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EL ESPECTADOR

In An Age Of Roaring Internet Trolls, Silence Is Golden

Squabbling online isn't the only way to connect with the world.

'Shouting is what dominates today'
"Shouting is what dominates today"
Piedad Bonnett

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ ⁠— The distinguished Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa spoke in a recent interview about the problem of what he calls "message pollution" in today's world. "Reflection is needed," he said. "For my part, I propose silence. Because I have never wanted to shout more than the one already shouting."

We are indeed seeing a change in the way people communicate, and the result is a change in the collective psyche. No time has been further from silence than ours. Shouting, or the noise of the crowd, is what dominates today. We wade into the internet making sure to shout louder than the next user, all to attract the collective gaze, earn the yearned-for "like," even draw an insult — anything to confirm our existence. Never did the common man — the rank-and-file — demand so much attention, confirmation and recognition.

Noise is essentially ephemeral.

In her recent book La intimidad pública (Public Intimacy), the Argentine writer Beatriz Sarlo defined her idea of a "common celebrity" as someone who, in the grip of a moment's narcissistic compulsion, will do anything to be noticed. "The hue and cry is one of the current forms of notoriety," she ways. And those who seek it, she adds, "require neither quality nor achievements, only that they become sufficiently well-known as a "somebody"."

"Even the wittiest, most pointed comments online will fade away" – Muhammad Raufan Yusup/Unsplash

How exactly can they become known? By various means. They can strip naked on Instagram or join the verbiage of various online discussions, freely scattering their insults and preferably using eschatological terms.

The troll, a creature of our time that seeks prominence through harassment, is king in this realm. New York Times journalist David Brooks cites studies showing online trolls as displaying more marked psychopathic, sadistic and narcissistic tendencies. There is probably even a paramount troll today: the tweeting president who called Britain's ambassador in Washington a "pompous fool" and chided its prime minister for "the mess' she made of Brexit. With leaders like this, can one expect ordinary folk to be quiet?

But noise is essentially ephemeral. Even the wittiest, most pointed comments online will fade away. This will cause anxiety to the "common celebrities," who must swiftly find another reason to disturb their audience. And the audience avidly, gapingly, awaits its daily ration: It's a two-way drug each side feeds the other, to create a collective uproar.

Can you escape this audiovisual noise without cutting yourself off from the world? I think so. There are other ways of connecting, all of them more gratifying, productive and profound, like conversation, reading or reflection. And there is looking at art of course — though I only mean those works that have overcome art's own temptation to shout.

Jaume Plensa sums it up beautifully: "There is too much noise. Much confusion. Which is why I try to sculpt silences."

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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