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OP-ED: Social media and our becoming ‘somebody’

  • Published at 12:24 am November 3rd, 2020
Social media

From Morse code to radio, technology for social connectivity has always changed with time

Our thoughts shape our actions; our actions outline our identity. Our brains are used to functioning in a way that does not allow us to “not think” about anything at all for a single moment. In other words, we are constantly picking up bits and pieces of ideas, perspectives, and impressions about everything around us all the time. 

Hence, it can be perceived that every element which has some value to cause an impact on our psyche has the ability to determine our behaviour. As we read this article, a youth somewhere in Africa might be learning how to perform a ballet from a mentor residing in Europe, while another elderly from Asia might be watching geologists in Antarctica discussing the greenhouse effects -- all through the internet and the means of social interaction. Social media, over the past decades, has attained a very diverse and significant role in our cognitive development, which has both positive and negative aspects.

The cohesive inclusion of social media in our daily lives has been evident for nearly 20 years. By the late 90s, blogs and instant messaging had become somewhat popular, although with an inclination towards the educational factor of it rather than the social utility. The years 2000 to 2010 saw the boom of modern social media and the tremendous diversity incorporated by predecessors like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Reddit, Instagram; and then gradually came Snapchat, Google+, Pinterest, and similar platforms from 2010 and afterward. 

Looking back at the scene now in 2020 -- it seems as if a huge sea-wave had struck a barren shore and left a chest wide open as it ebbed. This was the chest that preserved the “new era” modality of social media. All of the forerunning social platforms have ultimately created a hunger among avid users for more of what the industry is yet to finish exploring.

The list of Bangladesh’s top trending free applications in the Android app store consists of names like Likee , besides other comparatively older apps. These applications primarily promote social connectivity while encouraging their users to make their own content. This means each user is a potential content creator and can avail a decent audience exposure through social networking. Earlier, we needed to depend mostly on the mass media to establish ourselves as extraordinary beings. But with social media broadening our opportunities -- our societies were bound to witness a paradigm shift.

However, whether the paradigm shift will lead to better or worse outcomes for our society will depend largely on how we utilize these new frontiers for self-expression and how we guide our youngsters to do the same. 

Social media offers opportunities to its users to express their views, showcase their creative skills, andpromote or show support to a cause they believe in, among other productive endeavours.  

According to Dr Geoff MacDonald, a prominent psychologist from the University of Toronto: “Attention is one of the most valuable resources in existence for social animals.” Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs also elaborates on how human beings tend to seek social prestige, community validation, and acknowledgment of creative activities once their basic needs are fulfilled. However, such studies have been pertinent before, depending on advanced technology that continues to show how our very basic and natural predispositions have remained unchanged. 

Today’s youth like to express themselves in every possible and favorable manner in front of a mass audience.

Through the growing popularity of social media applications where talent can get one instant fame, we can somewhat presume which way our cultural prospects are headed.

Here, many have conflicting opinions. Some are willing to have faith in such mass-exposure of personal qualities considering the odds similar to finding pearls inside oysters, while some others are against the populist take on becoming role models without any authoritarian regulation. 

A number of unfortunate incidents have imposed a question-mark as to verify whether such trends are healthy for the youth. 

From a neutral point of view, one might rather consider the unique social fabrication that has been possible through such applications. 

For example, Likee had recently launched the hashtag #NoMeansNo campaign, which intended to vocalize women’s safety and social rights for protection. This took place after reports of deplorable incidents of sexual harassment of women in Bangladesh, which have been condemned by all quarters in the country. 

Stats show that over 8,000 contents related to voicing against crimes like rape and sexual harassment had been shared on the platform, which attained near 7 million views. Similar practices were seen during the quota reformation movement, road-safety movement, and various other initiatives solely driven by the youth for a change on various social media platforms. We must encourage all users to make their voices heard and for themselves to be seen in ways that add positive value to society.  

However, we must also remember that while social media can be a useful platform for self-expression and for exchanging ideas, it should not be considered as the only platform from which to arrive at concrete opinions about a matter. I can speak about Likee, for instance. Our purpose is to enable our users through this platform to express their talents and creativity in a way that would enable personal growth and productive social connectivity.

The tools of reconstruction of social trends and mindsets change inevitably with time. Bangladesh has experienced the strategic utility of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra to trigger movements by the freedom fighters. Even before that, Morse code had been developed for encrypted transmission of messages. With better equipment, the youth today are only exploring the boundaries of their creative potential through social media’s diverse uses. The upcoming platforms are being designed to fit such transformations while safeguarding individual accreditations. As long as it entertains the youth, it might as well sustain beyond all criticism.

Mike Ong is Vice President (Government Relations) of BIGO Technology Pte Ltd.