Human or Humanoid? Who Am I and Am I Me?

How do I know who am I and am I me? Usernames, passwords, passwords for passwords, and passwords for remembering passwords have usurped my identity. The OTPs—one time passwords—make me look like an all time fool. But I console myself that my enemy has a constantly constipated look, not finding any password even for passing the wind. As I can’t bypass, and pass out many a times living by the leave of passwords, I wonder whether I will need a password to pass away.

Negotiating the maze of passwords transports me to the secret world of deciphering complex codes—and I live my adolescent fantasy of Sherlock Holmes’ cloak and dagger life. Attired in his trademark hat and overcoat, and smoke oozing from the curvaceous pipe, I follow the fugitives in the foggy eerie nights in London’s dark slippery streets shrouded in sinister shadows. Life is spooky—Corona or no Corona.

The toll-free number too takes its toll—“Please wait, you are in the queue… Kripaya intezaar karen, aap katar main hain…”. After waiting for the Godot, when I get connected—I am coaxed into playing a numbers game. For a 3 years old seeking electronic adventure—pushing 1 till 9 and hearing humourless recording over n over again could be thrilling. For me—having pushed luck all my life—it is the endgame. “For English push 1, Hindi me jankaari ke liye 2 dabayen”—whispers a melodiously morbid and monotonous voice. Whatever number I push, I hear what I don’t want to. I go on fishing from 1 to 9 till eternity—only to get disconnected. I repeat the cycle with sadistic pleasure yearning to hear—“Ab aap apna aur saamne wali ka gala dabayen… Now strangulate yourself and the woman at the other end”(men always put women in the firing line). Customer delight or customer fright? It’s death—digit by digit. One resigns, reclines, n recites:

“उम्र ए दराज़ मांग कर लायी थी चार दिन, 

दो आरजू में कट गए, दो  इंतज़ार में…”*

(I begged four days from life, 

Two I lost in longing, two in waiting…)

*Couplet by Seemab Akbarabadi

 While Corona kills—the sinners and the saintly, the gadfly and the godly—all are perpetually online. Appropriate all the inappropriate Apps—these are abundant and free. Tweet taunts and tantrums or face-off on Facebook; be an instant hit on Insta by posting the latest pics in bikini with a bunny or do Zumba on Zoom; endlessly forward ‘gyaan’ on WhatsApp making friends n foes writhe, wince n weep or be a darling dude on YouTube—you never lack social media choices. First these ‘apes’ tempt n lure, then they coax n cajole. Coercion from the likes of ‘WhatsApe’ apart, we continue to fall and remain in their trap for FOMO—fear of missing out. We can’t shake these monkeys off our backs.

Even emotions are electronic. Emojis express it all—anger or anxiety, love or lie, smirk or smile. Forget the back-slapping bonhomie—one can go hug a pillar.

The unescapable World Wide Web, Goggle’s googlies, and the machines on our palms, laps and desks manipulate us to download miracles, mischiefs n miseries without measure. WWW answers all our Whats Whys n Whos whenever we plunge into this unfathomable ocean. We wish to find one tiny pearl of wisdom, and it places millions on our palms—we don’t know where to begin and where to end. The plethora of goodies so confuse n confound that one leaves the humongous store without robbing it.

Bored with your life on this earth and on the web? You can live it up in an online “Second Life”. Then there is the Dark Web, which offers you A to Z of the ugly and the illegal—from arms and drugs to thugs. You are a nut case to enter it, and a gone case once into it.

The email story is astounding. We don’t talk or walk, we email—children email parents sitting in the same room, colleagues email each other from adjacent cubicles. We are so scared of others and ourselves that we put everything on instant electronic record. Hail email—it won’t fail, has a trailing tail.

As Ambani urges us to “Karlo Duniya Muthhi Me”—hold the world in your palm, and we ‘rely’ upon him to “Jio” (live) a life of ‘mobile’ dreams, life for most remains a static nightmare.

The binary life—can we ever escape its tentacles? Can we live a life of our own ever again? Digital life is relentlessly marketed and sold to us where we must have it all, else we are nothing. A perfect 1 or 0—everything in-between is meaningless, mundane, and oh…so middle-class.

Caught between being a human and a humanoid, I ask myself—who am I and am I me?

Image: pxfuel.com

social media internet-pxfuel.com

Is Social Media Turning Us into Zombies?

My following article (titled as above) was published in The Deccan Herald, Bangalore on 28.9.2020. Link:

https://epaper.deccanherald.com/Home/ShareArticle?OrgId=28999f660bc&imageview=0

Article reproduced below:

The hard-hitting documentary trending on Netflix—“The Social Dilemma”—begins with eerie music and a chilling quote that alludes to social media as a curse. In this, several executives who held top positions in social media companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter warn about the existential crisis caused by these manipulative organizations.

It hits us hard with several facts we are unaware of, or continue to ignore. The covert aim of the ‘free’ platforms is to monetise the social media use. They constantly track, collect, and analyse data on every facet of our lives. The advertisers on the social media misuse this data to predict and influence buyers’ behaviour. We, the unaware users, are the products being bought and sold. It is a market trading in “human futures”.

Social media companies treat people as specimens. They deploy experimental tools such as Persuasion Psychology, Growth Hacking, and A/B testing to manipulate behaviour at the subliminal level for multiplying users and their engagement. The social networks lure, push, pull, and even annoy us into doing what they want. These platforms programme our preferences for people, places, and pleasures. They seduce us to buy a product or service which we never wanted. These networks decide how should we live. 

Social media companies exploit social, biological, and evolutionary instincts, and pander to our ‘reward/approval seeking’ tendency. They keep nudging us to ‘like’, check, chat, comment, view, share—the list is endless. We have moved away from user-driven tool-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation-oriented system. This dopamine releasing drug turns us into addicts and morphs us into zombies and robots.

Social media pandemic has permeated our psyches and penetrated our lives. It has entered our bedrooms and invaded our boardrooms. It tempts us while we sleep, lounges with us in our living rooms, dines with us, and accompanies us to toilet. This pest drives out with us, and sits on our shoulders in school, office, and parties. The fake forces us to forget family and friends. Social media has appropriated our essential resources: time, mind, and free will for making intelligent choices. 

Social media exploits human weaknesses, conditions people, and causes depression. Children and young-adults suffer most—they stay glued to screens for hours, seeking self-worth from pseudo social approval. This self-deception disillusions and disorients. An increasing number of pre-teens and teens are harming and killing themselves after getting hooked to social media.

The agony and insanity caused by manipulation of our minds and behaviour by social media come alive in “The Scream” painted by Edvard Munch, which i have posted here.                

Unlike Wikipedia, social media tells different versions of truth to different people. It changes the reality based on which we act. These platforms create and disseminate fake news. They spread conspiracy theories which can influence elections, create social unrests, and destabilise democracies. To achieve such results through social networking sites is easy because they are fast, cheap, and effective. Social media has circulated claims, counter claims, and lies about Covid-19 pandemic, Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and climate change. Fake news spreads faster and generates more money for social media companies.

Social media is dangerous because the advances in this technology are exponential as compared to evolution of the human mind. Powered by artificial intelligence, this has become an existential threat for the humanity because of its ability to bring out the worst in society. 

Why is it difficult to shake the monkey off our backs? The documentary answers: it gives us both—Utopia and Dystopia. Social media is an enormous problem, but it has made significant contributions. It is neither possible nor advisable to shut off this engine. Yet serious considerations of ethics, conscience, and humanity remain. The social networks are changing who we are. This raises grave questions for civilisation, and our present and future. 

The crux is the manner in which social media companies earn. Making money is not immoral, but manipulation is. Companies are acting as de facto governments. Stringent laws govern harmful businesses such as illegal drugs, human trafficking, and trading in human organs. Then why not laws for these social media companies which manipulate our minds? 

The responsibility to correct this state of affairs lies with these companies, the governments, the civil society, and the individuals.

These platforms must self-regulate and operate with ethics. They have to dump their manipulative tactics and technologies. This is their responsibility because they created them.

Governments need to regulate the social media platforms with strict laws, penalties, and punishments. The civil society can debate, generate awareness, and engage with these platforms, governments, and public for creating collective will for reforms.

As individuals we must say ‘NO’, and demand that these technologies do not treat us as lab-rats and manipulate us. We have to switch off notifications, remove unwanted apps, and limit screen time for ourselves and our children. Most designers of social media either do not allow, or give limited supervised social media access to their children. We better exercise our mind, will, and choice.

Social media is a problem that needs a solution. The answer lies not in destroying these platforms, but in reforming them. We have to control these controllers. We can’t allow them to hack our happiness. Smart phones are making us phoney. The social media is changing us into anti-social. We have to stop this.

https://epaper.deccanherald.com/Home/ShareArticle?OrgId=28999f660bc&imageview=0