Social media dictates our lives

Director Chaitanya KM feels that real life now mirrors the virtual world.

Chaitanya K M 

In 1991 when I was in Christ College, they had started digitising all the academic records. That was my first tryst with Information technology. Some seniors had floated rumours that it was possible to hack into that system and change attendance records. Nobody dared to. But even before we saw its benefits, we fantasised about the dangers of this new technology.

In my University, the first rudimentary form of the internet was used to find actual books in the library. The email was not yet in vogue. I wrote and received letters by post.

When I started working, the internet was first offered through dial-up. These dialled a number and made a lot of noise before connecting. We had Yahoo those days. It was used to search, send emails and even chat. Yahoo had many chat rooms related to art, culture and romance. People went into these to kill time. Often we used false names in these chat rooms and were wary of disclosing our identity. It was usually fun and never serious.

Then there was Orkut. My first film ‘Aa Dinagalu’ was also released at that time. I got to meet people – often strangers – who had seen the film and had nice and not-so-nice things to say about it. And it was an interesting space.

And then came Facebook. Initially, it was a great way of connecting with long-lost friends and relatives from across the world. I even met many who I didn’t know in the real world - people with shared interests and sensibilities. We felt connected.

We interacted just like we interact in everyday life. It was like we were in some virtual cafe, sharing pictures, arguing and having fun. The virtual world mirrored the real world.

With time, Facebook grew rapidly. More and more people signed on. What were once innocuous discussions, became more serious and argumentative. We had heated arguments with strangers on various social and political issues.

It was common to see people in the real world stuck to their phones. So the interactions in the real world became less. And we saw people sitting in public spaces like buses or cafes, eyes glued to their screens and socialising.

What became more dangerous is that the tone of discussions changed. Trolling became rampant. Since we never actually knew each other, decency and basic human etiquette that is part of the real world, were conveniently abandoned. It became fashionable to be opinionated. Name-calling became an accepted thing.

In real life, an argument between friends is just that. An argument. We have heated discussions. State our points of view. We agree to disagree and continue with each other. But in the virtual world, you can unfollow, unfriend or block those who you don’t like.

What is worse today is that when we have disagreements on issues over social media, that disagreement overflows into our real-world interaction as well. So just like in the social media, we think that even in the real world, we should unfollow, unfriend and block people.

In the last decade or so, I have often lost more friends over political, social and religious issues, than I ever did in 25 years. Because when we argue with each other on the internet, we aren’t just arguing with each other. We are performing before thousands of spectators who are watching that argument. And like gladiators in Colosseum, we have to win that argument at any cost.

Earlier, discussions were also learning exercises. You didn’t always win an argument but you learned that you can be wrong. And it was fine to be wrong. Our opinions of yesterday might be flawed. And we can change those opinions.

Today, when you state something, someone can pull up something you wrote on the same issue 5 years ago and ridicule you for changing your stance. So we all stick to our positions, our ideologies, to political leaders we once supported. And we rigidly stick to our positions. Technology works on a “yes-no-cancel” option. Humans need not.

Once, the virtual world mirrored real life. Today real life mirrors the virtual world.

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Social media dictates our lives

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