[Viewpoint] The perils of the Internet

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[Viewpoint] The perils of the Internet

All-American high-spirited Truman Burbank is happily married with a stable job at an insurance company. He one day realizes things are strangely out of place in his ordinary life.

An artificial night-sky constellation falls and nearly hits him. His wife and friend talk in exaggeration and affectation as if selling products on commercials, instead of paying attention to him. He then runs into his supposedly dead father on the street. He’s dressed as a hobo.

It turns out Truman is not any Tom, Dick or Harry. He has been cast on a reality show since before birth, filmed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and watched live by viewers around the world. Everything around him is artificial, fabricated and everyone around him is an actor or actress, including his wife.

His entire life is confined to a set built in a giant dome. He has been watched and his life has been meticulously orchestrated by the program’s producer without his knowledge. But being human, Truman’s emotions cannot be entirely controlled. He falls in love with an extra, Sylvia, instead of Meryl - his actress wife. From Sylvia, he learns that his life is a fake.

He ventures to seek out Sylvia and free himself from the world of false reality. Despite all the stumbling blocks - traffic chaos, a forest fire, a life-threatening storm and even the threat of a nuclear meltdown, all staged to keep the longest-running show and money-making hero on air - Truman finally reaches an exit door and steps out into the real world for the first time in his life.

The 1998 American film “The Truman Show” was initially received as a well-made satirical comic film. But it is chillingly prophetic when viewed from the perspective of today’s world, where individual lives are bared, watched, shared and interfered with through Internet-based social networking media.

We willingly and habitually peek into the everyday lives of others and open ours to the world. We do not stop at just looking.

We cannot overlook the strong merits of online social networks. They were instrumental in bringing down despotic regimes and leaders in North Africa and the Middle East and innovating election campaigning. Through online relations, one can find a lost item or save a person in danger or emergency.

The Korea Communications Commission recently released action plans to develop online social platforms as networks for communication, creativity and mutual trust in the hope of nurturing the burgeoning Internet networking mechanisms in a constructive and positive way.

But what’s more imperative than plans to promote social networks is enhancing protection against risks such as violations of personal information and privacy.

It is estimated that more than eight out of 10 of the population use Twitter, Facebook or other social networking services. Tweets circulate globally within an hour of a message being posted on Twitter. But in Korea, it takes only 30 minutes. This greater speed translates into more exposure and risk.

The government should not overlook the perils of social media in the platform for administrative expedience. In other words, the state or corporations should not invade public lives, and people, too, should not abuse it.

Users should first be discreet. There was no one in the forest when the barber shouted out the secret: “The King had donkey’s ears!” In the cyber forest, there are a multitude of invisible followers waiting to broadcast your deepest secrets.

The social media networks are structured to serve public and private purposes. We sometimes need to restrain monologue and practice decency and responsibility in posting responses. In a mirrored world, we are all vulnerable.

The tragedy of someone ending one’s life due to abusive and malicious online and text message attacks should stop.

No matter how clever and innovative the social networking platform is in connecting people in today’s world, cyberspace cannot replace the real world. It is sad and ridiculous to see friends sitting across each other, too busy text-messaging to talk. What we need to do more today is reach out and touch one another instead of staring at our digital gadgets.

*Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is CEO of UCO Marketing Group.

By Yoo Jae-ha
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