Why social media validation has ceased to matter

Musings on everyday life

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Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 31 Aug 2023, 6:18 PM

My quotidian exercise of announcing the weekend publication of my columns hardly crosses the half-a-dozen-likes mark on social media. There are no emojis of roses, claps, thumbs-ups and wows thrown in. The comment box mostly stays as an uninhibited, unexplored territory. But I don’t care a damn because file and forget was the shibboleth that ruled the old school of journalism.

There are weeks when it doesn’t even occur to me until some jobless soul somewhere messages about missing it. I would then oblige with a digital prostrate. Period. My commitment and promotions end there. There was a time I used to stand by the wayside and watch how my posts sat there like a haggard beggar on Fifth Avenue, waiting for a few cents to fall into the bowl as cold as a rock of ice. At the end of the day, some acquaintances like Anamika or Karen would throw in some feel-good words that would see me endure the freezing night.

Then the season changed. There was a spring in my heart and a spring in my step. I tossed the begging bowl away and stopped counting my social media blessings. That came from the awakening that my happiness shouldn’t be tethered to any social media bar chart. I shouldn’t be dictated to, influenced or guided by social media. Happiness isn’t any elixir of life extracted by a pumpjack from the bottom of the digital tectonics. My soul is the adjudicator. It rules on my rights and wrongs, joys and sorrows. Society plays no role in my life, let alone social media.

Sadly, you are measured by the number of social media followers and the A-list of influencers who embellish your friends list. Headhunters and marriage bureaus scan these numbers. The higher the number, the higher the chance of making it to the shortlist. I have seen interviewers, in the era of Metaverse, tossing questions as silly as “Are you digital-savvy?” Who isn’t, when kids carry the iPad to primary classes?

In fact, no one is born savvy on anything until you are introduced to a topic. You acquire knowledge and cross the bridge when you get to it. It’s a known fact that wifey doesn’t understand technology, having specialised in Sanskrit, and technology has given up on her after their 35-year-long love-hate relationship. In 1989, when Windows 2.11 was launched, I was the first to buy a home computer in the Khaleej Times family, but my Daewoo machine wasn’t loaded with the Microsoft operating system. So, wifey learnt MS.DOS to operate it and taught me and a couple of friends, too. No big deal.

When we upgraded to Windows and were one of the first to sign up for Etisalat Internet service, I launched my personal website in the same year with little help from any developer. No big deal.

In 1986, when I leapfrogged from hot metal to fully computerised newspapering — a first in India — no one asked me if I was digital-savvy. We just took a plunge, learning “copy-paste” and “save-get”. Thanks to Vijaypat Singhania of JK Group, we learned the basics for almost six months before launching ourselves into a brave new world. Pssst! We even learned how to hack and enjoyed reading office love letters. We never had a tech team; our Aitex system was troubleshot online by a team sitting in Singapore. No big deal.

As one of the last men of old school standing, here and in India, we have done a great job, swimming along the current of time. I was part of the team that pioneered the computerisation and digitisation of KT. Everyone in the family, including office boys, upskilled in earnest. I had a role to play in replacing the old system in the paper I worked with in Singapore and in the meticulous implementation of the new one. No big deal.

I have seen Gen Zs who have perpetual hatred for all that looks insurmountable. Your life, and profession, are more profound than some social media likes. I have seen remarkable trajectories of some of my colleagues from prolific writers to digital leads and editors. And their virtual presence? Zilch. I don’t see my son on any social media platform. No big deal.

There was so much hype, once upon a time, about digitisation that we all feared death by defenestration. Such high-decibel cacophony meets with a sudden death when we realise the exercise was meant to serve someone’s interest. Whatever happened to the Metaverse! As one of the editors who headlined the launch of the Word Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, I must say the oldies have come a long way, with or without a million followers and likes. It was a smooth drive powered by passion. No big deal.

“Dad, stop playing those reels so loud. Baby is sleeping.” Vava raised her voice as I watched some cooking clips on Insta.

“Cooking has been globalised and simplified after social media,” I said, chuckling at the Dubai Crown Prince’s Onam post. “Hahahaha, look at this quirky post of King Mahabali swinging on Dubai Frame. Oh my God.” I almost shouted.

“Dad, can’t you hear? It isn’t easy to put a baby to sleep. If cooking is made so easy on social media, why don’t you lend a hand in the kitchen? You say you hate social media, but do you know you are a reel freak?”

“Hey, did you see this? How to sauté salad with oregano and thyme.”

“Khalli walli your reels, and khalli walli you.”


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