Issues and Challenges

Social Media: Beauty or Beast

Lockdown is over now but the horror of coming back to the pavilion is petrifying; thank God, my strong relationship with the social media has kept my sanity intact. I call social media my saviour, because it gave me immense pleasure during the Lockdown and has helped me forget about my problems. But my mother has a different point of view. She thinks of it as opium due to which I ‘delay’ finding solutions to problems. Being an active social media user herself, I find her rants pretty ironical but a part of it is true. Social media is indeed addictive, so much so that users can experience excruciating anxiety if they are unable to check their news feeds. This may seem like an exaggeration, or is it? Yours truly who once took a Rs.15 loan just to see how many people liked my meme regarding pandas, is a living example of it. Trust me, it was a satisfying experience!
Social media gives us the promise of connectivity and reachability across the globe and it is living up to its promise. I can tell this confidently because a week ago, I received a friend request from Mirza Ghalib. Honestly, I was truly impressed because now, social media was connecting me with the dead. The pledge of social media to build connections is, however, affecting our real time interactions on a personal level. We have now replaced our real connections with the virtual ones mainly because virtual connections provide an instant gratification of false inclusivity. That is why we spend a huge amount of our time on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc., reacting, tweeting, and posting our lives on the digital universe. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook notes that his company is committed to improving its tools to give people the power to share their experiences with others. It is however important to understand that in the name of ‘sharing the experiences’, people are told to view themselves through the eyes of their virtual community. For instance, an average Facebook or Twitter user tends to post or tweet about something exciting just to see how many ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ they can get and based upon those likes or retweets, they constructs their opinion. The alarming thing is that this phenomenon has alienated people from the reality, which they inhabit. On one hand, they forget to communicate with their loved ones primarily because they are constantly distracted by their digital presence, while on the other hand, they have disorientated their cognitive ability just for the sake of feeling included.
Similarly, the development of social media has now blurred the boundary between the offline ‘real’ reality and online virtual reality by constructing an augmented reality. An augmented reality takes the real-world settings and induce the virtual reality through computer-generated augmentations. Just imagine falling into a pile of junk while catching a Pokémon. The feeling would be nasty but at least you would have the Pokémon. Similarly, Snapchat filters have gained immense popularity globally simply because of augmented reality. Today, you can make your own Bitmojis and unleash them in the world or become a cute dog; you will find augmented reality interesting and amusing at the same time. However, it is crucial to know that this erosion of the border between mechanical and organic reality can entirely manipulate our bodies as it tries to make our sense of the reality absurd.
Gaining popularity was a tough job two decades ago but not anymore. The world of social media can help you achieve this goal within no time. Ahmed Shah, an adorable member of Generation Z, who gained popularity just by telling a person, “Peechay tou dekho,” is an example. I mean we millennials and Generation Z literally put our predecessors to shame here. All we need now is a video of ourselves that has the ability to become ‘viral’. Tik Tok, a Chinese app, has helped quite a lot in this regard, with over 800 million users worldwide, and has become one of the leading social networking apps where users film themselves for a few seconds. The ironic thing with Tik Tok videos is that users do not generate new content, rather they simply utilize the old content from famous media platforms and incorporate lip syncing technique to create ‘new’ content. Another platform, which guarantees popularity is YouTube, with over 1.9 billion active users. However, YouTube, unlike Tik Tok, requires you to generate content instead of using the existing one, which is tough and requires skill. The race of generating content is frustrating for the YouTubers as they need to target maximum subscribers on their channels along with views, likes and shares on their videos. Besides this, the competition among the YouTubers also triggers their frustration. The thirst for popularity can also be quenched by posting photos on Instagram where one can become a celebrity once an account has a verified badge, which assures authenticity. 
One may argue why these Tik Tokers, YouTubers, and Instagrammers are so desperate for popularity. The sudden rise of social media has also changed marketing strategies rapidly. Today, brands seek out these social media celebrities or influencers and offer them jobs to endorse their products. This is not only a cheap marketing strategy, but also a tool to create a job market for youngsters. Apart from this, the content creators also get paid by these applications, which boosts their morale. 
At times, social media can also give you real creeps. These are the moments when you feel that your favourite social media platform has gained consciousness and is watching you constantly. I came to this realization on two occasions. Firstly, when I met a totally random guy on Ted Talk only to find him in ‘people you may know’ section on my Facebook later that evening, secondly, when I googled memes about Donald Trump and ended up with the buffoon all over my Facebook and Twitter. The whole experience is Orwellian because these platforms are constantly surveilling our social media using Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI keeps on gathering data based on our real-life conversations, interests, likes, dislikes and searches and later, it uses the same data to predict and shape our consciousness and opinions.
It is difficult to determine whether social media is good or bad, but one thing is quite certain that it is playing an ironic role in our existence. Life is unimaginable without it and complex with it. Perhaps that is the dilemma of the modern world, which seems connected but has countless ruptures within those connections. HH


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