Jyoti Kamal has now seen the constant swing of human enterprise and the shifting mosaic of human behavior as a journalist for over 11 years. From print media to electronic media its been a journey seeking answers to an ever increasing number of questions and the quest remains far from being anywhere near fulfilled. On this journey there have been countless incidents where journalism has snapped eyes open wide. From being part of the academic environment at MICA to the beginning of professional journalism with The Times of India, moving on to The Indian Express and then the launch of The Economic Times in Chandigarh and on to the diverse platforms of Network 18 and being a part of the IBN launch team, exposure to information mediation has been intense. Jyoti Kamal is Chief of Bureau at Chandigarh and reports from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh for the Network. He lives in the wonderful city of Chandigarh with his wife Shiv and son Atharv.
Haven't we always talked about things with people we know and sometimes with people we don't know that well? Isn't that what being human is all about? Isn't that what has propelled civilisation forward - by allowing millions and billions of us to exchange thoughts, views, opinions, gossip and conversation? Isn't that what has been the next brilliant paradigm of evolution after the marvel of instinctual learning and behaviour?
Should what you talk with your friends be monitored? Should what you think about any person, idea, thought or feeling be something that you cannot talk about with someone you choose to? Should what you want to share with your parents, your friends, your children or for that matter anyone you care to have a conversation with, be censored? Or, should you be told to stop communicating?
That we humans can converse and process thoughts and ideas in our minds, good or bad, that we can debate them with each other and with ourselves, is just what has contributed immensely to individual, collective and shared learning. Our understanding of the world we live in is growing exponentially because we can talk and share, because we can communicate immense amounts of information. And this learning is vital to our survival as a species. It is vital for our form of life, the highest form of complexity known in the universe. It is essential to generate more complexity, and sometimes simplicity, through sharing of ideas.
We all know that, so what exactly is the point here? Well, it is that over the past few months, there have been constant attempts to interfere with this process, to tamper with it.
For thousands of years, or maybe forever, we have been doing this communicating bit with words, with language, vocal sounds that float in the air, eventually reaching our ears. We could do this over whispers (short distances) or shouts (long distances). And then we got to writing and communicating through it. And now we do it through 0s and 1s in the digital format. Through new modes of communication, we do it over a distance, we do it real time, we can do it all the time - Facebook, google, yahoo, youtube, twitter and all the other media of today's communication.
So, how can a top-down diktat or even the thoughts of a few hallowed individuals in black robes or white kurtas, or maybe safari suits, decide on a paradigm of evolution and try and say that social media needs to monitored, curtailed and censored?
How dare a few ordinary mortals like you and me, who just happen to be in certain positions of influence, try to decide what you and me can talk about, think about, share, communicate and debate? How dare someone, anyone, suggest that social media be restrained? Restrained? Restrained from doing what? The most basic and the most primal act of life - communicate? How dare the thought of intervening arise?
What is social media? Social media is SOCIAL media, the media of you and me, the mechanism of communication that we have developed. You choose what you want to access just as you choose the people you want to be with in life. You overhear conversation at a bus stand or an airport or a coffee shop and you perhaps over-see (a different word from oversee!) ideas accidentally on a page that you didn't mean to see. It's your choice to act on the information that creeps into your mind. Act, reject, object, suggest, project, it's all up to you. You decide what you want to do with the ideas which get into your mind. But to say that ideas should not be created in the first place, that they should not have the opportunity to get into your mind is being restrictive, coercive and hugely undemocratic.
We cannot, should not and must not let any government, individual, group or entity try and restrain this most basic of rights - the right to communicate. Without dialogue, without sharing of ideas, without free thought, we would be shackled. There would be no upward trajectory in human life. We cannot allow that to happen.
Haven't you got irritated with spam on Facebook and blocked those spam senders? Haven't you got irritated with friends posting things you don't have any need for? Haven't you been able to hide their posts? It's your choice. And that choice should remain with you. No one else can decide it for you. Good or bad. The choice is yours. Nature has its own statistical ways of regulating and averaging out. Nature is an experiment. Life is an experiment of evolution - to try something and see if it works. If it does, accept it, improve it. If it does not, re-engineer it. If it still does not, reject it. That's how through constant trial and error, through constant experimentation, we have come to this stage where things, we are now thinking about, matter. Experimentation is vital. And so is idea sharing - on these new digital modes of expression and maybe even newer modes that are emerging.
Social media, again, is social media. It is not television, it is not print, it is not a one-way broadcast, it is not an online newspaper, it is social. It is societal expression happening through digital bits and bytes. It is the new level to which life has sprung and is gathering force from. It is from here that we will make our next leap. We can't and we should not restrain it. Ministers are ministers, not demigods to decide and suggest regulation. Trying to apply archaic laws of a bygone era to an entirely new mode of communication is pretty dumb.
As they say, weapons don't kill people. People kill people. So we say social media doesn't cause any trouble, people cause trouble. And when people cause trouble, there are ways of handling it. And people are complex and so are the ways of handling them. Let us not go for the standard top-down simplistic solutions of putting curbs on social media by trying to tighten screws on their business or try to curb crime by saying black films on car windows are dangerous even while politicians and self-glorifying, self-seeking people of influence continue to flout the very same rules under the garb of security concerns and go about in cars with jet black films pasted on their windows. Very often, odd looking curtains are found in place of window films.
We can't have houses made of transparent glass because we worry a crime can happen behind brick walls...and by the way...how many cars are there on India's roads? How many have tinted glass and how many incidents of the tinted glass being the direct reason for a crime have been identified? Without these figures and without a logical debate on the issue, how can a blanket order be passed? How really? Two issues are getting mixed up here but the bottomline is the same.
Unthinking, simplistic, top-down orders of control can be dangerous to our way of life, can be dangerous to a free society, can be a threat to democracy. So for heaven's sake, debate and think things through. I maybe wrong but I have the right to say what I feel. And you have the right to reject what I felt. But no one has the right to intervene in this process.
I asked how dare someone question social media. I am wrong. It is a thought and the thought should be allowed. But the mere thought cannot become ground for action. In a top-down system of governance, that possibility exists. And that possibility needs a challenge. From you and from me.