Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It’s Not Twitter Wot Won It

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

While ‘the nation’ sweltered in the blistering summer, its political establishment used this opportunity to remind its citizens that mother nature’s wrath pales in comparison to the mind-numbing torture that is going to be the slow trundle towards the General Election from Hell by having its two top dogs give duelling speeches. The nation lay divided, forced to pick a side. Would they choose the frog who might one day turn into a handsome prince? Or would they choose the hare who assumes that he has won the race even before it has begun?

Nobody really knows what is going to happen but that hasn’t stopped those brave men and women who weather the blowing winds of common sense everyday to bring you fake narratives that have no basis in reality from making predictions about the outcome. Those heroes who have never been right about anything, ever. There are no words that can describe their contribution to the public welfare. To a country plagued by unending problems, they continue to be an unintentional source of hilarity. You find these legends everywhere! They’re the ones shouting at each other on teevee. They’re the ones writing columns in language so archaic that Macaulay would be proud. They’re the ones voluntarily submitting themselves to receiving a hundred metaphorical lashes from the internet by writing a post explaining their hypothesis.

On each of the days the frog and the hare were giving a speech, the fans and paid sycophants belonging to the opposition managed to get a hashtag mocking them to trend on twitter. (I use the word ‘mocking’ very loosely here. The kind of people that were posting tweets using either of the hashtags are an embarrassment to humanity.) So, naturally, it somehow became conventional wisdom that whoever wins the hashtag war (yes, that’s what they’re calling it) on twitter is going to win the General Election from Hell. There were actual human adults who are paid for providing information to the public taking this argument seriously.

I am old enough to remember when a twitter outrage cycle used to take a week before it reached the mainstream media. Now, it’s all over the news cycle in a couple of hours. That’s because twitter helps news organizations to find a great substitute for an actual issue without leaving their desk. Take that, people going to remote locations to gather information. .

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love twitter! It’s one of the good things about the internet. Some of my best friends are twitter users! It’s really great for having funny conversations, getting to know like minded people and finding out the best place to have brunch in Zanzibar. It also enables a person to cocoon themselves from contrary opinion. When you only follow people who are like you or agree with you most of the time, it becomes easy to believe that everybody is concerned about the same things you are. However, at any given moment, there are more people on twitter not giving a rat’s ass about issues closest to your heart. If you think that twitter has any impact on the real world, then you need to go out and speak to an actual human. (Though I wouldn’t recommend it. Did you know you cannot even re-tweet or favourite things that you say in real life? How crude! Human interaction is the worst.)

If anybody with a large number of followers thinks that it actually matters, then please note that Nirupama Rao, India’s Ambassador to the US, has more than a hundred thousand followers and her twitter feed is basically links to articles everybody else on the internet read two weeks ago and sepia toned photos of her travels (no, she doesn’t actually need to use any filters. She’s so boring that all her photographs look like they were taken with a box camera and took a month to develop). Our minister of re-tweeting compliments, Shashi Tharoor, has more than a million. And the worst thing to happen to the memory of Anne Frank, Justin Beiber, has more twitter followers than the population of Canada.

Maybe the backlash to such useless discussions will finally reach the ears of the people that run news organizations in this country. Maybe they’ll realize the error of their ways. Maybe it will dawn on them that they don’t have to be stuck in this circle of banality forever. Maybe they’ll figure out that they do not have to spend the rest of their lives being party to the extended foreplay between Swapan Dasgupta and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Maybe this time, when they ask the question, Did we pay too much undeserved attention to social media?, they will actually mean it. Maybe for one brief moment, they will look the viewer in the eye and do something unheard of: report the news.

Or maybe, they could just have another panel discussion.


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