The use of social media has definitely increased in Pedasí. 5 years ago we basically had Facebook with “The Pedasí Post” as our main source of news and communication about Pedasí. If you wanted to know something that was happening, to sale or buy something, or some general information that was in English, this was the page to go to. It is still in existence and still a good source of information. There are other pages that have been created since for the area as well, giving us many sources of information for the area now.
Along with Facebook, came Messaging which allowed us to personally message someone or a business, as long as they were also on Facebook and your Friend or you followed them. You could message them if you were not a Friend, but you would have to wait to see if they would accept the message. Years later, Facebook made it possible to voice message or call the person who was also on Facebook Messaging, including video calling at no extra charge. This was another option to Skype. I have used it many times to talk to my family members in the U.S. now. We have MagicJack also. It allows us to call anyone in the U.S. or Canada at no extra charge (pay $20/year for 5 year plan) and unlike Messaging, they do not have to have MagicJack.
The introduction and use of “WhatsApp” has skyrocketed here in Pedasí and all over Panama. You just need to download the app on your cellphone and enter your phone number which can be from anywhere in the world. You then can text or call someone as long as you have their phone number on your contact list or they are on a WhatsApp group that you are a member of. In Pedasí, this is now the main form of communication to each other whether calling or texting, because as long as you have wifi, it is free; or data depending on your data plan, it is no extra or little cost. Several groups have been formed in Pedasí: “Pedasi Community” (English only), “”Real” Pedasi community” (Bilingual), “Info Pedasi” (Spanish created by the Municipal Office), etc. Information about restaurants, businesses, where to find something, water & power outages, upcoming events, etc. is now easily communicated to all who are a participant of one or more of the groups. Videos and media can be posted as well. WhatsApp also provides an app for tablets, laptops, & desktop computers after initially downloading the app on your cellphone.
Now what I am writing about is my own personal observations and “rant”; it may alienate some people, but I have heard this complaint from others as well. WhatsApp seems like real progress for this town, but there are some drawbacks. Five years ago when we were new to the community and all we had was a Facebook page, if we really wanted to find out about something, we would call or text that specific person or business, ask a friend face-to-face, or walk around (or drive) and explore on our own. It was a way to get to know people in the community, where things were, who to ask when you needed certain information, etc. But with the introduction and heavy use of WhatsApp now, that doesn’t seem to be the case for many. Instead WhatsApp has become a crutch. You can sit in your comfortable home and just ask about anything on any of the WhatsApp groups without even getting out of bed. The face-to-face contact has been almost eliminated; you may not even have met or know many of the people who are participants in the specific group, and you may never meet them. But you are certainly chatting with them. And your chats involve all participants. Some conversations go back and forth between 2-3 people and/or have become personal, but continue to involve the whole group and are of no interest for everyone reading. Some postings are personal complaints and gossip about an individual in the community, drawing others into their personal drama. There are ways to personally message each individual, but many participants either forget about that, don’t know how, or just don’t care. I have no qualms about local businesses and groups posting their ads, menus, and/or events; or someone sharing information that would concern the whole group. I understand some of questions are coming from new residents asking, but the same questions over and over again can get really irritating, especially from the same people. Questions such as asking for the hours that a business or restaurant is opened can be found out by actually personally messaging or calling that business/restaurant. Questions such as “Are there any grocery stores or pharmacies in Pedasí?” can be answered easily by asking your neighbor or exploring the town by vehicle or foot. So what if you used up a little fuel or got some needed exercise. More than likely, you get to know about Pedasí and other local neighborhoods, as well as you might even make a new friend or two. And when someone makes an announcement or is selling something, then writes “PM” for more information, but people continue to use the group to ask or comment about it, to me, that is just being disrespectful to the rest of the group. There is even a list of businesses and other resources & groups with phone numbers and hours/days they may be open posted in at least 2 of the mentioned groups info under “docs” along with all kinds of other information, links, and contacts at the fingertips for all participants in the group to view and save. (Personally, I did not know of this WhatsApp feature until it was posted in a message on one of the groups I participate with this morning, but the list has been posted before and I printed it out then to review when I needed some information.) Or maybe if you can’t get out, you can just “Google” it; information about Pedasí and Panama is getting more readily available on the internet than it was 5 years ago.
Anyway, I could go on, but I have said enough. Again, this “rant” is based on my opinion, and I am not personally directing it to any individual. I have to admit I have sometimes in the past fallen into the trap of using a WhatsApp group to get information instead of personally messaging or asking a friend. But now these groups see less and less of chats and responses from me unless it is for the whole group who will benefit from. I try to “PM” or call that individual or business, or I don’t answer at all. After all, I have enjoyed making new friends and meeting new acquaintances which include the owners of restaurants, businesses, the mayor, residents (Panamanian and expats alike), etc. I love exploring the town; I have walked through almost every neighborhood and street which has help me discover where things are and who lives where. This concept did not happen when I lived in California; I hardly knew or spoke with most of my neighbors, let alone business owners or government leaders. The people of Pedasí are very friendly; you just have to go out and start talking with them face-to-face. What a concept in an era where social media has steadily influenced our personal communication skills. Obviously I see many benefits with using the internet and all that it provides; it provides the tools for me to write this blog that I may not have considered writing if it weren’t readily available. The internet allows us to access our bank accounts, pay bills, translate languages, book travel arrangements, explore other lands, email, buy goods, research, watch movies and TV, etc., etc., etc. And I am not against social media; it provides information and connection and I will continue to avail myself to it as I choose. I just think we need to be responsible and respectful as we use it. And I know that there is nothing better than the personal touch of a face-to-face conversation or a personal message. This became very apparent to me especially after my son died last October; I truly appreciate those who reached out to me in person or by personal message. It made a significant impact.