Social Media and Our Responsibility:

Individual and Collective

20 Jun, 2013    ·   4003

D. Suba Chandran assesses the socio-political impact of this revolutionary phenomenon

Social media, especially the Facebook, Twitter and their multiple avatars, undoubtedly is a great revolution today. Perhaps, one of the greatest that humankind has witnessed. While we are yet to comprehend the impact of this media, the strides it has taken so far has been enormous – both on positive and negative aspects.

Social media is not like any other media – print and electronic. It is unique and has revolutionised the inter-personal relationship and communication. Cutting across all boundaries – natural and manmade, the Social media today is in a different league, not affected by any of the limitations of print and electronic media.

In fact, the evolution of technology in the recent decades, and the easy use of it by everyone is absolutely mind boggling. Consider the last three decades – perhaps from the early 1990s till this day. The introduction of mobile phones in the early 1990s and its subsequent wide use reduced the gap between us. Gone are those days when we patiently waited in STD/ISD shops, or the Post Office to make a phone call and speak to the other – either officially or personally.

The growth of mobile phone and its reach is so much, that the telegrams today have become totally irrelevant and outdated. After being in use since the 1850s, the BSNL in India has officially decided to close down its telegram operations; those who would like to get nostalgic about sending and receiving telegrams, please try one last telegram before 14 July. Remember those days - sending telegrams on the arrival of new ones in our families, or the departure of older ones; marriage wishes; a happy note getting new job or promotion; intimation to our bosses of late returning to the work from our native village after being on leave and related multiple stories?

Of course, we can’t blame the BSNL for closing it down. According to an estimate, today there are only 5000 telegrams sent all over the country every day, when compared to six million in 1985! Obviously, we have other means to reach out – to convey our personal and professional messages. From birth to death, from “I love you” to “Sorry, this will not work”, from “punctured tyre; will be coming late to office,” to “seriously unwell. Give me leave”, the SMS has transformed our communication – both personal and official.

Next came the internet, again in the 1990s, yet another communication revolution. It has thoroughly broken all the barriers of communication. Do we remember reading a news paper from neighbouring country or the region, on real time before the 1990s? Remember our personal letters and official communication before the 1990s? Remember our first leave letter, or the love letter? Remember our inland letter or the postcard to our father, asking for five hundred or thousand rupees extra for the month? Remember the long letters from our grandparents? Remember waiting for the postman?

Today, the keyboards have taken over our handwriting skills; and never worry about your vocabulary or spelling; all you have to do is a right click! Today, we do not even have to remember our residential address. Emails and SMS will do the necessary communication. It has drastically revolutionised the way we communicate – in real time. A daughter can skype (communicate on Skype) from any part of the world to her parents, with less or no cost. And parents witness the marriage of their children in Canada or Australia online!

Then came the Social media during the last decade. Unlike the print media or the electronic media, where there is a gap between the speaker and the audience – physical and emotional, the social media puts the two directly in touch, that too in real time. We don’t have to wait to write to news papers to get our response published; we send our responses immediately. All we need is a computer or a lap top, connected with the internet.

However, the biggest revolution of the above three – is the complete merger of them, in terms one using the other. The mobile phones are connected to the internet; today we are talking about the super speed 3G connections, and the use of Facebook and Twitter on our mobile. What this means is, we don’t have to wait to reach our computer or laptop, and ensure there is internet and electricity, before starting communication.

If the internet has made us to access the rest of the world, the Facebook and Twitter are getting the world into our mobile network. We don’t have to read the news papers in print, or even access their websites; they are delivered to us. Social media, does one thing even better; it enable us directly to contact someone who is sitting in a remote corner in Africa or Antartica! All you need to do is to send a friend request. The Social media has completely broken any barrier that man has taken since the Treaty of Westphalia to distance each other. We can sit in the washrooms and keep communicating to our beloved ones. We can sit in front our parents in the dining table or in a classroom in front our teacher, yet messaging to our friends without anyone noticing. (And, where do children learn to message, keeping the phone below the table, but looking at you?).

While the Social media has undoubtedly revolutionised our communication and brought the world together, there are also multiple fallouts. One great problem is the parenting; the children are hooked onto the Social media. In fact, this should be considered as one of the greatest dope that man has ever invented. We are addicted to the Social media; if anyone has a doubt, please notice, what the rest of us are doing while you travel next time in a public transport – either in train or bus.

Second, there is a greater tendency to trivialise ourselves today. More than the event or experience, we would like to get that feeling across into our Facebook or Twitter. This has become common today: Oh, I should change my profile picture with this; wow, this picture will get more likes on my Facebook; I should have this in my twitter...

It appears, instead of the Social media helping us to reach out to the other, is dangerously taking us in a path of reorienting our self. From “having a haircut” to “overcooked my chicken”, we seem to be in the path of becoming narcissistic, with ease and élan.

Third, and the most important aspect is the mayhem that it could create in distancing the people. As we could see in some of the recent conflict situations in Myanmar and Northeast, the Social media wrecked havoc in venting our anger and offending the other. Since Social media gives us the luxury to remain anonymous, and post any kind of messages, without realizing the impact. What is its greatest strength – the real time connectivity and mobility, is also the greatest liability in spreading hatred and venom. I can sit calmly in my washroom, yet create a mayhem thousand miles away, without revealing my identity. I can tweet a harsh note, tweak a picture and pass it as real, and yet remain anonymous.

Undoubtedly, Social media is a great revolution today; it has bulldozed all barriers between us in terms of distance and time. However, we also have a responsibility, to ensure that this revolution brings us closer, than divide us. The State cannot and should not attempt to regulate this; it should be left to our individual and collective conscience. We have a huge responsibility.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir