It has been not so long ago that if you looked on the streets at evening time, you saw kids playing gully cricket or chatting up with what happened in the recent episode of shaktimaan or in their favourite cartoon. That was the time when kids learnt from the books or their elders or their peers in the society. They learnt through fat jokes, jibes, nicknames, etc. acts which weren’t glorified by or frowned upon but were simply done. There were no boundations of appearing to be very sophisticated among your friends and no need to show off what food you’re having, where you’re having and with whom you’re having.
But that all changed since the mid 2000’s, since the advent of the internet in the lives of the normal people. They were now exposed to the content that previously had been enabled only when you looked for them and not without atleast one person knowing about it. The lives changed. The most affected were the millennials who were at an age that marks a high curiosity rate on the learning curve. The millennials got introduced to the internet that connected them to the world, things like the social media such as Orkut, Facebook, etc. As they learned and grew, something terrible started happening.
They were being hooked to the internet, the attraction of having to express yourself to a person who is not only willing to listen to their silly notions but also shared them was too much to handle. They fell head over heels in love with the social media. Was this a good thing? I think not but that is still up for debate. Then something spectacular happened! The internet or the social media entered a new era where the governments realised how the misuse of internet can happen and how the internet is more prone to affecting the minds of the young population which is very impressionable. So they decided to restrict or regulate the content that was coming up on the internet. They started laying down cyber security laws as the use of computers and internet based OS and softwares found application in the government sector. As this progressed, internet usage boomed from dial up networks to cyber cafe’s to using internet services offered by Telecom companies to broadband connection, the behaviour of the millennials changed at an exponential rate.
But the impact this change had was not as pretty as it was appearing to be. While the cyber cafes were booming across the country, the youngsters were becoming more prone to problems and behavioural patters that were unheard of at that time in an average middle class household. This was a blow to the “Free internet/Liberal” brigade. The ‘Generation X’ parents were completely unequipped and unaware to even understand the issue, let alone address it or understand the root cause of this behaviour of their dependents. At that point of time, if you were to ask a parent who were undergoing this crisis that what was the most harrowing experience they have experienced in their lives, they will would have recounted the same without a second thought. Their kids, roughly between the age of 14-23 were lying, stealing and sneaking away to get a taste of the internet and social media. It became the new drug and the kids started giving up on books, comics and sports just to see that buffering sign on the screen, and the message that xyz has become their new friend. This in turn led the way to online dating, pornography, cyber crimes, online stalking, obsession. This constant exposure forged a kind of ‘bond’ leading to adverse psychological impact on the otherwise young and impressionable generation. They started thinking and acting in the way their psyche told them – the incomplete and sometimes incorrect knowledge of how the world works. And when they did not get the expected response, or rather, when they get the opposite response of what they expected and were sure of with their waped view of the way of the world, what then? Their self-confidence, their Ego shatters. They feel that they are plummeting down a deep hole with no end in sight.
Someone they liked rejected their friend request, someone couldn’t find the time to reply to them, someone they wanted to did not like their picture they so enthusiastically uploaded, and so on and so forth. They become so attached to this internet phenomenon that they base their judgements by oberseving even the minor actions taken by others. In other words, they are not thick skinned when they should be, or, they are too sensitive when they shouldn’t be. If there were positives of social media such as – being able to connect with someone who was sitting continents away in a more interactive manner than was possible before through an expensive ISD rate phone call; there sure were negatives – with serious repercussions for the few.
The next and the latest phase was something that had what we call ‘Socail Media Influencers’. A bunch of people who spent their time creating online content when they should have devoted their energy to more worthy pursuits. Nevertheless, the phase still came claiming a massive number of people who spent their time looking at their content. Personally I feel this phase has even more grievious impact than the last phase. While the content creators have a free reign on the type of content they put out there, it also meant that there was some extremely faulty and monopolising content that had the power to turn the mind of impressionable youth in a very wrong direction. It has the power of sytematic brainwashing the masses. We need not emphasise how dangerous that is if not controlled.
The worse effect which this had was that it greatly reduced the attention span of people – being subjected to content lasting for a few seconds. As soon as the few seconds content is finished, people just swipe to see something new and so on. This requires their attention and focus for a very short amount of time on one particular content before they plunge themselves into another. Therefore the thinking process which starts analysing what they are experiencing when they are watching and after they have finished watching never kicks in. They do not wait to ponder over what they have seen, think and make a rational judgement about the content. No, within milliseconds they move on to something new. Hence instead of analysing they use their feelings and emotions to judge the content presented to them. If it is upto their liking or if it matches their emotional inclination they ‘Like’ it.
With this I need not emphasise any further how this can become monopolizing. Add to this the social media offering content according to the viewing preferences of an individual, this can skew the opinion of the viewer dangerously in the wrong direction. Another key factor is that the viewer is not subjected to the reasoning of the opposite side while they keep watching a particular kind of content offering a particular narrative to them and thus they never wait to think, reason and weigh the content in order to judge. Instead they just feel that what they are seeing is right which leads to their involuntarily feeling that anything other than ‘this’ is definitely wrong. This process takes place within seconds and it keeps on getting reinforced as they keep watching a particular type of content until they get radicalized.
Hence the need to have some kind of control over the social media companies and the type of content they allow their users to post and watch is paramount. This has been raised by various countries, latest among which is India with its rich user base and a huge growth potential. Social Media companies must also understand that they are not above the law of the region in which they are operating and have to follow it. In the present times the social media companies have their own narratives and propaganda which they wish to promote which, people should understand, in the end benefits only the company and its stakeholders. These companies allow free reign to what they prefer while restricting what they do not. And this may come at the expense of sowing discord within the society in which they are operating. The responsibility falls on the people as much as on these social media companies or the government to think about what they are seeing or reading before giving it a ‘thumbs-up’.