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Plato, Instagram, Cervantes and Tinder

Actualizado: 31 ene

"I mention Instagram, but it could be TikTok, Tinder, or the platform of the moment—it doesn't matter. What's crucial here is that none can be taken as a serious representation of reality; instead, they offer a degraded copy of it.

The issue isn't new; it dates back at least 2,500 years. Plato, in his allegory of the cave, explains how we can mistake a mere image, a copy of reality, for what is truly true—a concept akin to what we'd call today a 'thought experiment.' Picture prisoners locked in a cave, never having seen the outside world due to a wall blocking their view. They see shadows of external happenings reflected on the wall, never questioning if the shadows are reality itself or mere projections. Now, envision one prisoner stepping into the outside world, perceiving reality as it is. If he return and share his experience, the others won't believe, deeming him crazy. Plato convinces us that the material reality we perceive is a degraded copy of a higher reality—that of pure forms. Hence, we grapple with a material, vulgar, corruptible, and degraded world originating from a purer, immaterial realm. This is why it's often said that Christianity owes much to Plato.

Centuries later, Miguel de Cervantes, through Don Quixote, warns of the danger of confusing the fantasy of chivalric books with the real world. Don Quixote, blinded by the code of chivalry and courtly love, mistakes windmills for giants and the rustic Dulcinea for a delicate princess.

When today's young people (and not so young) take the distorted images of social media as reality, it does not seem that they are very far from the Platonic allegory or the feverish mind of Don Quixote. It's not just about the negative influence that certain body types have on teenage girls. The impossibly round and big butts that are the trend of the moment are just the tip of the iceberg.

The distortion extends to all areas of life. When a 15-year-old boy sees an attractive couple getting out of a Ferrari in a 10-second video, he believes that this is the real world  without questioning its authenticity.

Hundreds of examples could be given of how people distort reality to appear more attractive through filters, more intelligent by quoting books they have never read or wealthier by showing photos in expensive places. It is common currency of dating applications. In any case, it is not a question of being sanctimonious and ignoring that we have all done it at some point, whether on a resume to get a job or to impress our secret crush. Furthermore, a postmodernist would ask us, 'What is reality, anyway?'

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan taught us that if "the medium is the message" then social media (the medium) affects the content of the message we receive (big round butts, luxury cars, white teeth, expensive vacations, etc.). According to this, social media, which is essentially visual, tend to be much more emotional than descriptive. On the other hand, an article like this or a book is more rational and argumentative. The power of emotion, as we know, is much greater than that of argument, so it is important not to lose sight of the leverage that a message launched on social media has than, for example, in the written press.

Now, the debate is open. Should we restrict the age of access to certain social networks? Is it the State's responsibility, or should it be left to citizens and the accountability of parents? Is protection synonymous with limitation?"

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