We are all guilty of an addiction - social media.
The news app on my phone informs me that Sridevi's mortal remains have reached India. News that doesn't matter to me personally, but trivial details of which are inescapable on social media. My timeline is flooded with screenshots from the horrendous way broadcasters are dealing with this, with a reporter going so far as to get into a bathtub to recreate how she might have died. They are doing to Journalism what Jared Leto did to method acting in Suicide Squad. Killing it.
Before Sridevi it was Madhu, the adivasi man beaten to death in Kerala, who was the star for a day on our timelines. That now feels like a distant memory, as does Nirav Modi who ran away with 11,500 crores. We are all starved for our 15 minutes of fame, even if that means basking in the glory of somebody else’s fame.
Jokes in bad taste. Image source: Facebook.com
Most of social media is up in arms about the way the news is covering Sridevi's death, but by showing outrage on social media we are just playing into the media's hands where they get more eyeballs. And someone like me who tries not to watch the awful reporting on news channels is forced to become aware of what’s going on. What’s more annoying is people are outraging for selfish reasons, not because they have a personal stake in the matter, but for ‘likes’ on their post. Another hit of the drug we are all collectively addicted too.
My urge to ween myself off it has become stronger than ever.
'So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed'
My mom has made steak for dinner but before I eat a piece I have to click a picture and post it simultaneously on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook thanks me for having shared regularly for the last two weeks. I'm constantly checking on my phone if the photo has got any likes or comments during the meal. I spend hours on end scrolling the feeds lest I miss something, a meme or a post. Even when I’m trying to sleep I might just pick up the phone and watch a few Instagram stories or take meaningless Facebook quizzes that tell you what you will do when the world ends or how you will die or who is in love with you, the blue light of the screen putting off my sleep cycle by another few minutes. I’m a funny guy. I have to show it.
Social media for all its benefits of connecting people and allowing us to voice our opinion has become a drug for me, where I seek instant gratification and validation. A personalized slot machine where I pull the lever every few minutes with the hope of hitting a jackpot – a funny status or a picture that might get more than 50 likes.
Frankly, I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t like this. Oh no, wait I do. Those were the good old days of MySpace, Hi5 and Orkut where you checked in on your favourite celebrity or what your friends were up to for about half an hour on the computer after school. Today the combination of a smartphone and Facebook has given us a drug that's more destructive and addictive than coke or cannabis.
Until a few months ago, I used to work for a ‘reputed’ internet content production company in which I have sat at Monday meetings where the bosses have said, “This meeting won’t end until everyone has shared our latest video on your Facebook,” and demanded lists of people who haven’t. Because business was driven primarily by social media outreach - the number of likes, shares and comments a post would get. Making the content they produced very focused and myopic, aimed at appeasing only one segment of people. Never taking a stand that might piss anyone off.
Today I read an article on Facebook (where else) that ‘LittleThings blames Facebook newsfeed changes for shutdown’. The women’s lifestyle publisher has closed their business after the social media group changed algorithms. Businesses run on this social media addiction. I doubt a Stanley Kubrick or Godard would have ever emerged if they had to appear at the end of their films and beg people to “Like, Share and Subscribe”.
I remember having a conversation with a colleague that went something like - “You might save a lot of time not scrolling down Facebook all the time?”
“Well, I don’t know where that time goes. I don’t seem to be doing much with it,” she said.
I’m not sure it does either. One of the major arguments for staying on social media is that it helps you stay connected with what is going on and helps you reach out to the large amount of people who might see your work. But in this always connected world we have built ourselves echo chambers which just resonate our views back to us. Other people who feel the same about Trump and Hindutva as you do, don’t really create new dialogue.
The last two videos I made at my previous company specifically aimed at pissing off as many people as I could. I kind of snuck it under the radar of the internal censors because the videos were about trending hot topics and made on really low budgets. Both got about 100,000 views and 200-250 comments, 80% of which were hate. I got exactly what I was anticipating and rejoiced in getting the reaction I wanted from the people I wanted to piss off. But all that is bad for business.
A few months ago, someone I know committed suicide right after doing a Facebook Live about it. When Facebook sent me a notification that he is ‘live’, I chose to ignore it like most of his friends and only found out the next day when the news was all over social media. The irony is that more people were talking about him or got to know about him after his death or because of it.
The death that was streamed ‘LIVE’. Image source: indiatimes.com
What I’m proposing isn’t that drastic. Or maybe it is. I’m talking about deactivating your accounts and deleting the apps. It is something I have tried in the past, but the sabbatical has lasted only 6 hours at best before I re-download the app.
For me the urge to quit social media was at its height when, sometime last year, I was at a party with a band that had just played a gig. I was my usual entertaining self when a friend called saying he wanted to meet since it was my last weekend in Bangalore. Along with him came two drunk and disorderly acquaintances. Things came to a head when one of them tried to make a move on the female vocalist of the band that resulted in her screaming and beating them down the corridor. My friend and I made our apologies because we felt we were responsible for their presence at the party, before we went back to my friends place to smoke a joint and pass out.
By the time I woke up next afternoon my phone was buzzing nonstop. The vocalist had posted a long status describing her version of the events and tagging everyone at the party to help identify the two miscreants. My silence (because I was asleep and hadn’t seen the post) was taken for my guilt in the situation. The comments blamed me for protecting their identities or in some way being involved. Death by social media.
Despite sorting the situation by evening, I contemplated deleting my account due the negative heat it had drawn. But I didn’t because this documentary we made was releasing the next week and I would have to share and promote it, or be sacked.
With the demise of Sridevi on social media, I wonder - are we better off staying connected and addicted, or being unaware but sensitive? I don’t have the answers. I hoped that in the process of writing this I might arrive at something but I’m no closer to the conclusion as when I started. But you can be sure I’ll constantly be checking in to see how many of you have liked and shared this article.
101 Guide to ween off Social Media
1. Read a book
2. Take up a sport
3. Watch a movie
4. Meet friends
5. Throw your phone off a cliff
6. Get a life!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Falah Faisal
Cover photo credit: Yashraj Films