The rise of keyboard warriors

August 1st, 2012

Be it a family outing, quarterly vacations, weekend parties, birthdays and mundans, thread ceremonies to kitty parties, we simply can’t stop ourselves from sharing an update on the social networking site of choice.

Watch The Dark Knight Rises, upload your show timings on Facebook, post the check-in update while entering the movie theatre, send some tweets expressing views on the film, come back and post some more after-party pictures and food that was eaten. Probably tag the friends in the photos (who were a part of outing) and then eagerly check the smartphone for responses from friends. A few hits on the ‘Like’ button or comment after your tweets and that’s enough for us to call it a day.

The cycle is near identical for nearly the whole lot of 50 million-plus Indians on Facebook and 13 million-plus users in India on Twitter. There’s no defined boundary as to how much information one should share, as long as they are comfortable sharing it with the world wide web.

But it really grates on my nerves when people start counting their virtual activism as action.

It goes this way. Have a problem with government, politicians or a local civic issue, take it up on Twitter. You WILL get a few blokes to re-tweet, agree or add their own views. Or post a poignant status update on Facebook about corruption or power failure and you have done your bit. More recently, want to spread a word about a particular animal shelter, social cause, or re-post a picture of some lost kid you yourself have never seen or verified — get on Facebook, tag friends and get a discussion started. Job done and satisfaction earned. This is Gen X’s way to feel as if they’re making a difference — without having to go to any trouble at all.

A survey conducted by Pew involving 895 Internet experts revealed the Internet can lead to people “coming out of the closet” about subjects they might have stayed quiet about before. Yes, I can see that it is happening. People are comfortable voicing opinions on marital abuse, child exploitation etc but does that mean they have changed in real? I know a ‘socially active’ person who I remember re-posted messages/pictures and news items on her Facebook page supporting education for under age child workers in small scale factories. Naturally, it came as a shock to me when I saw a 13-14 year old girl employed as her son’s caretaker. “Oh, I teach her English and Maths on weekends. And we keep her really well. She even comes to the restaurants with us when we go out as my son cannot stay away from her,” was the response. Right.

If you haven’t noticed yet then do go to Twitter and check out some of the tweets from film celebrities, industrialists, sports stars, random media personnel or budding entrepreneurs on Anna Hazare and his movement. Read the 140 characters some of the who’s-who have posted and you would wonder how patriotic the views are. It’s hard to not re-tweet. Also, while you admire them (virtually) do spare a thought about how much these ‘names’ have actually done OFFLINE to support Hazare and his cause. Did they use their public position to help Hazare, beyond the online medium? Did they join the movement physically? Or was it just about posting some thoughtful sentiments on his fast unto death, corrupt politicos and a smart ridicule on the PM from their smartphones and tablet PCs?

The people who are sitting & fasting at Jantar Mantar are doing not because they want to ‘trend’ on Twitter or be ‘shared’ on Facebook but because of real grievances, because of years of outrage and because for them, enough is enough. The digerati need to accept the fact that there is a class of social problems for which there is no easy technological solution. If they want civic change then they will have to get their hands dirty. Some genius has already scripted the term, Slactivism, which comes from the combination of “activist” and “slacker” and used for the online supporters who actually do nothing constructive for the causes they claim to support.

I find it hard to disagree with bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell who says, “Technology does not and cannot change the underlying dynamics of ‘human’ problems: it does not make it easier to love or to motivate or to dream or convince.” I am all for social media to be used as means of sharing personal tid-bits, life events, jokes etc. But don’t prescribe it to an apathetic populace that convinces itself that they have in some way ‘done their bit’, and soothes consciences. Worse, it conditions the young and/or gullible into thinking that Slactivism is acceptable.

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