I often engage in these informal social experiments on my Facebook timeline. These are done in mind only. Sometimes I try doing a gender analysis after posting something, judging from the ‘likes’ and comments how men or women react to a certain issue. In the last few months, I have become more interested in looking at the time we spend grieving over say a ‘national tragedy’, of which we have aplenty unfortunately.
I had looked more carefully after the August 8 Quetta attack that killed about seventy lawyers, to see how much time it takes for us to normalise, to revert to changing profile pictures, posting and sharing memes, basically being our normal selves again.
So these days, to me, social media is a space where expressions of extreme pain and pleasure coalesce in a manner that nullifies all sense of decorum I was raised with. It looks all wrong to me but my children might think otherwise. For them, this would be the norm, no? Grief must not last long; it must be substituted with laughter which inevitably gets substituted with pain and so on.
And yet I cannot keep myself away from the social media for too long. To admit that I’m addicted to it is difficult; I prefer to say it’s a job requirement. It is a form of media after all and the one most used; something the journalists can’t afford to stay away from no matter how much they want.
I think I am spending as much time on social media as on thinking how it is transforming individual lives, family, relationships, society, culture, language, literature and our response to all this. My assumption is that many more users are doing that and at least some are much more disciplined than I am in their engagement with it.
I comfort myself with the fact that I have made a choice — opting for the sleepy response of Facebook than the real time interaction of Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. But with a device like a smartphone in your hand, such distinctions are frivolous.
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The thoughts, therefore, are just random. Elsewhere in the world, some serious research is being conducted on how this digital lifestyle is affecting lives, something we often get to read about on one social media site or the other, defying all sense of irony.
A recent article I tried reading was by somebody who had already been to a rehabilitation centre thrice — it was actually called meditation retreat centre — where the writer was kept away from all gadgets for three weeks to restore him to his human self. I said I tried because it was a pretty longish article and I couldn’t bring myself to scroll down after the first 1500words. That’s what I clearly see is happening to me — a gradual waning of attention span. I find it difficult to read books or finish them and not just because my fingers are twitching to scroll down and skip matter; there are certain parts I immediately want to share with the anonymous friends and followers, and that’s when I return to the smartphone.
I may be completely wrong in imagining this but the medium, I feel, is directing the retention power somehow. I forget more easily what I read on the phone. Again, the younger people whom we credit as multi-taskers might have a different take on this.
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The sharing is not just limited to all good things I read but also to photographs, selfies, and, guess what, one’s own writing. The introverts all presenting themselves to be judged, commented upon, liked or disliked. What is happening to the world, to oneself, one wonders. Why this collective anxiety?
I try to rationalise. It isn’t anxiety after all; it’s collective excitement, the thrill of being introduced to new ideas, the lack of discipline after all, the ever-happening addictive space, the distraction it offers away from the burdens of real life and its troublesome interactions. That is what is drawing humanity to social media.
Besides, it is intellectually rewarding, too. Just the thought of how it has empowered the ordinary man, woman and even child. Everybody has a voice. Democracy. Finally.
Just then I hear a child’s voice calling for his mother’s attention. It’s his third call, he says, in the last one minute. The mother obviously too engrossed to hear him. That perhaps is the time to stop. Or was it much before that?