How tech should help foster better care for one another
|An engineer by training, Edwin has since turned his back on the engineering world in favour of words in the literary world. A freelance journalist & an editorial consultant writing on his own terms now, Edwin hopes his observations will stir up deeper discussions and debates within Malaysia. You can find Edwin occasionally at twitter.com/yedwin01.|
DEC 20 — Last week was a tragic week for the family of Alviss Kong, a 22-year-old man who ended his life when he jumped off the 14th floor of an apartment block in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur on December 11.
The vernacular press reported that Kong took his own life after being spurned by his girlfriend who broke up with him after four months of courtship.
What was significant about this suicide was that 45 minutes before he jumped, he posted his intentions on his Facebook page, stating, among other things, that he planned to take his own life.
Kong’s Facebook page, which is now no longer accessible, was said to have been littered with regrets as well as vitriolic comments about his girlfriend, particularly how she allegedly treated him cruelly.
This case brings to memory a New Jersey college boy who announced his intention to jump off a prominent New York City bridge in September after he was allegedly secretly taped having a sexual encounter with another man by two of his classmates.
Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student, was said to have changed his Facebook status to “Jumping off the gw (sic) bridge sorry” on September 22, the Star-Ledger reported.
While this isn’t exactly the first time someone who intended to commit suicide announced his or her intention to do so, it does mark an alarming trend in that it may be the first time in Malaysia a troubled soul’s intention was broadcasted for everyone to see on Facebook before it actually happened.
Suicide cases are not new. Many have taken their own lives because they feel they can’t cope with life’s pressures, or because of certain specific negative circumstances that have befallen them. In the case of Clementi and Kong, it was about being publicly humiliated and jilted respectively.
It’s also a well-known fact that today’s generation is a very public bunch. Having been initiated to Twitter only in recent months, I’m beginning to find out for myself how much people want to express themselves online — from what they are doing, to what they are eating, to where they are, and what they feel at a certain moment in time.
The use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter has only further fuelled our youths’ insatiable appetite to express themselves to the world. Personally, I’ve no issues with that as we live in a free world and people have choices as to what they want to do, and how they want to do it
But I’ve also long argued that technology exists to serve us and to make our lives better, and not the other way round. Put simply, technology should aid the quality of our lives and help us live more purposefully and more productively.
What’s disturbing, at least to me, is when Gen-Y turns to the Net and uses social media tools to announce their intention to harm themselves.
Admittedly, while there are facts and contextual information that we do not know about Kong’s state of mind and his character that may have influenced his decision to take his own life, it would still behove us to pause and think as to how this suicide could have happened, and whether or not something could have been done to prevent it.
If indeed his life was laid bare on social media channels, an important question — especially for those who knew him — would be to ask if his actions were foreseeable given the reasonable assumption that he would already be chronicling his relationship online for his friends and loved ones to see.
Were his friends aware of his state of mind in the run-up to his announcement? Were there signs suggesting that he might end up a wreck should his relationship with his girlfriend not last? Were his close friends on his Facebook page sensitive enough to pick up on the nuances that he might have dropped inconspicuously?
These are tough questions to answer. But as tough as they are to answer, they need to be asked.
Depression, anxiety, loneliness and other negative feelings can hit any one of us. In fact, at this very moment, you may know of friends and loved ones who may be suffering from one or a combination of these life stresses. And when they do reach some critical breaking point, they may succumb to suicidal tendencies.
Before the advent of social media, we may not have had that much chance to pick up on the nuances of how our friends and the people whom we care about truly feel because we were not as connected as before.
Thanks to technology today, especially with the advent of social media and the power therein, we have the means to be in touch with our friends and loved ones almost every moment of the day.
Realising that we have these inextricable and connected “touch points” with our friends and loved ones should therefore mean that we should look out more for them and be sensitive to their needs, especially if they are in a vulnerable state coming off the back of something traumatic.
But technology can only go so far because to truly capitalise on these touch points and genuinely be in the know as to what’s going on with the state of mind of our friends and loved ones around us, we still need to reach out to them in the good ol’ fashion way — with the human touch of caring, listening, sharing and counselling.
Only then can technology and our humanity work together for the good of all men.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.