“Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend…” The Hundred Flowers Campaign, The Communist Part of the China, 1956-57
Mark Zuckerburg has got us all figured, hasn’t he? He understood market trends no doubt and piggy-backed on other similar networking spaces online to come up with Facebook. It is not surprising that so many of us subscribe and function exclusively through social networks. What is surprising is that critics of social media tools castigate the medium for its apparent ill-effects on youth and children.
I get the sense that the ‘disconnected’ youth are looked upon as innocent goats being lead to the slaughterhouse of disconnection and hyperactivity. In the grand scheme of naming and labelling, we are now info-junkies, who take recourse to clicktivism and the comfort of the cyber-hive to sidestep ‘real issues, real interactions, real life’. We have no control over what sites we sign up for, how much time we spend there, the amount of distraction we give in to and the total inability to monitor, limit and sign off from social media.
Clichés can be such a force to contend with. They aren’t easily discarded and have the tendency to regurgitate through every generation, often with irony. Remember how radio, then TV, then music and fashion and all things younger, modern and Western were thought of as corrupters of the youth?
I think the traditionalists don’t dislike social networks, so much as fear it. Social networks online have become the barometers of our times. Our collective likes, links and loves are voted, discussed, tested, withdrawn, updated and shoved on the notice boards of our extended cyber-groupies. Status updates are slicker than breaking news. There is order in the group and there is cohesion in the network. The network has become a force to contend with.
And I am not just referring to the recent country-wide revolutions overtaking the globe, credited largely to the blitzkrieg of social media users. That is just the peel off the scab. Businesses and financial transactions, social and private occasions, events, political machinations, cultural renaissance, technological innovations in the classroom and health sector – social media fosters that kind of behaviour and inventiveness online.
In a way, we have hewn ourselves a new social order where statehood and governance don’t form the tip of the pyramid (with law and order forming the second rung, economic institutions and businesses forming the third layer and religious and cultural affiliations forming the penultimate block, in the traditional world order). The new social order points to the power of inter-personal networks formed via social media, itself born from the need to communicate, connect and consume the fruits of the online world. (bytes for thought?)
Who are the leaders of this network? Despite what the widely cited definition of who a digital native is and might be, the reality is that no particular age group or denomination or race is the forerunner to this club. Most of us have felt empowered, liberated, influential, and at the cusp of change and an extraordinarily life-changing revolution when wielding social media. And why wouldn’t any self-respecting power-monger in the real world fear that kind of power moving away from his sphere?
I find a happy thought in thinking of the digital native as reforming national alliances, shaping political futures of the global world, transforming the way ideas, interactions and innovations are informed and iterated. The critics of the cyber-social-network have plenty to lose with the rise of the digital native. I say, let a 100 ideas bloom and a 100 social networks engender for every digital native logging in!
- Nilofar Ansher