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Social networks not a bad thing after all

By Jean-Claude Elias - Mar 26,2020 - Last updated at Mar 26,2020

 “Blame it on a simple twist of fate” (Bob Dylan, singer, musician, 2016 literature Nobel Prize)

 In a strange twist of fate, social networks, or social media if one prefers, that once were blamed as being an unnatural, cold way to communicate between human beings, contributing to keeping people physically apart and more isolated, are now being praised for helping us to stay together in these trying times. Interacting over the networks is an efficient way to keep one’s sanity when confined at home.

It just goes to show that when you are to criticise something you should think twice and make sure you are taking the context, and every single aspect of the question, into consideration.

Reports on the web are indicating that whereas email traffic has remained more or less at the same level, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, FaceTime, Messenger, Botim, and Skype have been experiencing a five-fold activity increase for the past couple of weeks.

In Jordan countless jokes of all kinds about the situation, most in good taste, others in less good taste, are circulating on the social media, bringing a smile and some healthy relief to those staying at home. Photos are being exchanged, just like videos and music. Perhaps the most significant are the live video calls that go mainly over Messenger, Facetime and Skype.

Whether it is to reassure your beloved ones that you are doing well, to comfort those who are alone at home, or just to enjoy a casual video chat with a friend, a relative or a colleague, the system is doing wonders. Some 15 years ago – about the time Facebook was launched — the social media, and all means of virtual communication on the web in general, were criticised for they would let you talk to and befriend someone at the other end of the world but at the same time ignore your next-door neighbour. This is not true anymore, at least not in this very situation we are living and that no one really saw coming.

With the strict confinement instructions, today you would use Facetime or Messenger to video-talk even to your next-door neighbour, or even your relative living in the same building, just to obey the new social distancing rules! The system that was criticised a few years ago is now thanked and praised. What a twist of fate!

There were news earlier this week that some “adjustment” perhaps should be made, so as to avoid congesting the global traffic on the web, given all the above. There were hints or suggestions that Netflix for example could reduce the quality of its film streaming, or that video calls of all kinds, whether those that take place as one-on-one or those involving true videoconferencing with several people participating, should follow some prioritisation.

Apart from the almost impossible implementation of such restrictive measures, there does not seem to be a real need for that at this point in time – until further development at least. It is interesting, in this matter, to remember that WhatsApp for one, has long had an automatic compression system for all audiovisual contents that travel over its network, precisely to reduce bandwidth usage.

Photos exchanged on WhatsApp are systematically compressed, and therefore lose some of their original quality and definition, but they save bandwidth and network usage. Users of the service have often complained about this and asked to have the option not to compress. The request was never answered. Today more than ever, it clearly appears that this automatic compression of photos was a smart move, as it allows WhatsApp to keep flowing smoothly, despite the excessive load it is experiencing.

So while we wait for the virus crisis to end, let’s enjoy all kinds of social media unconstrained and without any feeling of guilt.

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