On the Need to Have Opinions and Be Politically Correct

What keeps social media going? Sure, you want to know what your friends are up to. But it is also a space to build an identity and express one’s opinions. If we’re addicted to all kinds of information, we’re also addicted to responding to that information. In fact, the whole of Internet is based on this social contract of uploading, finding and responding to all kinds of information. But the appeal of social media is that your responses are in one place. Your opinions are out there for everyone you have added on your social media (or the world, depending on your privacy settings); think about that— that’s probably 100 times more than those people you would actually talk to in person, about these same opinions. There are people, who might never EVER know what you think of the latest Leonardo Caprio movie or of that weird comment by a hairy guru, if you did not post it on Facebook. Our need to respond thus, creates an Internet persona, and this leads to three consequences:

1. Jumping on the bandwagon – Posting the same opinion that most of your friends are posting. Because they’re cool and you want to be cool too, even though it’s not an original opinion and you probably did not even try to do your own research. This is especially annoying when there’s a crisis/occasion of grief and all some people want to talk about is how SAD all of it is on the Internet, without really caring about it, deep in your heart. Because, what would people think if you did not post about that earthquake/terrorist attack? You have to post SOMETHING! This sort of sharing might actually increase one’s self-perception, because “hey I did express my sadness on social media, there’s nothing else I can/need to do about it,” increasing a sense of having “done” something, without having done anything substantial.

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2. Creating an anti-popular stance – Sometimes when something suddenly goes viral on the Internet, there’s a group of people who are ever-ready to diss it and want it to all stop, because they’re so hep and have found a lesser known counter view point that will let you stand apart on other people’s viral-infected newsfeed. Maybe it makes them feel slightly better than their friends. Your friends are all roped in by the popular opinion, but you.. Oh you are unswayed by such noise. You, have to be different from people, express a different opinion, mark yourself a lion among the sheep! Or a purple cow among normal cows…Purple-Cow

3. Need to be politically correct- This for me, is the most interesting one. It is the ever-existing tension between being nice and not be too uptight about stuff. Is the latest version of Jungle Book problematic due to the disproportional female voices? Wouldn’t it be more politically correct in the 21st century, to develop a version with equal gender representation? I mean, how dare Alphonse Puthren make a movie with a student-teacher romance, a taboo subject, such disrespect towards our guru-worshipping culture! politically correct

Now, while such opinions surely would have existed before social media came along, sharing such opinions online definitely made people aware of the diversity of opinions. Most humans are conformists and want to be perceived as normal. So when an instance of being politically correct (in popular terms being butthurt by stuff) or of letting things go arises, there are people who simply let it go. Others complain and whine about people not being nice and people not embodying the qualities of equality, fraternity and brotherhood in every single thing they do. Sadly, many academics, under the guise of looking for underlying meanings fall into this trend of critiquing stuff, especially art.
Take Game of Thrones for instance. People will be tempted to think of it in feminist, Marxist, sociological lens and critique it — but can we differentiate our opinion from our appreciation for creativity itself? This debate, of whether a piece of writing can be separated from its context/author is a long-standing one in the sphere of literary criticism. I don’t think it’s wrong to think of a work through any of the critical frameworks developed over the years, but what is unfair is to not recognize one’s own intention while doing so. Why is it that we feel the need to make the art we create politically correct? Why is it hard for us to digest a work, written from the perspective of, say, a rapist? Or a pedophile? It is our tendency to be “correct” and not look beyond our little box that makes us hesitant. We see anything that does not represent our empty, idealistic perspective, as trash or “wrong.” I cannot help linking this tendency to the popular use of social media, to share the “right” opinions, to seem “nice,” probably without even understanding what the consequences of such sharing are.

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This rant is of course not just directed as others, but to myself too. It was not intended to judge or stifle any online habit anyone has. It is just an observation, posted among the zillions of observations posted online. Social media and opinions/organizing using social media has led to many protests and social movements, creating social change. But most of the time, social change for good is far from the real consequences. Next time you voice an opinion on Facebook or Twitter, ask yourself, why do you want to do it? Do you really mean what you’re going to post or did you do it as a part of a trend/to oppose a trend or to be politically correct? Intentions matter. Just something to be aware of and think about. Maybe you’ll realize something you never knew about yourself.

Facebook, Thoreau and Our Obsession with News

We live in a very interesting world where our individual attention span is continuously reducing. I’ve heard many of my friends complain about not being able to read a novel or watch a documentary for a stretch of time, without being forced to check their phones. We are so thirsty for information, both personal/communicative and general news updates on our phones, that we have forgotten how to concentrate for more than the 2-minutes required to browse through a List Post! Social media marketing is an altogether different sport these days. It has developed its own techniques, rooting entrepreneurs and even self-employed artisans to social media, in a cruel twisted way, changing the concept of advertisements forever. (The irony of posting this blog article on FB is not lost on me.) I’m even failing to focus on a T20 cricket match, forced to check FB for instant memes on what I just saw on TV. This is a shameful, cruel joke by evolution. Or maybe its just shameful.

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MUST CREDIT: @esmith_images/Instagram This Instagram photo shows a man missing a humpback whale surface two feet away from him because he was glued to his phone. The moment was caught during a whale watch in Redondo Beach, California, professional photographer Eric Smith told ABC News today. Smith said he had about five photos of whales with the private sailboat in the background, but the guy never got off his phone in any of the pictures.

Today, I was reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau, the man who allegedly inspired Gandhi on notions of civil disobedience. Thoreau lived by a lake in a cottage he made himself, secluded from the outside world for two years. It was basically a self-imposed Big Brother reality show, minus the cameras and contestants. Walden is about his experience living the lonely life and he meticulously outlines his philosophy and daily requirements. It reads like a life manifesto sometimes and like a personal account diary at other times. One by one, he tears apart the reasons humans have to need everything we have, including food, shelter, clothes, money etc. Sure, his ideas do not seem widely applicable to everyone everywhere, but the gist is to live a minimally material life. Very transcendental, indeed. The part that interested me most was his perception about news or information being a central part of human life. He wonders why humans are so obsessed with happenings around the world, when nothing new ever takes place (think Benjamin of Animal Farm). Wars, accidents, death, discovery — all of this has happened and will keep happening, he says, and casually denounces the idea of staying informed.

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The cover says it all

Of course, it’s easy to disagree and point out how impractical Thoreau is. But think of this for a minute. Isn’t he right? This constant need for new information (NEWs) is a defining feature of human life. With all these gadgets today this need is even more obsessive and inevitable. We are bombarded with new information every time we log onto the Internet. Or when we skip through channels on TV. Or when we pick up the newspaper. Today we also have the highest rate of anxiety related problems in the world and the term “informed opinion” has attained new meanings. How informed? How many articles on a topic should you read before forming an informed opinion? Because God knows there are plenty out there, with new events and interpretations coming in by the minute!

Yet, I know people who are happily unaware/ vaguely aware of events in the world, living their own life, seemingly apathetic, as if Trump does not even exist, as if there isn’t a bombing happening every day, as if there aren’t nuclear reactors suddenly leaking and mysteriously being ignored in spite of that…. And they are happy. Ignorance is bliss.

 

Even being aware of this problem does not help. I will still need to “stay informed,” thanks to my university education which made me more politically and socially aware than I would have asked for. As for social media, I’m still on Facebook because it is my primary news source and rant outlet. Once, during college I deactivated Facebook, taking all the necessary precautions. I tried using other Apps that would show me news on relevant topics (Weebly) and even an App that would let me store multitude of articles until I get to actually reading them (Instapaper, Pocket). Needless to say, it just wasn’t the same. Neither of these apps matched up to FB’s knowledge of what I wanted to read nor would they let me respond to what I was reading in a meaningful way. Not to mention, the lack of memes. Phew.

 

So then, I realized that it is my need to get the right information and the urge to respond to that information, essentially broadcast it, which is keeping me from leaving. Which brings me to my next post, on the need to have opinions and being politically correct. Until then.