The alter ego? Vanity? Or is social media truly giving people a voice?

When I was in school, debate was an annual affair where the vocal ones among us prepared drafts and presented their views in a timed and orderly fashion. While our teachers usually encouraged students to express themselves in general, it however, wasn’t the “done” thing. A handful of us were passionate about certain causes, yet, it seemed like a private affair mostly.

Things are very different in the world of social media today. One look at our Facebook and Twitter feeds tells us that most people have an opinion and a voice. Most people are activists and passionate about causes. Most people are experts on their chosen subjects. This may make us believe that social media has in fact played a significant role in democratizing media participation, allowing all users to contribute news and comments and thereby increase dialogue and critique in general. A closer look however tells us that it is only a handful of our friends who generate most of the “user generated content” on our feeds. Most other social media users are passive audiences who are more likely to discuss online content offline with their friends and reference groups than actually writing a post/comment/blog online about a current affair topic. Not very different then from the handful who always raised their hand in class to share a query? (I shall make no bones here about the fact that this handful includes yours truly!)

A survey conducted in the US reveals that over 63% of Facebook and Twitter users now say that these platforms serve as a source of news about current affairs and society. That being said, this makes each of us digital journalists who must serve the journalistic version of the Hippocratic oath before we start typing away. The American Press Institute describes the journalist as a “committed observer” who may at times stand apart from others so as to view things from a different perspective. Journalism is therefore of greater value than opinion and assertion over social media because it empowers people with verified information that they can use to make better decisions about their lives and communities. The keyword here, of course, is “verified”.

It is not just comments about news and affairs which influence readers. Food bloggers, reviewers, and so called “social media foodies” are armed enough to make or break businesses.

Therefore the power vested in us by these media as well as the time invested by users surfing these media is immense. Knowing this and weighing our thoughts before publishing therefore becomes crucial.

The cusp generation

The generation who are in their early 30s today are on the cusp of the technology and social fabric change (it may well be that every generation in every decade believes so)! The deal is that this generation has lived through some part of these changes. That is the reason why some of us have friends who met on the internet and got married, friends who get their daily feed of news and trivia from Twitter, friends who blog, write, travel, and take pictures for a living, and yet other friends who don’t understand why one might have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and the likes when they seem to be serving the same purpose. The younger generation is slightly more sorted since they do not have a choice really.

A number of girls I know with average to great education and degrees choose to be stay-at-home moms. And I hear many who feel that these girls have wasted their education or a seat in an engineering/law/architecture college which may have gone to a more “deserving” lad. This makes me think – why do we study and earn degrees? Is it to find a job later? Is it to improve or level our social acceptance? Or do we study to simply open our minds? There are instances when people pursue business degrees from Ivy League colleges in order to meet a like minded life partner. Whatever the reason and however trivial it may sound to another, the very fact that an individual was accepted by a university for a specific course over many other applicants proves that they were deserving enough. Moreover, getting a degree and then choosing to be a stay-at-home mum is a change of track – not very different from an engineer who chooses to do an MBA, then works for a consulting firm, and then quits to pursue a hobby.

The reason why this discussion takes prominence is because our generation is ambitious and “homely” at the same time. We want to have a career, two kids(who are well raised and talented), great work-life balance, and independence from parents to live on our own. And the reason why we are the cusp generation is because we are still unwilling to do daycare, explicitly declare our independence from parents, and letting go of the guilt. In a more modern day, all of these may become more commonplace and hence more acceptable. Until that happens, the only thought that counts is that none of us really need or care to justify our decisions – following our hearts and dreams to do what we feel is best at the time without wondering too much about “the right thing to do” seems like a good plan.