Do We Live In Virtual Gated Communities?

Virtual Gated Community

The penetration of social network is constantly on increase worldwide. Its gut not filled with millions, the social media has engulfed billions – projected to surpass 3 billion mark next year in 2021. In effect, it amounts to a hopping 45% of the total population on earth. Secondly, in aggregate, we will spend over 9 billion hours out of an average of just 24 hours on the networks. So, are we better networked today? Has man – the quintessential social animal – become ever more social? Or on the contrary, do we just live in virtual gated communities of the social media?

What Do Virtual Communities Offer?

Specifically, why do we join a motley of virtual communities? We join this or that virtual community in search of identity. As a matter of fact, everyone cannot afford to live lavishly in gated communities that the real estates erect. But we can all be part of virtual clubs of our choice. Additionally, what do they offer? Well, they offer exclusivity and reinforcement of ideas and world-views. They serve our ego. They help us search and settle ourselves in the world of ideas. In a word, virtual communities apparently prove that man is a social animal.

What Do Virtual Communities Take Away?

While ensuring ideational reinforcement, they take away our right to freedom of thought. We forego rationality and the right to hold divergent views. Not a good bargain indeed! In fact, we willingly divulge all the small secrets in exchange for virtual fame. Sadly, the fame lasts only weeks and months, if not the famously said fifteen minutes.

Why have I been away from social media for so long? – Because, the social media is schemed to imprison us in different political echo-chambers. Interestingly, it is we who lock ourselves into it. Political theorists may of course treat this as a classic case of freedom to not be free. Calculate on your own. Take note, millions are yet away from the chains – others will say “gains” – of the virtual society.

Yes, the different admin groups are gated communities. In these self-contained groups we come across only people who are like us and who agree with us. We troll outsiders vehemently so that they can’t enter and make us listen to divergent views.

In fact, trolls treat badly those netizens who refuse to toe their line of thought. They become pariah or rather enemies of the society – worse, of the nation. The mindset has not changed. Those who are not with us are against us. The cold-war still rages on. Perhaps we need a charter of non-alignment for citizens.

Are We Foolish To Expect Compromise On Social Media?

In real, face-to-face chats, people may tend to compromise on political issues when they spend time with people having opposing world-views. Face-to-face meetings can prevail over negative stereotypes about our adversaries, leading to negotiation.

But these dynamics don’t extend to virtual interactions through social media. In fact, this psychology does not hold ground even during live TV interactions. Reading or listening to the opposition may make our partisanship even worse. There are obvious factors behind such scenarios.

The problem with comment boards of social media is that these are populated with political hard-liners and extremists. They are there not to discuss but to declare and troll. Now, hard-liners are on both sides of the fence. The middle-of-the-road has just vanished. This is because the mid-path followers are just spectators. They are engrossed in their day-to-day struggles and disposed to think that the virtual world has no real impacts.

The debate hall of the social media is ingrained with just sound bites or snippets posing as debate. That’s not dialog, least discourse. That is not inquest either of Plato’s Republic’s stature. These platforms are meant to seek and speak to and get moral-gratification from like-minded persons. How does anyone expect tolerance at these platforms? Social media is about pushing one’s political view upon the “others”. Here, we find people who think they know more than anyone else. We have grown up to become unteachable. And, the “others” are untouchable to be taught a lesson – almost every other day of the year. Specifically, shouldn’t we give negotiation a chance?

Is Entire Electronic Media Of The Same Lineage?

Consequently, virtual gated communities have become detrimental to the advancement of the ethos and a hindrance in the functioning of the structures of democracy? The social media is fast becoming an evil, albeit a necessary evil, just an offshoot of the freedom of speech?

In competition with social media, the electronic media has invented reality-shows which in form and effect are just lung-power shows. Inadvertently, the anchors play the role of trolls here. So, twenty-four hours they will quote you out of context for the sake of TRPs.

The real problem is that they don’t want to work hard. They would prefer to run their twenty-four hour machines with their camera-vans stationed in the capital-cities and the metros. It is easier to pay guest-shouters than to stroll out of their studios. It is costlier to run across the nation than to stage in-studio ‘demonstrations’.

On top of all this, the guests also love being in the limelight. Everybody is there only to agitate and to keep everybody angry at every other body. Everybody yearns for peace but, unfortunately, peace has less sale-value and shorter shelf-life as well. It is also an interesting point to note that elites tend to be significantly more polarized than the general populace. And, the later is content with having a ring-side view of the show called democracy.

So, the result turns out that instead of broadening our horizons, opposing points of view on social media or TV reality shows just make the partisan divide even worse. The whole exercise turns the social media and TV screens into war-zone. All this may aggravate political polarization in the nation.

News, News Every Channel; Not A Channel To Believe!

Everywhere, there is fake news – news, news every channel; not a channel to believe. If not fake, it is opinionating news. In the name of news, they dish out views. The audience just wants honest reporting of bare facts, whether official or otherwise. If false, present your counter-facts. Please, leave us on our own to form unbiased educated opinions. This will further the cause of democracy more than the propaganda everywhere.

The electronic media-show activists do not want things to change for betterment. They want much more stridently partisan participations for optimum audio-visual effects because this generates TRP. They are professional activists and manipulators, not social activists.

I don’t seek anybody’s points of view, whether my side or on the other.  Just tell me how many people are going hungry, not why they are poor. Just how many were killed and who killed them. Leave rest to us. For once, give rest to your propaganda machine. No “why”, please. We are knowledgeable enough.

Liberals don’t really care all that much about what they believe in. They take their ideology as granted, beyond threat. Conservatives very much do care about their ideology. Hence, in electoral battles, they are energized to re-group themselves. They don’t really care about facts, however scientific or professional. So, they cannot be reasoned out.

As a libertarian, I’m for freedom, as ugly as it can be beautiful. No brainwashing people by manipulating social media tools. This is not social engineering; this is social bullying. At social media platforms, people listen to something that is not being said and twist it to meet their preconceived fears of the “other”.

Is Integration Of Virtual World With Real World Ok?

The anonymity of virtual world has greatly exacerbated the degree of divisiveness in the real world. It’s easier to yell and demonize from behind a keyboard than to do it directly in another person’s face. It is not in everyone’s genes to yell at others’ face, whether a known neighbour’s face or an unknown street-walker’s. And, the noise is about generalities, not specific or concretes. Further, it loses any constructive angle. Social media is a hugely popular blame game around identity politics. If asked to stick to specifics and rules of logic, noise will automatically get reduced.

Are echo-chambers conducive to a healthy democracy? But then, are we democratic in the least when we start trolling – the outsiders in a voice? Social media has proved Aristotle and Darwin right. Man is an animal – who can bark, i.e. a political animal. Or, perhaps the Greek seer had said “asocial”. We mistook it as “a social”. Someone should go back to the manuscripts.

Instead of treating the other side as people with differing opinions, social media treats them like incompetent, slavering, evil morons or demonic giants. How can this side have political discussions with the other, then? Both sides’ stands only get stiffened in the process. Let’s reach out to the other on a human level. No negotiations will be far off, then.

This is true not only in India but of the Americans as well. They are deeply divided on all controversial issues such as inequality, gun control, and immigration. The matter of concern is that the elected Prime Minister or the President is viewed through the spectacles of ‘our’ and ‘their’ not of the country, leave alone nation.

Call To Action

Such sharp partisan divisions surely hamper compromise in the design and implementation of social policies, that is, the functioning of the governmental machinery. Take the case of women’s entry into temples or triple talaq. I am of the view that such freedom of speech may have far-reaching consequences for the effective functioning of the democratic society in a broader manner.

Indeed, the market forces of media are here playing against the interests of the social contract called the State. The State is not oblivious of the imminent dangers, but the State players themselves beat the drum with a view to winning the elections. Democracy has been reduced to become a ceaseless game of elections.

Thus, we are constantly in the battleground of elections which in turn makes the whole system suck and stink. It doesn’t solve issues. On the contrary, it creates societal dissensions. The political system just wants us to live in mirages. It doesn’t like to be put to test. Communities have been most ridiculously stereotyped and this is what perpetuates the whole thing.

Perhaps the cultural, linguistic, religious, ethnic and economic diversity in India along with the geographical vastness makes it impossible to govern without political machinations. But then, democracy is more than just governance.

Self-discipline among political parties and coercive constitutional remedies alone can tackle the menace. Remember anti-defection law. Falling in line with the market forces, political parties want to control people’s lives and choices. What is life but a function of choices made by the living beings?

2020 is the year for making informed political choices by the electorate of some of the important states of India as well as by the citizens of the States. So, let’s get out of the physical and virtual gated communities and echo-chambers to vote for the nation, not just for the next governments .

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