Imagine a scenario where you finally got the break you wanted, where you were told to not interact with people or make small talk (phew!), to stay at home in your pyjamas all day and order food online and binge that series that you started two years ago but then abandoned on a Netflix account that you’re not paying for (through your fancy blue-ray glasses, obviously).
In theory, this sounds like heaven, but after knowing what we do now, we all know that this is nothing short of a slice of a personal hell that got served to everyone on a platter this year. If 2020 had to be summed up using descriptive adjectives, the negative ones would make the cherry on top as well as the whole cake beneath it by which we wished this whole year was made of. Along with being frustrating, scary, insanity-inducing, revolutionary and of course, never-ending, the previous year also seemed to be almost entirely virtual. While the empty streets resembled the post-apocalyptic scenes in films, we experienced the world vicariously through our mobile phones, more specifically through our social media accounts. Social media is one of the first things that has come to be associated with the current era. Parents who were earlier critical about the increased exposure to the internet (admit it, it’s like a shared shared experience at this point) are now themselves extremely active on platforms like Facebook and of course, the infamous WhatsApp university. From the tortures of online university to our first culinary adventures featuring banana breads, social media made a pandemic that was inherently isolationary, a collective nightmare.
Living in the world we do (pre-covid included mostly, because it’s very easy to forget what it looked like after experiencing the fever dream of year), we did not need Kevin Werbach to tell us that “Social media has become really fundamental to the way that billions of people get information about the world and connect with each other.” Whether it be about grieving the global loss of cherished gems like Koby Bryant or Chadwick Boseman, or collectively standing up or revolutionizing the system through the black lives matter movement. The importance and influence of social media can be easily perceived by the recent need to put a ban on Trump’s access to almost all the social media platforms following the riots at the U.S capitol (ugh finally!). Social media has proven itself to be a perfect example of globalised civilization. Today, a person belonging to a privileged background in a first world country is using it to advocate for the rights of those persecuted in a third world, war-driven region while another person is enjoying the scene of a solar eclipse that is taking place halfway across the globe from them.
Through social media, the world has more or less come to realise its claim to be a singular global community with a global culture. Given that we can all thank YouTube for helping us survive that one class at school, social media has managed to redefine education. Social media picks off knowledge from where the academic institutions fall short by, for example, giving us access to those historical facts that our politicised school systems were, let’s just say, too polite to disclose. Through tutorial videos and blogs, it seems essentially impossible to not be able to learn anything you aspire to learn without having to go through the financial hassle to hire a teacher or become an apprentice. The provision of educational companies (those of the likes of UrCurriculum, of course heh) makes education more accessible, easier and financially fulfilling.
Social media gave way to learning concepts in a new, simpler way along with the practical facts that are barely taught by most education systems. Social media platforms became such a beacon of knowledge that hearing “I’m learning more from this site than I ever did from school” has become not a point of surprise but an accepted truth.
The role of social media doesn’t stop here, however. The wide use of these platforms has given birth to a global culture that is interactive and inclusive of all the culture from around the world. Through social media, the Christmas decorations aren’t only reserved for the eyes of people who celebrate it but are for the whole world to witness and so are the diyas of Diwali. Via image and video sharing, people belonging to different cultures are able to witness first hand the cultures of the people around the world, to understand their significance and learn to respect different aspects of it. It is true that, as the western world continues to dominate the soft power position in the world politics arena, the world’s culture has become increasingly saturated. Social media provides a platform cum motivation for the people to embrace and show off their own culture which can be seen through one of the TikTok trends of 2020 which required showing off one's cultural ethnic-wear. The creation of this new global, integrated structure that is inclusive of all the various cultures from around the world is what forms the global community today.
Social media is not without its woes. While it promotes education and unheard facts, it also becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fake. With the domination of first world cultures on the platforms, it is easier for other cultures to become alienated. Increasing exposure to social media has proven to be one of the leading causes of anxiety and depression amongst youngsters and so on. The lost can go on forever. But as outlined above, Social media is not without its benefits either. Along with providing an occasion to cultural and educational globalization, social media provides a podium to normalize difficult conversations like those involving mental well-being. Whatever the pros and cons (it has been debated at inter-school debates by seventh-graders enough already), it cannot be denied that social media is fundamental to this era. An idea that was started to stay connected with our loved ones has now become an important medium of cultural and educational exchange worldwide and I think that’s beautiful.