Saturday, February 27, 2016

Are we ready yet?

Thanks to social media, we have people turning famous overnight and things going viral in less than 24 hours and fade out from our memories even before the 24 hour time frame is up.  “Sensational” - this word has crept up every time we Indians attach ourselves to some new change or mission.

Ringing bells” (sounds like a wedding planning company?) felt obliged to do something for the nation and ta-da, we have freedom in our hands @251. All those features and what a cute looking phone! What were our people thinking? Would I consider buying a car whose price is cheaper than petrol? Think of this phone and the rate of 1 GB data pack. You get the picture.

 Like tickets to an India-Pak match, people thronged to buy it even before they realized the prototypes handed out during the launch weren’t even made by them but a Chinese company, Adcom. It can benefit the masses at a steal of a price, true -but why am I so skeptical about it?

Trust issues. People didn’t trust the Nano  (Tata PR guys did a bad job marketing it as the poor man’s vehicle) or the Government subsidized Akash Tablet but when an unknown company, even if it is well intentioned, rolls out a massive plan that banks on our money to release its products and with a business strategy that lacks clarity,  I can’t help but flinch looking at my naïve countrymen . Very well the deed is done so I’ll wish the company the best of luck. They know they are being watched by sharks – IT honchos and the media. We know stories of people who apparently built robust empires but couldn’t handle the heat eventually. Think Satyam’s Ramalingam Raju, Sahara’s  Subrata Roy, United Spirits’ Vijay Mallya…

We took to social media like a fly to a light bulb. Sentences acquired new meanings and conversations took dramatic turns.

“I like this song” now meant liking Adele’s Hello on YouTube and down 
voting a negative comment below it.

“I shared a meal”  now refers to sharing a snap of last night’s Biriyani on Instagram and make sure your dirty fingers are somewhere in the pic

“I voted for the Delhiwalla”  now meant upvoting an 4.8k answer of a most viewed writer on Quora to “What are the most embarrassing incidents that happened in front of your crush?”

“I need to change my status!” means... Yeah adhey! Adhey!

Social media keeps our always online friends near and boredom at bay. There’s no dearth of “25 crazy things to do with food that spills on the floor”, “67 things people do to hide their dark circles. You are not gonna believe this!”  (with an awkward photo accompanying it),  “101 tricks to teach your Dalmatian” , “This amazing potion can make you go from flab to fab in under 26 minutes” and the like. It goes on for all eternity.

I’m not going to write how we are all heading in the wrong direction and how smart phones have taken over the inhabitants of planet earth. I leave that to the Open –Ed page of the Hindu. Humans evolve, technology changes, attitudes differ, passions and interests evolve. Change is indeed inevitable. Even before smart phones and applications became our obsessions, we looked elsewhere while having our dosas and tomato chutney for breakfast, we laughed at things that weren’t talking to us and there were things that made us miss our bus stop. These “things” were magazines, television sets, books, radio sets and crossword puzzles.

Some of these pre-smartphone devices were also met with resistance.  In the 15th century Bonfire of Vanities in Florence, Italy, certain books were burned along with cosmetics, dresses and musical instruments by the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola as they were too “sinful” to his taste. Uninstalling some apps might be our personal bonfire of vanity. It takes less than a minute to uninstall that candy crush app but it requires immense courage and effort for an individual to rise above the average and “just do it” (pun intended). Addictions to some applications are harmless – be it criminal case, clash of clans or 2048. They are akin to doing meaningless activities like throwing pebbles at the lake, crushed paper bits into bins, popping bubble wraps and squishing ants (Never mind there are apps to do all of these)

Not all the apps can be ticked off as harmless, some apps are used by miscreants to spread malice and instigate violence. Consider the inhuman and meaningless lynching of a person at Dadri, the hapless man was killed by a mob for eating beef at his home. It wasn’t beef but that’s not the point. Mohammad Akhlaq was killed over a dead piece of meat by a mob that gathered over the course of a WhatsApp message.

Any emotionally charged piece of act triggers us. We fall for the Facebook post which rebukes us for “shamelessly” celebrating the death anniversary of Bhagat Singh as Valentine’s day. 


The tragedy of Rohit Vemula and the JNU incident have created furors all over the social media space. With fingers pointing in all directions, we are confused on whose side to stand by and voice our support. Should we stand by Kanhaiya Kumar? Should we believe he is a wronged student? Did Vemula die because he was a Dalit? Did the JNU students raise slogans of  “India Murdabad! Afzal Guru Zindabad!”?

We feel our emotions are being swayed every day with every new report, every new political speech.

Report  1 - “JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar arrested on charges of sedition. JNU students intensify protests over free speech” screams the headline and we take the student’s side .  Sedition is a serious charge and we don’t really think twice when the reports state that Kanhaiya is falsely accused.

Report 2 - Rajnath Singh’s tweet that JNU student’s protest had the backing of Hafeez Muhammad Saeed,  Lashkar- e - Taiba chief made us raise our eyebrows and we reconsidered the whole situation. After much media bashing , the Home Minister later admits he made a blunder and we roll back to Report 1.

Report 3 – We all have the video grab of Arnab Goswami turning green with rage and metamorphosize into Hulk. He shredded JNU student and protst organizer Umar Khalid to pieces. Arnab brought martyr Hanumanthappa into his speech. We are patriots and we start hating Umar as well.

Report 4- A JNU student posts on Quora that the video of students shouting slogans of anti-nationalism is misleading as the students who feature in it aren’t JNU students but belong to a political party and we end up really confused.

Report 5 - Smriti Irani speaks out her mind, silences her opponents. We see the video on YouTube, she wins our admiration and we are back to square one.

Social media puts too many things on our plate. Even before we could chew on one, it offers another!
We must decide for ourselves, trust reliable sources of information before we take a stand.  It is hard not to get overwhelmed by watching an emotional/traumatic video. Our voice counts, our support counts. It is to cater to us, the media works round the clock.

So, are we as a nation ready to handle social media and not let our emotions take over? Not yet, Not now.