For a generation obsessed with “selfies”, self-imagery, self-consciousness, and self-relevance; the above statement seems to be a correct manifestation of the trend in society but not a completely true hypothesis of the character of social media.
To begin with, social media could be proclaimed to be the biggest game-changing outcome of the ‘Internet Age’. From a humble beginning of Myspace to Orkut and then to the industry giant of Facebook; it gradually developed into other forms like Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Weibo, Instagram etc. In the core of any such platform, the idea remains simple; to develop an individual’s relationships and networks into an entity which could be exploited. Yes, exploitation was always in the core of ideology behind social media’s core structure. Each platform exploits this intrinsic character of human nature, to make a profitable venture out of human relationships.
In the process, instead of being a connecting medium, and a platform to project one’s opinion; it has transformed into the biggest showroom in the world. And we human beings have become its greatest asset by engaging with these platforms and, at times, allowing our own exploitation. We have helped to make these platforms some of the richest companies in the world. The currency here is individual information, and preferences which we collectively call as big data. “The more they share; the more profitable we become” was a tagline used by one of the CEOs of the biggest social media firms.
Internet, in the beginning, was always seen as a product of the “counterculture”. movement. It was supposed to be a free and unbiased medium where the unheard and the unknown could raise their voices and become a relevant part of the community. It was also intended to give positive constructive inputs. It was supposed to be a medium of empowerment. A medium of engagement of the everyday people, who were sidelined by the 1% making decisions in their names; disregarding their voices as that of a crowd. Social media was supposed to be the tool of that “subaltern class” who could not have a medium to project their views. People could have divergent views. Dissenting views. Alternating views. But people had decency, civility and morality while engaging in a conversation.
Gradually, as more and more people became associated with it, somewhere the golden rule of civilisation, in the form of morality, was lost, and people started to develop “Self Centric Narcissistic Behaviour”. Instead of being rational and educated with their opinions, they started believing in a self-righteous glorification. Where their limited knowledge was the only supreme knowledge. Their views became myopic and self-centric. People were unwilling to engage in a meaningful debate and agree to take opposing views as constructive criticism. This led to a culture of slandering, abusing, trolling, and shaming, as weapons of social media annihilation. People became devoid of emotions and compassion.
In the era of “Post-truth”, whatever they knew or got to know, became the truth. The element of selfishness and self-centred culture is the chief component of “post-truth” ideology. People manifest theories, ideas, beliefs; create a sense of legitimacy through social media and project it onto others as the only possible variation of truth with no element of dialectics. This culture is being celebrated around the world, to the extent so much that we can take the case of American President Donald Trump. He is the greatest example of this ideology; where self-image and projection on social media became so important and significant, that he actually used it as a tool, to become the President of the most powerful nation in the world.
The self-centric ideology is a bane. The growing cases of mental depression, suicides which are broadcasted live on social media is the most negative outcome of that. People have transformed their proactiveness into proactiveness of “camera”. Mobs instead of engaging in situations to defuse it, take videos and pictures of a grim situation, so that they could simply broadcast it on social media. Everyone has become a tool of significance. The more I share, the more people follow me, the more ‘relevant’ I become. Sensationalisation is glorification. The yardsticks of social recognition have transformed gravely with the rise of this culture. Celebrities engage big public relation firms to take care of their social media profiles so that they are not left behind in this new rat race. This shows the raging gravity of this situation that how selfish and self-conscious people have become.
Showing off has become a positive attribute amongst society. The amount of wealth I own, the luxuries I possess, the richness I can project, makes me feel accomplished – is the new motto of the millennials. Instagram is the biggest proponent of this culture. Showing off, flaunting off, making the other feel less fortunate is seen as a positive attribute. Teenagers flaunt their wealth, flushing money on materialistic things that should provide minimum gratification at this tender age. They think what they are doing is the right thing to do. Even acts of benevolence and charity have become a ”photo opportunity” for this generation. Everyone wants to look “humane” but has lost “humanity” in the process.
People would be willing to share a picture of a dead Syrian kid floating on the seashore or of war atrocities over Rohingyas or any minority. Because this seems to be relevant to them, happening to them. But the same people would turn conservative and self-centric when they have to consider the possibility of accepting these refugees into their countries; at which moment it becomes an issue of “My rights vs. Your rights”.
Humanism goes out of the window when it becomes an issue of possible threat to their self-interests. But these selfish characteristics of social media could also be channelised towards positivism. Initiatives like “Selfie with Daughter”, “Swatch Bharat” have transformed this negative trait of human nature into positivity. People are engaging now to make a difference by projecting a positive view through social media. Individualism here is transformed into communitarianism, where each individual input helps to bring a positive transformation in the society. People want to share that they are doing good.
But, subconsciously, they are also transforming their mindsets. And this is where social media has triumphed again as the greatest engineering marvel of the 21st century. It is under this process of “social engineering” where technology is used to transform the lives of people. Without the presence of social media like Twitter; Arab Spring would have been a complete failure. Twitter helped people to share ideas, bring out their grievances, mobilised support for the people of Egypt and Tunisia. Each activist used social media as a weapon which no regime could quash. It became a tool of “Free Speech”. It has brought transnational individuals together fighting for a cause, crossing geographical boundaries.
Also, social media has transformed the delivery of Government services. Each citizen has now got a voice, with which they bring up their grievances directly to the authority, making them act swiftly as, in an irony, people are watching the authority on how they react. Accountability has been enhanced exponentially by this character of social media. So, it has ironically transformed the self-centric character from a “bane” to a ”boon”.
In true words, it could be simply summarized as:
“An opportunity can have both positive and negative outcomes, it depends solely on how the individual plays it.”