Are narcissists bringing social media down?

Published: June 13, 2011
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Social media has the power to solve things but only if we take away the ‘me’ and indulge in ‘we.’

A great deal is expected from social media here in Pakistan. We are the younger generation’s hope and the older one’s handing-over brigade. We are supposed to act as a check and balance for not only political corruption, but for mainstream media which most of us regard as an out-of-control dinosaur.

We are called saviors but I think we may need a little bit of saving from our own selves.

This weekend was a busy one for the social media savvy here in Karachi. On Friday, there was Google MapUp held at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) which proved to be a fun filled intense learning experience on the travail’s and tools of mapping.

Did you know that the maps we access every day from our smart phones are mostly made by Pakistanis?

To my surprise Lahore was the fastest mapped city in the world on Google maps. Pakistan has two world class mappers: Faraz, a 26-year-old programmer from Glasgow and Jabran, an IT administrator. Their tally – a little over 70,000 maps, mostly of rural areas of Pakistan – have been used by international aid groups and other organisations for disaster relief and general directions as well.

Impressed yet?

Don’t be, because this is just one facet of social media in Pakistan, a field which is littered with visionaries, writers, poets, software developers, policy specialists, musicians, painters, doodlers, with pure raw energy pounding through every vein of its collective body.

This energy was on display on Saturday at Pakistan’s first ever social media summit (brought to us by the United States (US) Consulate and PC world Pakistan), where we spent the entire day attending panel sessions on monetizing blogs, education and women’s role online.

The summit was attended by bloggers from Indonesia and Egypt plus two Skype sessions.

But with all this attention on the social media, I often wonder – is it worth it?

No doubt we influence opinion in Pakistan – many of us who were previously just bloggers have grown to become columnists in major newspapers. We are the voice of the citizen, the people who never sleep, but our conscious is completely asleep when it comes to one thing – our monstrous egos.

Basically what we have done is taken the Target Rating Point concept from mainstream media, that we all so love to hate and translated it into our own digital version of narcissism.

Who has the most followers?

Who must we stand around in a summit?

The broadcast media has always been faulted for being a one way street, only one channel of communication from broadcaster to viewer. However, we, the so-called alternative to this media, are also headed down the same dark alley.

If you don’t believe me, log on to Twitter for about five minutes and you will come across a social media expert in Pakistan. They will have about 3,ooo to 8,000 followers and will speak as if every minute of their time is the glue that is holding this country together. Yes, there are people with over 30,000 followers as well, but those we choose to ignore, mostly as they might threaten the status quo.

Arrogance is leading to deniability, deniability to irresponsibility, and we are making the exact same mistakes our mainstream media has made in its tremendous, mushroom growth – we have too much analytic and too little introspective thought. We cannot handle criticism and we think the answer to every issue is to gather 50 or so of us outside a press club and give sound-bytes to the same TV channels we all curse later.

Social media is a great tool for bringing people together. It has the power to solve things but only if we take away the ‘me’ and indulge in ‘we.’ Inclusion not exclusion is required here, an ungrouping of the various groups we are currently divided in, and a concentrated effort is needed to make a difference.

I quote the words of Mohamed El Dahshan, the Egyptian blogger who attended the Karachi summit:

“Eight million of us made the revolution in Egypt happen.”

I did not hear him say “I made it happen.” Perhaps that is why something did happen.

faisal.kapadia

Faisal Kapadia

A Karachi based writer who blogs at deadpanthoughts.com and tweets @faisalkapadia (twitter.com/faisalkapadia)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.