Social Media & the Youth

 

By: Masood Malikyar

The choices are so many: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google, LinkedIn, Flickr, Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Pandora, Netflix, RSS, iPhone, iPad, Android, tablets, gadgets, widgets, Xbox, PlayStation, Apps, the Cloud, blogging, texting, sexting, SnapChatting, commenting, networking, subscribing, Skyping, gaming, shopping, Digging,  and on and on and on…ever redefining how we interact, share, shop, trade, entertain, inform, teach, and learn.

The internet is perhaps doing far more for this generation merely since the 90’s than what many of the most significant inventions all together achieved earlier.

Social media does wonders when used for the right ends.  While still at infancy,  it greatly facilitates a wide array of human endeavors.   And, we have not even scratched the surface of what it promises to deliver in the future!   However, as with any tool,  when used for the wrong ends, it can easily become the catalyst of human abjection.   

Global e-commerce sales topped $1 trillion in 2012 with US sales to exceed $300 billion this year.   But that is only a fraction of the story.  The volume of data stored and accessible via the internet is increasing at a dizzying pace.  According to NetApp, today Facebook collects over 15 terabytes of data a day from its 850+ million users.  The number of tweets per day has already reached 500 million or 348,000 per minute.  At the same time some 60+ hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube every minute, and as of 2012 Google has indexed 50 billion pages and counting. Research suggests digital data will weigh at over 4.5 zettabytes*1 by the end of this year and will rocket to 8 zettabytes by 2015.

That is a lot of digital data and traffic!   Besides business users,  young people generate most of the traffic.  According to a recent finding from a nationally representative Pew Research Center survey that explored technology use among US youth ages 12-17 and their parents,

  • 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of them own smartphones,
  • 23% of teens have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population, and
  • 95% of teens use the internet.

Much of the access and traffic, especially by the youth, advances the collective human knowledge and facilitates human progress.  However, other statistics point to some alarming trends.  Youth between the ages of 13 and 18 spend as much as 72 hrs. a week on social media.   8-16 yr. olds having watched porn online stands at 90% – many while doing homework. The average age of first internet exposure to pornography online is 11!  Teenage girls send an average of 4,000 texts a month according to Nielson.  Gaming, albeit entertaining and possibly a better alternative to less scrupulous engagements, is fast turning to a time consuming preoccupation.  In the U.S., more than 50% of sex trafficking is performed online.

The latest release of Grand Theft Auto in September generated over $800 million in sales on the first day – more than any Hollywood blockbuster could dream to reach in weeks.  At that rate, it will surpass the entire Gross National Product of entire countries such as Liberia, Bhutan, Greenland, or even Somalia by year-end. 

Then there is the issue of commenting.  It appears that many feel compelled to post comments to anything posted online.  And, much of the rhetoric is meant to be disparaging, outright offensive, and at times tormenting. While online anonymity or freedom of expression may be ascribable to this prevailing tendency, it is pointing to a larger problem: deterioration of social etiquettes and discourse!

As storage media become more capacious and cheaper, internet service providers and search giants become more capable of storing all exchanges for much longer periods of time.  Chances are that what the youth – even if innocently or naively – post will become a permanent fixture of their profiles to be used against them later in life.

One could go on and on about the perils of the modern interactions and engagements involving internet technologies – and – I think we all know what Islam sanctions.  So, I’d rather focus on making practical suggestions to overcome these modern challenges.

Moderation

Moderation is a key to success in all we do.  Don’t be an extremist.  If you are an avid gamer and find yourself playing games at every free moment, consider how you would respond on the day of judgment when you will be summoned for accounting of your deeds.  Consider the following possible set of responses:

I spent 10% of my free time video taping myself and uploading them to YouTube.  30% of my free time was spent shooting enemies in Modern Warfare.  20% of the time I played to reach the next level in FIFA soccer.  The rest of the time, I watched TV or traversed the web and uselessly commented on other people’s comments and uploads.

I played some,  prayed some, exercised, helped others, took care of my family, invested time in my future, learned what I needed to earn an honest living, taught people, contributed to my community, and benefited humanity.

If you are one of those completely engulfed in modern media, consider how it is affecting your posture.  If you are a student or an office worker, you are already in a sitting position for a good portion of your day.  The rest of the time,  you are spending in front of some screen – again sitting – until you fall asleep.  Go outside.  Enjoy, and ponder upon, God’s nature.  Exercise. Join an athletic team or club.  Leave the desk.  Get up and walk or bike.  You are severely hurting yourself!  Find ways to become a better world citizen.  Volunteer your time.  This life is too short and ephemeral.  Just as you wake up from a long night’s sleep and the entire sleep period appears as a moment or two upon awakening, you are guaranteed to die and your entire life of decades on this earth will not feel but only a day or two already past.  It is your choice how you would like to spend your time. 

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۖ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

“Every soul is bound to taste death: but only on the Day of Resurrection will you be requited in full [for whatever you have done] – whereupon he that shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have gained a triumph: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion.”  [3:185]

Abdullah, a companion of Prophet Muhammad SAW, narrates: 

" Allah’s Apostle said: ‘O ‘Abdullah! Is it true that you fast all the day and stand in prayer all night?’ I said, ‘Yes, O Allah’s Apostle!’ He said, ‘Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them (the fast) at other times; stand up for the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.’ "  [Bukhari 7:127]

The Prophet Muhammad SAW said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. . .Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise)."  [Bukhari 8:470]

Simplicity

يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ

“God desires for you ease, and he does not desire for you difficulty.”  [2:185]

Our modern lives are becoming very complicated.  There are too many things to track and to do. That is very stressful. Stress in turn introduces a whole array of emotional and physical health issues.  Why don’t we simplify our lives?  Let’s not constantly check emails and social media status pages. Let’s turn our tired eyes away from screens and allow them to de-strain – that will make them last us longer to old age.  Let’s not purchase goods just because others have them or can afford them or the latest fad and commercial offerings.  If you have a flip phone, don’t replace it with an expensive smart gadget unless you really need it. Why pay $45 a month or several hundred a year for a data plan if you have Wi-Fi access at home?  It will decrease the number of accidents, many of which nowadays are caused by texting drivers.  Don’t endanger your own life or someone else’s. 

Adapt simplicity in all aspects of life!   For example, dress simpler.  You only need a few clean articles of clothing each year.  Why follow seasonal trends in fashion just because others do?  Even if you could well afford it, think of your future or how you could sponsor a needy family overseas for an entire year or assist people in need in your own town and country. 

You really don’t need to buy the latest model automobile putting yourself under the burden of debt or expensive toys even if you can afford it. 

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا

“And they (the righteous) feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive.” [76:8]

Consider also these Biblical verses, confirming the eternity of God’s message:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink’…” [Matthew 25:41-42]

Review your life and simplify.  You will become a happier and better person for it.

Balance

Islam allows us to engage in anything worldly as long as it is not explicitly prohibited.  Hence, playing and spending time online does not intrinsically constitute Haraam 2**.  So, while spending time online or playing video games is not necessarily forbidden – as long as you are not engaging in forbidden discussions (insulting or disparaging people, endlessly debating folks just for the sake of arguing, being mean, etc…) or forbidden activities (watching porn, socializing or texting with those of opposite gender with ill intentions) –  it could easily waste a lot of your time and turn into an addiction.

You have to figure out a way to reach and maintain a balance between such pastimes and other obligations and activities.  Prophet Muhammad SAW said:

والله لتموتن کما تنامون، ولتبعثن کما تستيقظون، ولتحاسبن بما تعملون

“By God, you will die as you fall asleep, and you will be raised (revived) as you wake up, and you will give accounting of what you do.”

The Holy Qur’an refers to us as the people of the middle and the Prophet SAW said that the best of deeds is that which is in the middle.  We have to maintain a balance in all we do and avoid both extremes.  We should work some and then rest some.  We should play some and worship some.  We should spend some time with friends and some time with our families.  If we are online some, we should go offline some.

Some tips for parents and the youth

As the alarming statistics cited before indicate,  Shaitaan or Satan is ever present in this world – by necessity of design – to divert the weak of faith in us from the straight path, and it is evident that many fall prey to Shaitan’s hypnotism and deceptive techniques – especially the youth.  This design is to test us.  Only those who reject Shaitan in favor of goodness will triumph.  So, how could you make even the time you spend online or playing video games count as good deeds in your record?  The answer lies in your intentions. 

The Prophet SAW said: “Verily actions are by intentions (behind them)”. [Bukhari and Muslim]

When you go online, your intention should be that all you do and accomplish online be to please Allah SWT – minimally your intention should be not to displease Him.

Tips for the young people:

Keep privacy foremost in your thoughts.  Nothing you post, search, or view will remain hidden.  All of it could potentially be used against you.

Don’t broadcast your intentions online – for example, don’t text someone when you will be on vacation.

Unless you can ascertain who the other party is, don’t share your private information or engage them in conversations.

Don’t reveal people’s shame online.  The Prophet SAW said:

 مَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا سَتَرَهُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ

“One who covers a Muslim, Allah (SWT) will cover him in this world and the hereafter.”  [Muslim]

Don’t debate people endlessly for the sake of debating.

Set a limit on how much time you spend online or play games. Make a resolution to leave your current addictions.  It is never too late to change.

Spend more time with your parents, siblings, and friends – face to face,  not from behind switches and routers.

Stay away from Haraam sites, means, and materials.  Remember God is watching you at all times.  You are never alone.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind.  It is one of the greatest tools at our disposal.  Use it wisely to grow as a human being and to facilitate your life!

Tips to parents:

Be friends with your children.  Play with them, engage them, guide them, and inform them of the benefits and perils of modern technologies.

Raise your children such that you would candidly discuss any matter.  Involve them equally in your decision making process.

Be a good role model.  In my opinion, nothing is as pernicious as telling them to do something you don’t and vice versa.  Don’t expect your children not to smoke or drink if they see you do it, for example.

Instill love of sports. Engage them in team sports from early age.  Encourage reading and games you can play as a family – even video games.

Proactively monitor their online activities.

An eternal tip for all of us:

“…Our Lord, give us the good of this world and the good of the hereafter and save us from the torment of fire” [2:201]

*1 Zettabyte (1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 bytes) or 1000 billion billion bytes. It is calculated the storage requirements for all human speech ever spoken at 42 zettabytes if digitized as 16 kHz 16-bit audio.

2** Forbidden

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