Its 8am and I am on my way to work let me take out my iPhone and tweet away, oh wait what shall I say today? Shall I greet all my followers, shall I post a famous yet powerful saying or complain about the delay on the jubilee line.
Social Media today plays a massive part of our lives to the extent that global companies have latched onto its power and you find companies try to get celebrities to advertise their products for them. The Arab spring itself was arguably fuelled by social media where a nations voice was once unheard had now gained a new outlet through this form. It was perhaps during this period that the world started paying attention to this platform as a means of genuinely interacting with citizen. World leaders now must have a twitter account or a Facebook page and if they do not then they are seen as not being in touch with the average joe.
There are many aspects to look at however one that seems quite interesting is the Human psychology, the individual, the reasoning and the behaviour that is often noticed on these social platforms. I started of by describing a typical thought process that one may go through when it comes to the need of ‘keeping up’.
One finds that much like a drug social platforms can become that fix in one’s life they must be updated with those that they follow or those that are their friends. They often will spend time scrolling through their timeline picking at each and every tweet/status and once done it is as if they have satisfied an aspect within their brain. When we are hungry we will crave a particular food then once we have eaten we feel satisfied and at ease, this is exactly the feeling that we can reach with these platforms. Therefore the notion of ‘keeping up’ is that gradual build up of wanting to be in touch and the key word here is being connected.
We must ask ourselves why is it that we must feel connected? it boils down to the very nature of the human. We are told that Man is a social creature we were created to be social and this is true if we look at history and look at the various civilisations that have come and gone you will notice that all of them had a social element for society and mankind in general cannot be successful without the ability to socialise with one another. If we look at the Quran we see the following verse from Surat al Hujarat, whose verses are generally very social in the subjects that they tackle
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another [not that on account of this you may boast of being superior to others]. Certainly, the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the most Godfearing among you ….(49:13)
The verse talks about the aspect of connection and clearly says that man was created to know one another, this is why the process of placing a prison inmate in complete isolation is the most severe form of punishment. You will remember the scene from the film Shawshank redemption where Andy is placed in isolation for two weeks. On the face of it, it may not sound like a long time however if we think about it deeper the thought of not seeing another human being or interacting with another soul is daunting. You find that individuals in this situation require a strong resolve as they can easily lose the plot. The films Castaway and I am Legend explore this notion successfully and one is able to see the gradual change in the person, in one famous scene Will Smith is seen talking to dummy dolls as if they are real humans highlighting the fact that man has an inbuilt requirement to interact with others. Therefore the verse here is praising the differences amongst man and emphasising that those differences are a means of interaction not isolation. The second half of the verse goes on to talk about the characteristics of the ‘good’ people but that is a topic for another discussion.
Privacy and Self Esteem
What makes individuals reveal their location or their proximity to other humans? Why do we find it perfectly fine to tell the world that we are currently eating at Nandos with Zainab and Fatima? These are mentalities that we have developed over the years from the days of MSN Messenger to forums and now Twitter, social media has been ever evolving. When Facebook was widely launched in 2007 many feared the intrusion of their own privacy and so Facebook overcame its competitors of Hi5 and Myspace due to the fact that the user was able to block his/her profile from being seen by the world. Similarly MSN and forums were about interacting through textual format the evolution comes with Twitter and the way we begin interacting with it. Typically we may join Twitter as a way of keeping up with the news or the opinions of celebrities and valued individuals in the global world. That initial usage gradually begins to change and we may find ourselves revealing information about our location and at times using it as a means of casually interacting with our friends over this platform. We can all admit that our generation is more about texting than traditionally picking up the phone and asking how our friends are, commentators often call us the lazy generation as we have everything at the end of our fingertips. The question is are we now that lazy that even text messages are seen as a tiresome act, the rapid development of mobile applications now make it very easy for us to tweet. If Ali wants to organise an outing to the cinema why the need to open a text message and find each number? Ali can simply open his twitter application and ‘@’ those whom he wishes to invite.
We forget though that the entire world can see our conversations, or do we? As mentioned earlier Humans are created to interact so perhaps it is this trivial use of twitter that satisfies our need to stay in touch. I may be at the cinema with friends and we have just come out of a movie instead of discussing the film with my friends I shall discuss it with the world, at the same time I can also tag my friends. This entire process increases my self-esteem, I am a person of social status, I have friends and I must tell the world and social media is that platform to utilise. Therefore we see that there is a balance of negating the need for staying private with the need of feeling both connected and socially satisfied.
Facts vs Opinions
In a society where the world is moving fast todays news is yesterdays story all of the above is a means of encouragement to constantly tweet and share our opinions. If we don’t like something we have a means of channeling our thoughts with the knowledge that everyone can see it, that is something powerful and in a sense empowers each individual. During the uprisings in the Arab states we find that it was individuals that made massive impacts through their use of social platform. Instead of tuning into 24/7 News outlets we can simply follow a person experiencing the issue at hand and thus gain access to authentic outlook of a given situation.
On the flip side since society is a fast paced one it can be argued that the sheer speed of its movement can leave open the danger of facts intertwining with opinion. Why is it that in University we are told not to use Wikipedia instead are pointed to resources such as Athens which host journals. It is because these journals have gone through a due process, they have been vetted by professionals and experts within their respective fields.
Youth are now slowly starting to provide their opinions on many matters and at times some opinions aim to challenge the norm however the approach is one that leaves much to be questioned. The possible long-term danger is that a society that was once largely objective in its outlook and basis for morality starts becoming subjective and that is something worth thinking about.