Friday, May 24, 2024
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Social Media; Fleeting Attention; Issues Discussed & Abandoned

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By Patricia Mukhim

If there was no social media there would have been very little discussion on why Meghalaya has had a dry run as far as tribal aspirants getting through the UPSC is concerned. As Benjamin Lyngdoh stated in his article on the same topic, even the most serious issue suffers from the short attention span that has become our lot post the invasion of social media. I have to admit that I am a social media buff too and enjoy posting stuff on Facebook essentially to create a conversation around a topic. Needless to say not many join the conversation unless one writes on Manipur where one is then certain to be trolled relentlessly with the choices of abuses. But social media also teaches you to develop a thick skin and move on to another day and another topic.
Some issues merit public discussion so that they gather traction and push the government to act. We have all seen how the government is unlikely to take pro-active steps on any issue related for instance to the environment. True, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma took pains to trek to the water catchments around Shillong but those are nothing compared to the areas where the earth has been left gaping through ruthless extraction and the reservoirs below them are left to dry out. Those are the areas that the Chief Minister and his PHE Minister should visit. In fact, some of us would love to accompany the CM to the quarries owned by his Deputy very close to the city. I had raised the question in my article last week as to who or which department gives permission for quarrying? The Mining and Geology Department? Forest Department? Pollution Control Board? District Council? Or all of them through a single window process? This is an answer sought and one hopes the Government deigns to answer this question without making us take the RTI route.
The environment is not a sexy topic hence discussion on social media on this topic gets short shrift. The problem with us today is that we sift through the information we get and only engage on hot-potato issues. But guess what those issues are. They are mostly related to the ‘jaitbynriew’ and its existential crisis. This is a topic that every Tom, Dick and Mary will dig into because rage today is a luxurious sentiment. Discussions on social media on this topic then descend to rage which in turn makes us self-righteous. More often than not this self-righteous fury consumes us and turns us into cruel authoritarian zeitgeists reliving the history of our own cruelty towards the “other.” This attitude says – the enemy is out to exploit us; to take away our resources so the ends justify the means. The activism by some groups here has been performative and has seldom resulted in positive change. An issue is kick-started mainly to raise the political temperatures and then abandoned for another more sexy issue because to remain consistent on any issue means to go through a process. Processes are boring. Protests require theatrics and therefore the actors/protestors must find a new issue to ignite public interest and for the media to keep following the story and the face behind the story. That’s what the leader of every pressure group wants. With YouTube journalism having proliferated and every mobile phone turning into a television screen turning a hero overnight is what everyone strives for. The next stop of course is politics…that has been the normal route of all aspiring politicians.
But what Meghalaya needs today are career politicians who don’t need to don the façade of an activist – a protector and guardian of the ‘jaitbynriew’ which has been painted to be so incompetent to save itself from itself that it regularly needs to throw up these avant-garde of our future. We have seen many such leaders being catapulted to power but we have also seen them being consumed by the very power play that they warned us against. Perhaps we have never spent enough time to analyse the fatal flaw of placing our trust in actors that have appeared on our political stage from time to time and promised to ‘heal our world’ and rid it of corruption and all the ails afflicting us because of bad politics. Those leaders who have been catapulted from activism into politics and were on a quest to heal our world were actually on a quest for personal catharsis – not a societal liberation that they promised us. And because as a society we have moved from crisis to crisis we needed that drama. It is uncertain if we will ever be free of this existential crisis.
Vincent Bevin a journalist in his book “If we burn,” investigated ten protest movements between 2010-2020 in places like Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Ukraine and Hong Kong and reached the conclusion that in seven out of the ten movements the results were worse after the protests than before and the reason is because of the flaws in the manner in which protestors organize themselves. Too often people see the leader of the organisation but don’t know the character of those in the group and their reasons for joining the protest. We have seen how quickly a crowd can be summoned on an emotive issue and how the crowd has acted in such situations because a crowd is faceless.
In this sort of tumultuous society where the space for reasoned debates and discussions are receding where do our young people draw their ideas from? As it is too few read books; all consume news, including fake news from the internet and are quick to forward them. How on earth can such a batch of youth starved of enlightened discussions and debates at home, in schools, colleges and universities ever gather enough stamina to prepare themselves for the UPSC which requires a wide range of exposure to all kinds of philosophies and the ability to discuss those with spunk and a fearless demeanour. For that’s what the interviewers look for in a future civil servant. The ability to defend a belief or a thought fearlessly and with reason is not encouraged in our homes and educational institutions. Such students would be shouted down by teachers because they challenge the rigid and embedded prejudices and political stances of the latter.
Those who have prepared for the UPSC and have sailed through confide that they have had to first struggle to wean themselves away from social media. They find it disrupts their thought processes and diverts their attention from topic to topic without them gaining anything at the end of it all. Most who have qualified confess that they spend not less than 14 hours of uninterrupted study. Think about it! How many of our youth have the attention span of even one hour? We know that with the internet and social media our attention span has dropped to 8.25 seconds which is down by 4.25 seconds since 2000. We also don’t know what happens to our brains with social media controlling our thoughts, behaviours and responses.
At one time the Khasi-Jaintia Welfare Association used to provide free coaching for young people interested in writing the UPSC exams. There were stalwarts in that organisation. Now one does not hear of this organisation. The State Government conducts regular coaching at the Meghalaya Administrative Training Institute (MATI) but is yet to produce a single successful candidate because there is so much personal grooming and confidence building that is needed. Above all, young people need exposure to a more cruel world outside the comfort zones of their home state. Without struggle there can be no success. Those who have succeeded to crack the UPSC exams have sweated and toiled and lost sleep. They had sacrificed all their comforts and have just one solitary goal – to pass the UPSC. And they have done it! That’s the kind of dedication needed.
It’s a different matter though that some youth who have the potential to sail through the UPSC have said they don’t wish to pursue that course. Their contention is – “What’s the point of slogging to pass the UPSC if one is constantly being dictated to by politicians some of whom are uneducated and whose decisions veer around self-gratification?” This is a reality and those who stick on under such circumstances deserve a salute.

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