The present world is both simple and complex. It is simple because advanced communication technologies provide us with plenty of important ideas and information. It is complex because the astonishing technological changes are difficult to catch-up with. Under the current culture of media practice, although many are dependent on it, few understand its function.
Partially because it provides us with almost unlimited opportunity to speak our mind, internet-based communication, particularly social media, has become our crucial information outlet. Parallel to this, the concern is that the simpler access to the media, the higher the chances of messages being passed around unexamined.
The agenda is not about information shortage today. It is about how to manage information over-flow, and the ability to understand the meanings of the plethora of information that we consume daily.
Well before the vivid transformation of communication technologies in the 21st century, traditional means of disseminating information, such as books, newspapers, magazines, radio and Tv had unchallenged control.
In the early ages of print media, newspapers were the most important sources for timely information. Then came radio, and then Tv. Given television’s unique feature, moving pictures, it became the most influential medium. Now we are in the information age, inundated with massive amounts of information due to incredible advances in communication technologies, spearheaded by the digital age.
We are at an age when profound changes are taking place where users organise ideas, and produce and exchange information, knowledge and culture. Consequentially, the way we produce and transfer information, knowledge and culture affect our perception of the world.
The advent of the computer, mobile phones and the Internet allow everyone to be a potential publisher. These tools help users to freely – without having to pay for it – distribute content and make conversation not only possible but also inevitable. The role of the gatekeeper – content editors – has been reshaped and the traditional media no longer has a monopoly over information.
Social media though provides us with fragmented information that would not present a clear picture of a certain issue or occurrence. And being overwhelmed with fragments of information will not substantially help us understand our world. It should, however, be clear that this does not emanate from the true nature of media platforms. Modern media technologies are available for us as advanced forms of alternatives to the legacy ones. Moulding their efficacy is our responsibility, the users.
Before we adopt advanced communication technologies, it is better to learn new behaviours on how to use them for productive purposes.
As Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organization”, writes revolution, particularly thinking revolution, “does not happen when society adopts new technologies, it happens when society takes up new behaviours.”
To effectively use the positive aspects of advanced communication technologies, it would be essential to understand that their qualities are beyond merely giving citizens the opportunity to have their say.
If we continue using social media, especially Facebook, without claiming moral responsibilities for our actions, the rights we enjoy – such as freedom of speech – will be fetishised. Unless we provide fact-based information, social media might continue to be platforms of erroneous views of the reality surrounding us.
An extension of enjoying the ubiquity of information is the role of online media that should be appraised based on their attributes to empower people to decide on issues that matter most in their daily routines. A mere abundance of information, videos, and images do not necessarily inform citizens.
As we have witnessed since the prevalence of social media, it can also influence us negatively.
“Dramatic, repeated, visually evocative materials can be tools of terror or vehicles that reassure”, wrote Hall Jameison and Paul Waldman in their book “The Press Effect”.
The zealous practice of posting information and pictures that do not add value to society can end up instilling insecurity and making us more tribal. Hate speech and images of victims of horrendous acts merely make the discourse unconstructive.
In my experience, the unrefined messages that surface across social media platforms, particularly on Facebook, usually focus on the politics of fear, chaos and polarised views rather than presenting reasoned arguments and detailed information. This might also be the outcome of defence against a perceived threat of one group against the other than based on a profound analysis of situations.
Despite the rewards, we enjoy due to the advances of communication technologies, and particularly due to a pervasive social media, the way we use them substantially overshadows their noble benefits.
We have two possible alternatives. We can either trivialise the qualities of social media by producing unsourced and hollow information to self-serving ends or capitalise on their functions as alternative platforms for dialogue and discussions.
To reach the latter end, we can transform them into platforms which tend to bring inputs that would be remedies to prevalent polarised views. We should avoid the transgression and manipulation of traits of social media in the guise of ‘absolute’ freedom of expression. We should think of ‘positive’ freedom that is intertwined with responsibility and morality.
Responsibility is far beyond a mere pursuit of our pleasures. Responsible citizenship requires profound morality.
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