Friday, May 31, 2013

All the rage

How do I feel? What is my opinion? Where do I stand? What should I do? 

Questions that pop up mostly in situations where a definitive response or action is required on our part. Questions we used to ask ourselves probably half-a-dozen times a day a few years back and nearly a couple-of-dozen times a day these days (thanks to social networking).  Social networking has radically transformed the whole process of forming public opinion. It often puts us in the spot, forcing us to have and express an opinion on pretty much any issue that any of the 1 in 500 of your "friends" has brought up for discussion. 

One is pressured to use one of the many endorsement mechanisms such as retweet, like, comment, share and make his or her views public. Failure to contribute through any one of the aforementioned "endorsement" mechanisms is often construed as lack of empathy or even worse opposition. "Honest off-the-bat truthful and raw feelings", "continuously evolving opinions in response to greater exposure (and, hence, knowledge) over time", "a conscious decision to participate or stay out of the discussion", "a worthwhile tangible contribution to an issue" are unacceptable responses to the aforementioned questions anymore.

Personalities on social networks are carefully constructed avatars, sans the quintessentially human imperfections and vulnerabilities. People always seem so sure of themselves in their online avatars. However, when faced with a social issue, what is apparent is the lack of an analytical thought process and a thorough assessment of the issue (answering the 4 questions). Rather, what stands out is the need for a feeling of belonging, for not feeling left out (or lagging behind), for not coming across as unempathetic. I would like to restrict my observation to my Indian friends on social media.

Social media can be an effective catalyst for social change. However, it is often mistaken for the solution in India. Given the number of issues prevalent in this world (first, second, or third) and the overdose of social media rage, there have been very few instances when social media has actually made a difference - Arab springUK uncutmarriage equality campaign, Occupy <*> movement. India-specific campaigns, however,  failed to gain traction - India against corruption, legislation against sexual violence, government censorship. In our desperate need for conformance did we miss the whole point almost every single time? Do we just like the idea of change or do we want real change? Do we really believe that a profile picture, a shared image, a fiery status message, a tweet/retweet, or an endorsement does any good for any cause that we are for? Do we do it just to get the satisfaction of having announced our presence and intentions or of having made a contribution?

Social responsibility does not end with endorsements and online rage. One solution will not fit all the problems facing Indians and the Indian society. Sometimes real change starts from within. Sometime real education starts at home.


Jayashree said...

Hari ma,
Great post! Social media has and will continue to be a catalyst for social change. But we need to remember that it’s just an enabler. I agree that people should stand up for their causes in real life as much as they do online but I’d like to share my views on some of the thoughts in this post.
The dynamics that govern our interactions in real life are applicable to social media as well. Imagine a public forum for instance, a person always puts his best foot forward. Extends courtesies that are required (here in the form of likes, comments etc). Just like in a real world scenario, sensitive issues are diplomatically dealt. No one exposes their vulnerabilities or imperfections. The four things mentioned in this post - "Honest off-the-bat truthful and raw feelings", "continuously evolving opinions in response to greater exposure (and, hence, knowledge) over time", "a conscious decision to participate or stay out of the discussion", "a worthwhile tangible contribution to an issue" - might not be ideal to do given that the visibility here is very high. Sometimes staying in carefully constructed avatars is alright. That does not mean faking your profile but including only ‘need to know’ information and displaying carefully selected emotions.
People have different analytical abilities and an online persona hardly gives us enough evidence to make conclusions about that. It is not easy to say how a person would react to a real life crisis from their avatar. The feelings of belonging, lagging behind etc are all part of basic human psychology and are present in different proportions in every one. Most times these feelings are loud and evident in what people share online.
So in conclusion, while it is always important to stand up for causes you support in real life (no matter how many ‘likes’ you click online), it is alright that people over-do certain endorsements online to put their best foot forward :)

S.Wagh said...

Social media campaigns may yield positive results in Yes-No situations like marriage equality. But the rest, like overthrowing a regime, creating jobs, curbing corruption, there needs to be clear-cut directives about how to proceed once the objective is met. Arab Spring may have let rebels win, but that doesn't guarantee success of the new system in place.

Takes me back to my post on Anna. Similar sentiments.

Hariharasudhan Viswanathan said...

@Jayashree: Amen sister! I agree for the most part. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

What bugs me about self-proclaimed online activists is the lack of understanding that one solution does not fit all and endorsements are not the best foot forward in "certain situations". That is why I use "sometimes" twice at the end :)

@Wagh: Read you post on Anna :)