By: Chitra Ahanthem
There have been various instances when people have tried to nudge towards writing on an array of subjects. This outgoing week, one person sent me a very indignant SMS asking me why students were getting neck deep into politics by getting involved in the ILP agitations instead of sitting in their class rooms to study. Earlier, the same friend had asked me why ‘everyone was silent on the bomb blast near Manipur University but all loud when security personnel commit excesses.’ Over the week-end, while waiting for my flight at Imphal airport another person who happens to be a well known voice on All India radio (Imphal) who had made a visit to the women’s restrooms in the waiting area asked me to write about the sorry state of the airport. These two are only recent instances but it’s become common for people to ask me to write about certain incidents or issues but whenever such occasions arise, I feel a range of emotions. First is an immediate chuckle that people are actually being very kind and green behind their ears if they think or believe that anybody listens at all when we write and point out what is going off track. The second reaction is the bit where reality bites and I know nothing happens with anything, that there is just too much of thick skin at the level where there needs to be responses.
Yet, having said that, the only thing that a wordsmith can do is merely string up words and sentences: to pitch an idea, to make a point, to just write. If in the path of writing, one’s words move someone to respond that is always an additional pleasure but that is something that may or may not happen. Then again, with the outburst of social media sites, who really cares for well thought about arguments or viewpoints when everybody with an internet connection has the freedom to rant, accuse, make allegations and throw insults left, right and center? Everybody but everybody is an expert and the trend is to have as many ‘friends’ as possible whose ‘likes’ or comments are taken as the yardstick for one’s popularity. Ask anyone with an internet connection and who has accounts on social networking sites what their main activity is and the answer will be to update ‘what are you thinking’. Not many will have given a thought to whether it is important to let the world and its relatives know what one is feeling/thinking/eating/going where/doing what. And yet, that’s what a majority of people do on social networking sites, sharing personal updates and pictures.
Care enough for a social cause? Ah! But all it takes is just a bit of sharing a news link, a bit of rants, a bit of opinions on the issue and bingo, the number of ‘likes’ that garners or the number of ‘shares’ it evokes, is the indicator of your levity and your response to the issue at hand. In this backdrop, the revelations of personal information being taken over by various corporate bodies to make their forays into your online world ought to make us more careful with what we post and what we share, given the technological advances. To cite an example, how many times have we used the internet search engine to say book flights or a particular product and then later on swamped by advertisements on other web pages? That ought to tell us that even as we use the internet to read up or look up anything, the internet is not only keeping track of what we are up to but is sharing that information with companies who want to advertise their products. Get a bit scary huh?
I don’t know how it goes with other folks but with me, I can’t help thinking that social networking sites with their constant ‘what are you thinking’ puts a sort of pressure (for lack of a proper word that defines what I am trying to say here) on us to be more profound, more knowledgeable, more involved and engaged; never mind if all of that and more does not really help things when they matter. Confused? Don’t be for it is common to see status updates of people flagging emotional outbursts or very solid arguments about say child labor while not giving it away that they themselves engage underage children as house helps. Talk about online life being far removed from real life! And no, this is no one sided look at the disadvantages of social networking sites and what people do with it. There must surely be advantages to them but the only one I can see for myself is that they are wonderful mediums to track long lost friends: the kind you have not met in years though on the flip side (yet again), one needs to be also aware that people you do not really want to stay in touch with can also pop up!