Saturday, June 15 2024

Interview with Alexander Pschera, a German communications
consultant who has recently published a book on social media: 800 Millionen (Matthes & Seitz Berlin 2011).


Why do you think that Facebook’s 800 million users are an interesting
book topic? In the last months, it seems to be going down in numbers as
well as in the stock market…

The title of the book is a symbolic one. It mirrors the growing impact of
social networks on society. This impact does not depend on the success of
Facebook as a company or a platform: Facebook is only one possible channel.
There are a lot of other relevant ones like Youtube, Google +, Twitter, and
blogs.


It seems like social networks are multiplying the number of contacts
and potential relationships… But how are they affecting the quality
of the relationships that users have with their closest friends?

The impact of social networks lies in the new role they give to groups of
people, to small social entities, and to their way of sharing thoughts and
emotions. In social networks you are not communicating in a “1-to-1” style,
but in a “many-to-many” style. Other friends can follow up with your
interests, your thoughts, your emotions. This possibility is not taking
something away from close relations, but is adding a new dimension to
social communication.


Is Facebook just a machine made to obtain new information and marketing
data about users through cyber links?

On the one hand, Facebook is a data-gathering machine, that can’t be
denied. We have to be very careful with this dimension. On the other hand,
our data is collected by a lot of other institutions and technologies too
(telephone companies, carrier, Amazon books etc.), so this problem is not
specific to Facebook.


What do you think about Facebook selling advertising spaces or user
data to businesses and companies?

I have no problem with advertising on social networks as long as it follows
ethical rules. If social networks are selling user data to companies –
which is done by a lot of other platforms and institutions too – the
company has to make their rules transparent. That way, every user can
decide how far he wants go by giving away authentic data about his personal
life (pictures, birth date, addresses).


How are social media influencing the real lives of families, of
fiancées, or of teenagers…? Do they have a particular impact in
Germany?

Teenagers today no longer use telephones. They send short messages or meet
on Facebook after school. The impact has shifted from one channel to
another. This is a cultural shift. Does it implicate risks? Yes, because
teenagers have to be educated to learn about the opportunities and risks
posed by communicating in an open, social way. If a young person has strong
values and is well rooted however, the opportunities offered by Facebook
will prevail, and the risks can be managed.


How are social networks changing the perception of quality-time in
relationships? What good things could we learn from this
“techno-opportunity”? What are the bad consequences we should avoid?

The risk is that people simply “lose” too much time on social networks.
They are “always on”, addicted to their pin board. They are becoming
passive and so they can be more easily influenced. But this risk is
associated with every new medium of communication which is not
inculturated. We need to be educated about social media – especially
parents, because they are being confronted with a completely new world. The
good thing with social media is – and I can observe this with my children
and their friends- that young people learn to communicate as social beings.
They learn important things about “sharing”, about being responsible, about
inclusion of others. This has nothing to do with in-depth relationships. We
should be very careful to separate those two sides of human communication:
the private aspect and the social aspect. Facebook is not a medium for real
love, but it is a useful stage for social interaction.


What are the best ways to educate children and adults about developing
intelligent ways of using social networks?

We need inculturation, an integration of social channels in the moral and
ethical reality of our society. That hasn’t happened yet, not sufficiently.
We need training and the institutionalization of social media. This should
start with training the trainers, and means not only teaching the children,
but also the parents. They should not only be educated about the technical
dimension of social networks – how to install them, how to maintain them,
how to avoid risks, how to hide away – but especially in the way social
networks can contribute to our social behavior and, last but not least, to
our apostolic life. That way social media can, as the Holy Father pointed
out, contribute to a culture of friendship, dialogue and respect.


Do you think that the inappropriate use of the Internet is related to
the “worldly behavior” that Benedict XVI suggested the need to correct
in the Freiburg speech during his visit to Germany?

That is absolutely the case and a very good application of the Holy
Father’s Freiburg-speech about the world of communications. What the Holy
Father pointed out is that our communication should be more fair and
honest. Benedict used the German word “Redlichkeit” to express this
congruence between communicating and acting. He points out that our words
should always be in line with our actions – that is the example that Jesus
gives us. This is especially true for social media where the risk of
“over-communication” is inherent.

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