Sunday, March 6, 2016

Argumentative India in the Digital Age

Recently if you have been following news in India and the politics you would have noticed some unprecedented polarization in various segments of the society. Media is divided, Lawyers are divided, even the mass populace seems to have ‘strong’ opinions about issues like – election results, government policies, the great intolerance debate, nationalism issue and numerous ones in between.

It’s easy to be discouraged by the passion which these arguments bring. Never before young mid 20s and 30s  population got into ‘intellectual’ and seemingly ‘boring’ and ‘unrelated’ policy discussions. And I say discouraged because we aren’t used to debating ‘intolerance’ or ‘nationalism’ in our drawing rooms or as part of our ‘water cooler discussions’. Everything said and done, we love to argue, we love to take sides, find faults in other’s arguments – technically or sentimentally and we are good at that. In the digital age the scope of these deliberations has expanded to unimaginable breadth. Social networking sites and applications which can spread word around faster than the blink of an eye are doing a great service to the quantity and quality of the conversations happening all around the world and for all democratic reasons this is a very good sign for the flora and fauna. Think about child labor, clean India, traffic rules, human trafficking, international relations, epidemics spreading across the world, terrorist attacks around the world, democratic uprisings, general elections in some countries, world economic health, price of oil and other commodities – even if you don’t know everything about all of them, there is a good chance that you know something about each one of them.

I chose to write about two aspects of the debates I have observed being conducted formally and informally around me. First one is about how we secretly enjoy it and outwardly resist (read desist) or feel guilty about it when it’s (partially) over. Second one is a more important issue. It calls for caution in terms of what we read, watch or spread or shall I say what we believe.

Incessant love for debates.
You pick a topic. Any topic. Start with international issues if you are globally aware citizen of the world, or pick a national issue, perhaps a state issue? How about local ones? State of traffic, road conditions, waste management in your region. If none of these interest you, then let’s talk about homely issues, food, upbringing of kids, choosing your career, kids’ schooling, or how to spend the next extended weekend. Cliché – ‘Man is a social animal’ should be changed to ‘We all love to argue’ about something or the other. Only the topics change depending upon what clicks for you. We love to deliberate, talk about them and more often than not get back to usual routine. In line with what has been happening throughout human civilization, a handful of us take the concern seriously enough to start doing something about it. Without taking names, there is an endless list of great people(proven examples) and work in progress ones, and I am not even talking about people in social space. Consider those who created business empires (not that their goal was to do that in the first place) around a problem they were trying to solve, or gave up (significant sometimes) part of the wealth they have amassed for the good of the people.

Bottom-line is – keep arguing. Keep questioning. Encourage your kids to ask questions, try answering them. Ask questions yourself, try getting the answers. It is in line with the human nature and is for the benefit for the society that we keep questioning everything and everyone (Don’t take it literally). It keeps things in check. Let me back track a bit here. Let me not say that everyone should keep questioning everything/ everyone. What I imply is that keeping an open mind is the important essence here. Keeping an open mind is as much about being okay with new answers as it is about finding alternate to the existing ones.

The Caution and the need for it.
Another cliché in the new age is around how the social media has changed the world. It has indeed. I am tempted to use the name of a particular messaging app and a social networking site (both under same flagship). But this blog-post is not about them. It’s about the people who use them and how they use them.

This is the year of presidential election in the US. I get to talk to some of my colleagues there. I know politics doesn’t feature in the list of topics you should converse on with your office colleagues but it comes up every once in a while. I mention this because of the one thing which is common in the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest one is the anger and frustration which the common people have. While this is the first time we are getting the opportunity to get first hand/ or filtered information in real time, it is also the first time when we can vent out our anger and share our views and it is out there in the open. There is nothing wrong with that. It just calls for a little caution.
Please keep in mind that the venting which you are doing over the internet is out there in the world for everyone to see. This is a fantastic thing and many great ideas have come up when people collaborate. Internet is a great place for unprecedented scale of collaboration happening. On the other hand there are people who have the capacity to harm others when they take in those sentiments seriously; it creates havoc in the society. There seems to be some investment in this field where some serious stakeholders are trying to make the most of this opportunity to sway the emotions of people in their favor, or may be deflect the attention from what’s more important.

I know I can go on and on this… but as good things end, this one will as well. ;)
Passion is good, so are the arguments, or having opinions, defending them, taking it to the larger masses (like I am doing right now) but as a superhero once said (in a Hollywood movie) – “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” I think this is the time to show some restraint and be a little more responsible. Don’t trust everything you hear or see, don’t jump the gun to verdicts and conclusions. That’s a lot of serious talk and ‘gyaan’ as my friends call it. Just follow the beautiful vision of this great nation which is relevant beyond timelines – ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ – ‘The world is one family’ and you can agree, disagree with your family but not harm them.

Whatever is being written here are the personal views of the author and are subjected to agreement or disagreement. And a request to all members, Please share your views !!

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