Cultural creation in age of tech abundance – The Tribune India

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While we have sharpened our tools, we have not given adequate importance to the development of our artistic and intellectual faculties. Hence, is it surprising that amid the ceaseless flow of social media messages, posts and videos, we also find ourselves in a deserted cultural landscape. Otherwise, how do we explain the popularity of a blogger showing us daily how she eats mutton, chicken and biryani?
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Updated At: Feb 08, 2022 03:17 PM (IST)
Social media influx: It’s not information revolution; it’s information pollution. Reuters
Avijit Pathak
Sociologist

Has technological abundance — particularly, in the domain of communication and cultural creation — led to a new kind of psychic restlessness and anxiety? Is it that as social media, from Twitter to Instagram, and Facebook to YouTube, envelops our everyday existence, we are constantly striving for visibility, working ceaselessly to produce something that becomes ‘viral’ instantly, and trying to find our essence through the statistics of viewers and subscribers? ‘Share, Like, Subscribe’— is it becoming the vocabulary of our times that even a six-year-old child is getting used to?
Of course, none can deny that these new technologies of communication have played an enabling role. For instance, it is because of YouTube that we see a spectrum of new talents articulating their creative skills in diverse fields, from music to political satire, or from cooking to travelling.
Because of the decline of monopoly of big names in shaping the logistics of cultural production, we can now discover, say, a rural woman with good knowledge of local food and indigenous recipe; or a young college student as a fantastic singer. Even Bollywood celebrities might envy the popularity of many of these YouTube bloggers. No wonder, these days almost everything is available on YouTube, be it a talk by a professor or a discourse by a new age spiritual guru.
Facebook has helped many of us connect, redefine the art of relatedness, and rediscover ourselves as potential writers, poets, cartoonists, photographers, and above all, messengers of all sorts of information. Moreover, when fancy names tweet, it runs faster than newspapers and television talk shows.
No wonder, these technologies have become immensely popular. From crowded local trains to coffee houses, there seems to be no escape from the smartphone; we are never tired of watching, posting and messaging.
Hence, as it would be said, it is futile to be a puritan, and condemn the popularisation of social media in the name of some abstract ‘high culture’.
Yet, even as we acknowledge the flourishing of communication and cultural creation, it is important to remember that technological abundance as such does not necessarily guarantee cultural, moral and psychic refinement. After all, if we do not work on our political/ethical/aesthetic sensibilities, social media, far from causing cultural sanity, might take us to a noisy and stimulant domain of psychic numbness.
We ought to understand this dialectics: taking countless selfies through the fancy smartphone does by no means improve one’s photographic art; sending viral messages through Twitter for getting mindboggling viewership is not a literary act; and narrating day after day what one cooks, eats and buys on a YouTube channel does by no means come close to the art of story-telling.
In fact, while we have sharpened our tools, we have not given adequate importance to the development of our artistic and intellectual faculties. Hence, is it surprising that amid the ceaseless flow of WhatsApp messages, Twitter-induced bullet points, Facebook posts and YouTube videos, we also find ourselves in a deserted cultural landscape.
Otherwise, how do we explain the immense popularity of a daily blogger showing us day and night how she eats mutton, chicken and egg biryani? Or, someone showing the washroom of a fancy resort in a hill station, the act of consuming lavish breakfast, and then, ‘possessing’ the ‘spot’— the sunset point? Or, how do we explain that it is through the same social media that we spread and consume toxic messages, symbolic violence and communal hatred?
There are two issues. First, the rapid growth of social media has to be related to the mood of the age — everything has to be fast and instantaneous! And this obsessive speed negates what meaningful art needs — concentration, endurance and reflection.
For instance, you cannot evolve as a good singer if the craving for instant fame diverts you from rigorous practice and constant learning. Nor is it possible to do an enchanting travel video unless your travelogue is a meditative reflection on the journey called life. Only then is it possible to capture the silence of the Himalayan peaks, or the whisper of a deodar tree.
In other words, the possession of technology does not necessarily transform one into an artist. But then, when the certificate of one million subscribers and innumerable ‘likes’ becomes the sole criterion for defining the worth of one’s creation, art suffers.
Second, this terrible addiction to the instantaneity of social media simulations is destroying what we all need to retain our sanity — the art of being non-visible, or the cultivation of meditative silence and mindfulness. In fact, this chronic urge to be in constant circulation through WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, or our comments on almost everything on earth often cause the mass production and consumption of trivia.
It is not information revolution; it is information pollution. Possibly, we need to continually educate ourselves.
As a matter of fact, the generation for whom YouTube bloggers are the only icons, or the parents who want their children to start a channel and achieve instant fame and money, or our celebrity gurus and politicians who are inseparable from their Twitter messages ought to be persuaded by great teachers to realise that, for instance, Franz Kafka wrote ‘Metamorphosis’ not in a hurry; or that without the intensity of inner churning, it was not possible for Vincent van Gogh to paint the melancholic sunset; and the light of illumination that the silence of Ramana Maharshi used to radiate, no YouTube blogger can capture through their finest camera.
Are we ready to take a pause? 
#facebook #Instagram #social media #twitter #YouTube
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The Tribune, now published from Chandigarh, started publication on February 2, 1881, in Lahore (now in Pakistan). It was started by Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, a public-spirited philanthropist, and is run by a trust comprising four eminent persons as trustees.
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