The WhatsApp horror show

“Did you see this?” a neighbour asked, thrusting his phone in my face. It was the photo of a body just fished out of water, lying on the beach. Taken at close quarters. I recoiled in horror — not at the sight of the remains of a human being who had tragically taken his own life, but at the continuing horror of WhatsApp as an enabler of such consumer behavior.

Indeed, our entire nation has become a mass consumer of anything and everything via WhatsApp, among other social media. Even the tragic death of a prominent businessman is a source of entertainment.

Pictures are sent over WhatsApp at lightning speed. TV channels rub their hands in glee at the thought of filling air time for a few days with this story, complete from the search to the funeral.

Fake compassion

Even in expressions of sadness and grief among the general janta, one sees a fake for-the-moment emotion that is palpable and disillusioning. Until the next story hits and WhatsApp lights up again.

There is zero consideration for what the family must be going through. Indeed, zero consideration even for basic human values of compassion, right conduct, culture, sympathy (except the fake kind). Can I be the first to send the next picture as quickly as I can? That is the consideration.

Chances are, the picture of the body was sent by someone in the search party — a rescue person, a policeman, a fisherman, an official. Who knows? Its origins cannot (or will not) be traced.

The invasion of the camera into our lives has been insidious. TV journalists sticking their microphones and cameras into people’s faces, irrespective of the situation at hand, was a bad enough phenomenon one had to live with (of course, we could shut off our TV sets, as many of us have already done).

The ubiquity of phone cameras has made matters worse. Much worse. Anyone and everyone can take pictures and send them across the world in a second. It has its uses, one might argue. So many atrocities are being recorded and exposed because of the camera. Sure, maybe that is true. But, where does one draw the line when it comes to such transmission?

Loss of moral fibre

Is it OK for someone to take a picture of a departed businessman’s body on the seashore and send it across the world? Are we losing our moral fibre? (It is a rhetorical question; maybe I should rephrase it — “we have lost our moral fibre”).

Nothing is off-limits; nothing is personal. The desensitisation of the human mind and heart is alarming, appalling and complete. Unless there are deeper holes we haven’t found yet to crawl into.

As the use of WhatsApp grows in India — we are now the largest users of WhatsApp, which is not a difficult task considering our mobile phone usage numbers — the horror show it perpetrates continues unabated.

WhatsApp is unstoppable in its destruction of the social and moral fibre of our country. It is only a tool, one might argue. How it is used depends on the user. Sure.

There is a saying in Telugu which, roughly translated, says: ‘If you give a coconut to a monkey, it hits itself on the head because it doesn’t know what else to do with it’. Such is our predicament: we are hitting ourselves on the head with technology because we don’t know what else to do with it.

(The writer is a Director at 3H Catalyst, and a Bengaluru-based freelance researcher and writer)

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