Is The Media Culture Of ‘Likes’ & ‘Shares’ Turning Us Into Indifferent People?

Posted by Shashwat in Society
July 9, 2017

“I read the news today oh boy,
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph.
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared…”

-“A day in the life”, The Beatles

Often deemed as the greatest masterpiece by The Beatles, events quite similar to those described in the song transpired a day in my life. It was a Sunday morning in January and like any other day, I reached out for my phone before getting out of the bed. A terrible habit this, confirm a number of studies but we are all creatures of habit. As the screen lit up I was greeted with gruesome images of a road accident involving a couple of teenagers. Instead of the usual pointless Whatsapp forwards, the sender had decided to educate me on road safety by sending these pictures along with a pontifical text on the importance of life.

In a series of pictures from multiple angles, the photographer had tried his best to show off his photography skills. Gory as these images were, what struck out the most to me was that there were people in the background taking selfies! In the song, people just stood and stared. Maybe they would have taken selfies too like that if smartphones existed then. However, unlike John Lennon, the picture did not make me laugh. This was not something one would like to see first thing in the morning, but little did I know that this was just the beginning.

As I went through my daily chores, I couldn’t shake those images from my mind. I couldn’t fathom why someone would take selfies or photographs of a road accident. Photographs are supposed to preserve good memories, right? Then how could a gruesome death of a person be a memorable moment for another?

To take my mind off these thoughts, I turned on the TV. Those of you who have tried it must be aware that trying to watch Hindi news in the afternoon is a pipe dream. Most of the news networks in the afternoon run programs with names prefixed with “saas bahu aur”. Flipping through the channels, I stopped at the one that claims to be the country’s fastest network. It was running a segment on ghastly road accidents captured by bystanders or on CCTV cameras. Each clip was played several times in slow motion before moving on to the next one. The segment lasted for about 10 minutes before they too joined their contemporaries with the saas-bahu special. It was not like that I had never seen such segments being aired on a news channel.

These are commonly used as fillers in the express 100 news in an hour type programs. However, this was the first time I paid any heed to it. The fact that such programs are televised means that there is an audience for it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be aired. But do the families and friends of those who lost their lives approve of such programs? It must be a traumatic experience for them to watch and relive those memories again. TV proved to be a failed experiment in easing the mind; on the contrary, it aggravated the situation.

The day was nowhere near done with me. Later on, while checking my social media feed I came across a post with pictures of terminally ill children. Stating that the child is in dire need of a surgery and I could help him by liking and sharing the post, Facebook would take care of his medical expenses if it had a minimum of 10k likes and another 1000 shares. This post appeared to be inspired by post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasies where FB is an evil MNC that makes people garner likes and shares if they want medical help and leaves them for dead even if they fall a like short. This post was shared by some of the very educated people I know.

Do people really believe that if FB could help somebody they would ask them to get 10k likes first? I wondered what sadistic pleasures one could derive from making such malicious and fake posts. Did the satisfaction lie in having successfully conned a certain number of people to share it or in the fake sense of achievement of getting likes?  The level of indifference that the post exhibited was astounding. Some people don’t even flinch from using a sick child for their superficial means.

The final blow of the day that floored me was delivered by a neighbor of mine, whom I ran into in the evening. After exchanging the usual pleasantries he channelled the conversation to the Bihar boat tragedy. An overcrowded boat carrying 40 people had capsized in the river Ganga while returning from a kite flying festival, a part of Makar Sankranti celebration. 25 people had drowned and lost their lives.

The neighbor boasted of how he was one of the first people to find out about the accident even before the media got to cover it. He claimed to have received a video moments after the accident took place. Although he kept on saying that what happened was terrible but, the excitement in his voice and the strange glow in his eyes as he narrated the incident gave him away. Throughout the day I had wondered who these people were, so consumed by the indifference that misfortune of others was entertainment for them. And here I was standing right before one of them.

Six months have passed since that day. Nothing much has changed with respect to such content in the media both social and mainstream. The voracious appetite for finding pleasure in pain of others rages on. I wonder if people have always been so indifferent and it is only become more observable now because of the media. Have our sympathies and well wishes for fellow humans been reduced to likes and shares? And to top it off we have quantified and monetized it by fixing proportions, where 1 like=100 prayers and 1 share=1000 prayers.

Human emotions and actions appear to be increasingly getting restricted to the virtual world, where one sheds a sympathetic tear via emojis, laughs with a ‘LMAO’, even signs a petition to change the world. But when confronted with a similar situation in the real world most would find them incapacitated or turn a blind eye. I by no means am painting everyone with the same brush. There surely must be a plenty of good people around, however, their tribe seems to be growing smaller by the hour.

Whether intolerance has been rising in the country or not has been a recurring debate in the past year and a half. I am sure most of you must be experts on it by now so there is no point wasting any time on it. It is far from being done and dusted and we will definitely hear more of it in times to come. What I would like to draw your attention to is the rising indifference, the same that I experienced on that eventful day in January.

American historian Christopher Lasch said, “Democracy in our time is more likely to die of indifference than of intolerance.” I couldn’t agree more with Mr Lasch. Societies collapse when its constituents, the citizens, are indifferent to everything else other than their own money and pleasures.

So next time dear reader, when you come across such pictures, videos, posts etc. pause for a second and think before mechanically pressing forward.  Think whether you are doing the right thing or becoming an accomplice in the horrendous crime of toying with emotions.