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A world littered by Twitter

A world littered by Twitter
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By Wendell Rodricks

In a recent issue of ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, Amy Molloy wrote an article on the selfie and how she posted a naked photograph of herself on Instagram—what she would never have done in real life. Social media, she claimed, had turned her ‘other’ self into a hussy. The very nature of social media websites have been transformed due to the new narcissistic behavior. Molloy says in her article that before 2009, Facebook allowed 60 photos per album. Post 2009, one can ‘drag and drop’ to your heart’s content.

Why are we showing a different side of ourselves on social media? A kind of phantom self projected to the public? A persona far removed from the real? Thanks to social media, statistics show a 30 per cent increase in narcissistic tendencies among people who use this platform. Is this because we are taking better photos on the new cameras that allow us to make image alterations for this media? Social media has become an imposed epidemic for most. I say most because I have friends on Facebook who initiate conversation, debate, and write on matters that deserve praise or censure. They use social media in a thought provoking manner. It is that small group of people that makes this channel so interesting and interactive. Often my own decisions or opinions have changed based on their point of view.

One can discover how social media works by using your cellphone, iPad or tablet innovatively. Quite by accident, when I was in China last year where Twitter and Facebook are banned, I discovered that if I shared an image and text on this medium, Instagram did the job of posting these images and comment. However, since the Chinese have realized that this can be done, they have blocked Instagram as well.

There are reportedly over 240 million self-portraits on Instagram, feeding a narcissistic frenzy which is fed by the many ways to alter a photograph so that everyone can look gorgeous and beautiful. On apps like Modiface or Facetime , one can draw in fake lashes, a pout, remove wrinkles and cellulite and drop 12 kgs in a flash.
On social media, there is also a growing number of the ‘tweet what you eat’ tribe. Do people get a thrill from showing what they are eating? Apparently they do. More people seem to be eating out with their cellphone cameras on the ready than eating at home and having a conversation with family and friends. When eating out these days, observe how many diners are silently in conversation with their cellphones rather than chatting or laughing like in the old days.

There is something bizarre about social media. What you show is not who you always are. In fact the more we share, the more we conceal. We have become a kind of split personality. I must recount here the well known story of a cheating husband who was seen checking into a hotel with a lady. The wife receives a call from her best friend to tell her what she has seen. The incensed wife calls the husband who says he was stuck late in the office and is driving home in heavy traffic. To which the wife says: “If you are driving, then let me hear the horn.”
This story would not have happened post the arrival of WhatsApp. The friend would have simply clicked a photograph and the rest would have followed…

I once asked on my post what happens to my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter once we die. Do we want to live on forever in cyberspace? Fear not, for now you can control how long an image stays on social media. With apps like Snapchat the image can be made to self-destruct when your want it to and with Slingshot you can even programme a one-view only.

Social media has also edited out the written word. Quite like how the print media has become–people see images with brief captions and skim to the next image. Is that why magazines such as ‘People’, ‘Hello’ and ‘OK’ are so popular? ‘Less words–more images’ seems to be the editor’s new mantra.

A friend of mine, the acclaimed photographer Farrokh Chothia once said that if it’s not there, it did not happen. And when it is out there, it is put out because everyone should ‘like’ it. If a post is not ‘liked’ on Facebook or Instagram, it is like a non- selling book. It needs to be pulped or ‘deleted’. People get frustrated and anxious when the ‘like’ barometer is low.

Which brings me to the three books that have made it to the bestseller list since 2012: ‘50 Shades of Grey’ which I threw at a girlfriend after page forty, who in turn threw it at her daughter after twenty pages, who binned it after page five. The next book was ‘The Hunger Games’ sequel which already had a following. But it is the third book ‘Gone Girl’ that needs closer scrutiny. Its author Gillian Flynn had two crime novels out before this one: ‘Dark Spaces’ and ‘Sharp Objects’. Flynn does not have an active social media life. She prefers to do the right thing and ‘focus on the writing’. We may not realize it, but we can spend up to three hours a day on social media. The secret of ‘Gone Girl’ from bestselling book to blockbuster film is the content. It got great reviews that sent it up the bestseller list. The publisher pressed all the right buttons from marketing, visibility to distribution. Social media then did the rest. From whispers, the chatter got so loud that it went viral. The internet, Facebook friends, Instagram posts and the twitterati sold the book to much acclaim.

What is a writer’s most challenging task these days? Apart from the writing that engrosses the reader, an author must keep the audience engaged not just by getting out the next book but also by luring the reader and audience via blog or video upload.

Is there a difference between social media and social networking? People tend to confuse one with the other. Social media is when you are putting your matter out there…quite like news. You can do it via a blog, a video, an Instagram, on YouTube, a podcast, a newsletter or eBook. Social networking, on the other hand, is how one networks and interacts. This is mainly on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

One can use social media and networking in many ways today. Despite the presence of Kindle, even a company like Amazon has a website called AuthorCentral.Amazon.com. Authors (including first time writers) can go online, seek help from professionals who will go through the entire process of publishing a book like an agent or a publisher will. It does not stop there. Once the book is out, the site informs one about sales, where the book is selling best and much more. AuthorCentral. Amazon.com has a long list of fawning, grateful writers since they launched.
With so much social media around, is there a threat to books? Noted author and friend Amitav Ghosh told me once that people may not buy books anymore one day. That implies that Kindle might be the new bookshelf.

I beg to differ.

As long as we have people who prefer crisp cold cash instead of plastic, there will be people who prefer a crisp book to reading on plastic.

This article was first published in Timeline Goa Magazine Vol 2 Issue 2 (page 26).

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