Recently, I had an interesting experience with a 9 year old kid. She wanted to show off a video she had created using Lego toys. I asked her a few questions on why she created it and what she wanted from me. The answers she gave me stumped me. She said with all the enthusiasm and innocence that she wants millions of people to watch that video and several thousands to like it on YouTube. I took the trouble of watching that 40 second video and it had only reached 3 views, thanks to her close friends. I said, I will make sure it reaches a double digit mark soon. True to my word, I asked some of my family and friends to view and like the video. Due to my influence, it had reached 40 views and there were several likes. She must have been jumping with joy that her content is viewed by more people than she could have ever imagined. This was such a harmless video and it would have hardly made any dent in their mind. My mind could not stop thinking why did it matter to her that more people should watch and like it?
Just the other day I was walking alone from my flat to a nearby milk booth to get a couple of dairy products, yes a milk and a curd packet ! It was about 7pm and street lights were just about becoming bright. I could not resist laughing when two young blokes were taking several selfies under one such street lamp. I guess they were creating an Instagram story with the sole intention to get more likes from their known and unknown social media friends and connections.
I could not stop connecting both of the above incidents and my mind went into an overdrive of thinking about what is happening all around us all the time.
Each urban Wi-Fi enabled household has multiple devices connected online. Each member of the family has a minimum of one device connected and some may have up to five or six devices connected online. They see the world through the devices and it helps them transmit and receive what they think is cool or meaningful or insightful or whatever else based on where they are in their life journey or in their state of mind at that particular moment.
It is in this context I had this light bulb moment. Families as we knew it no longer exists. Perhaps 50 years ago, we just used the radio and the entire household used to get their narratives from it and the second source is the morning news paper. Then about 30 years ago, things changed with the advent of TV and its subsequent explosion of channels and its associated narratives. No matter where you are from and where you live, you could still stay connected with your version of the world in this era. But the catch was, most houses had only one of these devices. Then, in the past 10 years this has further evolved with the advent of internet enabled smart TV and smartphone and each room having a TV and each person having a smartphone and tablet to get their narratives. This is when the divergence in thoughts amplified and reached, I think, a point of no return.
Today, each one of us has our own channel to broadcast our content.
We also choose whom we follow. Apart from this, based on our browsing history, algorithms start sharing content with us which most times keeps us hooked because machines know to read our mind and thought process far more accurately given the amount of inputs we have fed about ourselves by virtue of our likes, comments and shares. It is getting even scarier with every passing day that these devices eavesdrop on what we talk and where we are by hacking into our cameras and microphones. There is no escaping this reality unless we learn to read and interpret the fine prints and we understand how to set up our devices. This is tough to ask for the generation which grew up in the pre-digital world.
Until recently, most households will have one common narrative of the world and its people.
Even if they don’t agree, there was room for a healthy debate and discussions. No one used to get offended and they did not have any mechanism to shut themselves out or block others because all interactions were happening in person.
Today, each person has a narrative and it keeps evolving every single day and is guided by an algorithmic echo chamber. What we see is people block people out of groups formed within friends and families because they are not in agreement about a person or an event or a comment posted in social media. I keep wondering what happened to our great tradition of healthy debate and discussions.
There is another thing which, I am sure, keeps happening in most households. I will be scrolling twitter feeds and will want to share a nice video of a cute animal or a impactful one liner, but at that very moment my wife may be busy scrolling her Facebook feed about a new recipe or an important debate on a current affairs topic which invariably I will get reprimanded for interrupting her flow of content consumption. The only solution is to bookmark all the stuff which I wanted to share and seek time separately to show and get her reactions.
The question is how do we keep a collective and common narrative going? Or do we need one?
It is easy to say, if there is mutual respect, empathy built on unconditional trust, we can easily co exist with a billion different narratives.
Who will bell the cat when it comes to online influencers spreading falsehood filled with bias and hatred spewed as facts? The only thing which could possibly work is to follow people with polar opposite views and also learn how to confuse the algorithms by being unpredictable about your choices. One more thing which is in our control to keep influencers at bay is to resist all the temptations, by not sharing or liking posts which spread conspiracy theories spewing negativity or bigotry or misogyny or intolerance of any kind, no matter how tempting or how close it is with your deeply held secret opinions.
Instead, let us share and like stories which spread goodness. I just came across an uplifting story. It goes like this. Somewhere in the world, they are combining nursing homes for elderly with orphanages. The result has exceeded all expectations. Elders found grandchildren, orphans experienced the love and care from parents for the first time. The elderly have shown improvements not only in their physical health but their overall cognitive health and their will to live. Ultimately this goes to prove we all need love.
We all have the power to make a difference by just deciding to only share positivity from now.