I have been off Facebook for the last two years and stopped tweeting for the last one month. I do check my twitter time line a few times a day and read the links being posted.
Here are some thoughts on my understanding of social media interactions.
Broadly the discussions can be classified into two categories.
Objective discussions either with your friends or opponents does not involve any ego or emotion or bias and therefore is only focussed on discovery of truth or understanding a situation, person or an institution better. It results in learning from each other. Such kind of discussions go towards improving ones knowledge. Being objective in nature they are conducted respectfully. There are no personal attacks as the discussion is focussed on the issue at hand.
The true test of objectivity is when the party that is proved wrong publicly accepts that he or she held a mistaken view.
Except on the odd occasion, it is very difficult to have an objective conversation on social media.90 % of the discussions on Social Media are with these emotions. One can hardly see any objective discussions take place where a person when proved wrong publicly admits his or her mistakes.
Emotional discussions on the other hand involve your ego and also your inherent bias. You can do this with three categories of people.
With friends who share your views:
Such discussions with your friends who share your values over a situation or person or an institution broadly take the form of:
- Sharing of Information
These discussions are more or less like talking in a ‘echo chamber’. Except for the first two forms, the balance do not add any value to you or the recipient except helping you in an emotional release.
Emotional discussions with your opponents over a situation/person/institutions take the form of
- Pointing to the flaws in the argument.
- Sharing of information with a ‘I told you so’
- Mocking or abusing him or her personally
- Attacking the person for his or her past behaviour or opinion in the context of the current situation. (Whataboutery)
These discussions are like talking in a vacuum chamber. These are mostly one sided conversations, with one of the party silent or not choosing to respond.They are again a form of emotional release. They do not add any value to any one in terms of knowledge. Even the first form where in the flaws are pointed out is not responded to as it comes from the opposing side.
With friends who do not share your views:
On the other hand engaging with close friends who do not share your political values over social media is also becoming challenging and needlessly emotional. I guess there is something about expressing ones opinion in a public forum that makes one strongly attached to the opinion so expressed that friends are finding it difficult to publicly admit that their views may have been proved wrong. This was not the case when the same set of friends meet in person over a drink or in an informal setting. In other words, objectivity is taking a hit, when the interactions between close friends are done over social media. This could be because the same medium or platform is used for interactions with a wide range of friends with varying degrees of proximity.
Given all of the above, I am increasingly choosing abstinence from social media. Having been off Facebook for two years now, I have stopped tweeting since last month. I do not find enough people who can engage with me objectively. I do not see much merit in talking to people who I know agree with me as this does not lead to any growth in knowledge except perhaps when I have an insight or an analysis to share. Lamenting or making a wisecrack only gives a ephemeral satisfaction. As far as sharing your insights goes, there are already several people who do a commendable job in analysing as well as pointing out the flaws in Left Liberal arguments. The effect of my insight will be marginal. I would rather spend that time engaging over a mail group with like minded fellow travellers without the constraint of space or public gaze. Also in the din of abuses & trolling it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage objectively with people who do not agree with you as establishing your credibility is too time consuming. Lastly with friends who do not share the same political views, why discuss over whatsapp or other social media? Once you know they have differing views, why put yourself in a position where in ‘i told you so’ /lament/mocking is the predominant underlying emotion at play ? Or attempt to point out the mistakes in your friends argument with the attendant constraints of space and discomfort of typing on a phone? Except for a brief emotional release, there is no over all gain either in terms of growth in the knowledge or in the bonding.The same discussion can be had over a cup of tea or a dram of malt in person with far greater objectivity. Agree or disagree friendship always wins over a intimate setting as it allows for an easier acceptance of the falsity of one’s view. (Vis a vis the situation/person/institution that is being discussed). Most importantly you do not have to type long responses on the phone.
Time is precious and every moment we spend on social media we need to understand who the target customer is and what we are trying to achieve out of the engagement. Is it discovery of truth? Is it to learn more? Is it to share information? Or is it for an emotional release with a ‘I told you so’/mocking/lamenting attitude? The last feeling is fleeting making the value to time spent ratio skewed. The earlier mentioned purposes are no longer possible on social media. (In the next blog, I will classify the target customers so that our engagement either on social media or other ways can be more meaningful.)
On an another note, each person has a particular swadharma that he or she has to discover and pursue. Some are opinion makers and have the ability to influence large number of people with their views. After years of failed attempts, I have discovered that I am not one of those. I actually enjoy being a facilitator, mentor, producer, coach to such opinion makers. I like to nurture leaders by helping them discover themselves, make them think creatively and pursue big dreams. In other words I like to focus my time on making ‘opinion makers’ than ‘making opinions’. Therefore this decision to abstain is one of joy that comes with clarity of one’s ability.
Finally for me social media is actually a good place to learn Vedanta. One can learn to become a witness, observe Ishvara’s lila and be blissful.