status updates, blog posts, and tweets published daily around the globe. Somewhere out there, on the World Wide Web, there are thousands, if not millions, of people like me who have all but exchanged harsh reality for a virtual escape offered by the Internet.

Who would have thought it would come to this? The Internet, after all, is full of promise. It has made the world borderless and accessible. We can reach out across the oceans and seas to the continents that lie beyond without setting a foot outside the bedroom. And just as easily, those on the far side of the Earth can reach us as well. We have blogging platforms and social networking sites where we can write about anything and everything under the sun and be read in places where the sun does not shine. In other words, the world is at our fingertips.

But the benefits of the age of Facebook can backfire.

First, easy access to information causes us to stop making an effort to keep up with the latest news. There is no point in doing so when we can look it up immediately the moment we need it for, say, a requirement in school. Sometimes, that moment never comes. (If it does, we simply Google it. And, pray tell, where is the glory in that?) We are only extrinsically motivated to keep a watchful eye on the news, not realizing that there is an internal benefit to us far greater than any material reward anyone can give.

Second, it is no longer difficult to make connections, but it can also breed a false sense of companionship. Clicking “Confirm” on a friend request does not make you someone’s friend in the real sense of the word. Reading the updates of other people does not translate to closer relationships. Such ties are too weak to be expected to hold strong when sacrifices must be made and support wholeheartedly given for a higher cause, however noble it may be. Because of social networking sites, we are slowly being misled into thinking that virtual interaction with other people is a sufficient substitute for the real thing.

With a single click, it is easy to let the world know what is on your mind. And if the Internet has backfired on you on those two points, you will be left with nothing of substance to talk about, with nobody who gives a damn. For certain you have seen people post about every mundane step of their daily routine: waking up, taking a bath, eating breakfast, going to work or to school, and everything else. Perhaps you yourself have been guilty of that. (I know I have.) Which brings us to the third point, the final blow to activism: The right to express ourselves is cheapened by triviality.

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Taking action

Before the Internet—before the widespread use of computers and cell phones—people carried on just fine. Activists of ages past were no less influential and passionate about their beliefs and what they stood for before as they are today, if not even more. And they would have appreciated the boon that technology has bestowed upon the children of the 21st century. It is easier than ever to stay updated, to voice out one’s opinion to the public, to find out what everyone else is thinking, and to hatch a plan to create significant change for the better; in short, to take action, which is what activism is all about. And if they could do it, we have all the more reason to do the same, and no excuses to fail.

There are exceptions to the rule of apathy. Now and then, I see pages dedicated to activism—from support for the RH Bill and protests against the budget cut to petitions to save the Calderon dolphins from getting slaughtered in Denmark. Some write blog posts about issues that matter. Still others express themselves through videos on YouTube. And in all this I see a spark of hope in our generation, of which I would very much like to be a part. It is a spark of activism that just might blaze into a wildfire that will consume all of us with the passion for change.

This semester, I tried something with my browser that I had not thought of before: I set my homepage to an online news site. I am now consciously making an effort to stay updated on events in my country and in the whole world as well before I log in to Facebook. Perhaps one day I will start writing in reaction to what is happening around me, and maybe when I write enough posts I will start to blog. Or maybe I will get involved in a more direct activism offline. I do not know yet. But the homepage is a start. Before I attempt to make a change in the world, I will first make a change in myself.

Gabriela Victoria A. Timbancaya, 16, is a freshman psychology student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She graduated valedictorian at the Palawan State University Laboratory High School. This piece won first place in the Freshman Essay Writing Contest organized by the UP Student Council and the Alpha Sigma Fraternity, and sponsored by Smart Telecommunications. The contest topic was “Activism in the Age of Facebook.”

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