“Socrates once believed that the invention of writing would eventually make the people more forgetful. Literature survived. We survived. Now social media looms over us in that same degree. What happens now?” asked Yaseer Usman, the moderator for the day.
The panelists for the event were Dr Shashi Tharoor, Ashok Vajpeyi, Nidheesh Tyagi, and Pankaj Dubey. The evening began with the unanimous, yet unvoiced agreement that what we now call social media is Facebook and Twitter, but not limited to these two alone. Every single post on a social media is a call for debate and arguments, Vajpeyi said. “Our conversations have changed, the ways we interact have changed, but human niceties should remain. Nobody should judge another on the basis of a single post. Nobody should claim that theirs is the only truth,” he explained.
The alchemic concoction of anonymity and the freedom of expression, Tharoor said, makes it possible for even the most polite of lads to be aggressive, on topics that they neither understand nor are interested in. “What social media has created is a vast network of isolated, yet connected individuals, like sleeper cells if you will, who wake up at the onset of a bad post, or a wrong comment to wreck havoc. I have some personal experience of this, of trolls,” he addeed.
Tharoor nonetheless makes it a point to reply to as many tweets as he can. He is unofficially called the Twitter Minister for his impeccable presence there. One does not need to heed everything, he added, “It is a very interactive medium, not a broadcast medium. I like to think of social media as a vast public square where you bump into all kinds of people. There is no need to get upset over minor quarrels.” To the question ‘Has social media changed Tharoor’s writing?’ he said that it has certainly taken away a lot of his time, time that he could have otherwise dedicated to writing.
He also pointed out that our attention span has decreased considerably with the advent of social media. Or is it the other way around - he debated. “Is social media is result of our reduced attention span, he left that unanswered. It is the era of the instant and social media seems to capture this brilliantly,” he said.
Tyagi argued that social media to Indians is not new. He explained how in the early years a dhobi would trigger a conversation within the society which then would go on to the extent that an agni-pariksha was called for.
Vajpeyi reflected on the many treasures of languages in India that now have no room or scope for usage because of social media. It [social media], he said, has become a tool for giving out information. It is just that. It does not evoke the same emotion, the many memories that resonate with a word. He hopes that there would still be a part of literature that is left untouched by social media.
Coming back to the topic of writing, Nidheesh pointed out that social media has worked miracles for Urdu. Apparently Urdu fits nicely into a tweet and this has been recognized and utilized by BBC in their channel BBC Urdu. Tharoor remarked on the fact that social media has genre conventions in the air, opening us new genres – short stories in 140 characters. At the end, he said, the purpose of a story is to get your imagination to provoke another’s imagination.