Content across all forms of media is increasingly facing a plethora of problems. Authenticity and veracity of all information has been under the scanner for some time now — as a consequence, the more gullible crowd takes everything at face value and keeps reacting accordingly, and the other half which has learnt to distrust without prejudice just keeps rubbishing everything. This leads to endless debate mostly gravitating towards mud-slinging matches since ‘getting convinced by the other’s arguments’ is not really a reality for most of us.
Let’s look at this in a little more detail. If we only go four decades back in time, availability of information was abysmally low. People used to communicate via telegrams, the source of all entertainment and news was the radio and everyone was going through life in their own cocoon.
Fast forward 20 years from then and our lives had completely transformed — the Indian urban youngsters were watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S and warming up to the ways of the west, the middle class was gaping in awe at the lifestyle of the rich in TV soaps and cyber cafes were becoming the new havens for the young. Another ten years, and the internet had penetrated our lives like nothing before. Smart people in the less connected countries were getting access to resources which helped them grow and get discovered, similar interest groups were making the term “global village” come to life.
All this is true now as well, and in richer ways than before. But there are two bothering issues that I’d like to highlight: 1) fatigue from a barrage of steady information, 2) penetration into the fatter long tail of the intelligence spectrum.
Fatigue, first. Arnab Goswami’s much hyped Republic TV was launched recently. <applause>. The channel began with a slew of sensational news including reopening the Sunanda Pushkar murder case and casting a shadow on Shashi Tharoor’s involvement with it.
Now, this is serious business. Not that this was the first time the question had been brought up, but trial by media on a case, now largely buried, demands strong reason. The usual knick-knacks followed and Tharoor, visibly miffed, ended up tweeting this
Sir, did you kill your wife? Or sorry, I think you are being framed for no reason. No, wait. You used a stilted english word. Let’s all make jokes and memes about this and laugh for the next few days. Lo and behold, now google for this and the internet hardly remembers what the allegations really were.
If a news channel makes a murder allegation and all it takes is a joke for everyone to forget about it, the news channel should really look deep within the objectives of all the ‘investigative’ journalism they are undertaking. The audience is slowly getting immune to all information — thanks to the abundance of it, and repeated falsification. News is useful till it is entertaining, for most folks. As the refrain from the All India Bakchod theme song goes, “Tragedy mein Comedy, tragedy mein comedy…”.
The second issue of the intelligence spectrum is a natural consequence of deeper entrenchment of internet and social media. The intelligence (conventional definition) of the masses is on a bell curve with likely a fatter bottom half. It must also be accepted that the lower half of this will have more time and mental bandwidth to indulge in long online battles.
Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the online discourse is becoming more devoid of logic, more trivial and almost always a muddy battle with vicious comments being flung by opposing factions. So, when you feel exasperated by the ridiculousness of thought and conclude that we, as a nation or a species, are becoming dumber, remember that it is likely just that you are hearing the stupid-er voices louder these days.
Literature saw this regression to mean when Dickens gave way to E.L. James and Tagore to Chetan Bhagat. As it is becoming cheaper to publish and to read, the best-sellers may not be your top works of literature. The online media is going through the same phase right now.
There is no single solution to all of this and many might not even agree that this is a problem at all. Unfortunately, the information revolution was brought about by a small population of highly gifted people, and the entire species might be decades behind in evolving to the stage where they can de-clutter relevance from abundance and make sense of it all.
It’s a lot like growing up. Puberty is awkward. But it is a necessary step towards adulthood.