May 31, 2016
To post or not to post – by all means post
In today’s virtual world, we are fast and forthcoming with our opinions about pretty much everything we read by liking, sharing, commenting or offending friends and strangers alike.
Shakespeare’s dejected Prince Hamlet utters the most famous of all soliloquies – to be or not to be -while complaining about his unjust and painful life. In an updated version, Hamlet 2.0 would have to contemplate his virtual life, the one he posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and measure its worth by the number of clicks, likes and retweets he gets.
Imagine 21st century Hamlet, 2.0 for short, navigating the treacherous realm of his new social but virtual kingdom. His FB-“friends” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to be attending parties, to which 2.0 has somehow not been invited. His mother Queen Gertrude looks toned and tanned on the Snapchats of her and King Claudius’ state visits abroad. His one true friend Horatio posts a harsh reply to Hamlet’s invitation to attend his upcoming duel with Laertes, brother to his girlfriend Ophelia. Hamlet blocks his friend’s posts over this disagreement. Gertrude gets involved, retweets the invite and ‘likes’ it. Claudius is outraged and promptly unfriends his wife.
Prince 2.0, in a bid to avenge his mother’s honour, stabs the king with his own, poisoned, ‘unfriend’ button. Both he and Laertes, busy with all this commotion, neglect to like each other’s pre-duel status updates, which in turn, earns them a stabbing with the poisoned button of virtual death. In his last tweet, Hamlet 2.0 proclaims, “the rest is silence”, and dies. And Horatio? He publishes his first ebook, “Chronicles of a virtual death” on Instagram.
Today, we look upon the story lines of the great classical tragedies à la Hamlet, Macbeth and Dr Faustus with a mildly benevolent eye and find them hugely exaggerated. We might have to revisit their features though, and compare them to our modern, net-driven narrative with a more critical appreciation.
Veteran users of the first hour will remember a time when Facebook kept us informed about the simple facts of life; our friends were up, had breakfast, or lunch, and ventured into the neighbourhood shopping mall. And we didn’t care; or we were just happy to know that someone had a good day.
Boy, how times – and posts – have changed! In today’s virtual world, we are all fast and forthcoming with our opinions about pretty much everything we read. We like, we share, we comment and we offend, on friends’ and strangers’ walls alike. But how do we offend, or even worse, get offended, so easily?
Shakespeare knew that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as he has Hamlet explain to Rosencrantz. In philosophical terms this means that nothing is real, except in the mind of each individual, and therefore the same statement can and will be perceived differently by different individuals.
We post our relative truth on social media for the world to see, a sort of passive-aggressive exhibitionism, and open up a plethora of avenues for unwanted argument, while all we ask for is a “like”, a sign of consent. Translating playground etiquette to grownup social networks has created a virtual world of sissies, where we are to approve, agree and acknowledge everything others say.
We eliminate the ability to be critical, the right to criticise; we create intellectual ‘safe spaces’. Back when we only posted the enlightening fact of eating breakfast, such safe spaces served us just fine. But today, as activists and news channels compete for views and clicks and entire presidential campaigns are fought on social media, safe spaces are dead spaces; they hinder intellectual progress.
Instead of shielding behind the walls of our padded virtual world of mutual and undifferentiated acceptance, we should embrace the opportunity to cross – again virtual – swords with friends and with the world at large and learn how to properly use, respectfully express and intelligently accept a critically thought out argument.
Hamlet killed his critics with a sword and Macbeth stabbed them with a dagger. Today, we use a thumbs-up or the lack of one. To post or not to post? By all means, post, and be part of a new kind of classical tale, but don’t let it turn into a tragedy.
Fanny Bucheli is an FMT columnist.