The Puzzled Zombie Awakens

05 Oct,2021

 

By Shashidhar Nanjundaiah

 

Shashidhar Nanjundaiah“So, you’re finally looking at my LinkedIn posts!” said an email subject line today. As unusual as it was, its linkage to the world’s biggest incident of the day was clear: After every Facebook-owned platform faced an outage for more than six hours, it felt like the world had come to a standstill. But when I run out of cookies in the kitchen at stealthy midnights, I invade the humble peanut jar. LinkedIn must have basked in surprise surge today as Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus fell victim to a massive outage after-as The Verge explains-Facebook’s border gateway protocol routes, which help networks pick the best path to deliver internet traffic, were suddenly “withdrawn from the internet”. The outage happened around 12 pm New York time, which is 9:30 pm IST, so the impact was understandably somewhat muffled, except for the usual night owls.

 

It was “seize the day” time for many marketers who depend on social media platforms. Many parallel platforms promised better service. Some derived metaphors and allegories in their advice: “You should diversify your social media apps to stay connected. Similarly when it comes to investment you should diversify between equity, bonds, gold, international equity etc.”

 

“My tip for you now is to take these 5 minutes and think about what you were going to post or what you were going to send and ask yourself, ‘what is the purpose?’”

 

Some advice was the more familiar variety: “I am writing this while looking out of the window and the rain is torrential. So, I suggest we all look for a rainbow.”

 

Some betrayed their schadenfreude, penning ungrammatical delight at what was surely Mark Zuckerberg’s downfall, right?

 

And while on social media about social media, can conspiracy theories be far behind—and worse, how do we know they are conspiracy theories—about internal sabotage due to the whistleblower on CBS “60 Minutes”?

 

It would be fallacious to assume that people were merely capitalizing on the outage by using alternative platforms, or wallowing in ennui while missing their favourite meme from their politically charged group leaders, or doing a primal scream because they didn’t know what their fave Insta influencer was doing, or feeling helpless because their timed marketing campaigns didn’t take off. Marketing campaigns can mostly wait, but our dependence on seamless communication can’t. In India, these days, many businesses communicate with their customers officially on WhatsApp. (If you don’t have a smart phone, well, you shouldn’t seize the privilege of doing business that depends on your smart phone, right?)

 

Constant communication has become an integral part of conducting business because it is a world of mutual surveillance between us and them, thanks to the media. Indeed, a researcher says, today’s media survives on mutual surveillance. Only a few hours before this social media apocalypse, a friend told me, he had met a senior editor who was working through their meeting—on WhatsApp.  In India, we see that phenomenon all the time. Social media has made work so portable that we carry our work on our smartphones even to casual meetings. Our social media dependency—a theory that claims that we learn about our world from the social media—runs far deeper than its self-conferred role of connection and communication, or, as its marketers hope, constancy of engagement.

 

Media scholars over the past decade have been busy writing about mediatization: One of my favourite books from the past decade is Media Life by Mark Deuze, who argues that we’re all like zombies, neither alive nor dead. We are inseparable from the media—we no longer merely “use” the media, and the media no longer “influences” us because we have integrated ourselves so much, both “immediatising” and immortalising our lived experience, while media itself becomes ever-evolving at our hands.

 

That part is true about social media. It is constantly evolving because we’re constantly morphing it. And social media is right at the centre between the mainstream and the media prosumer—it is the amphibious media crucible where the prosumer constantly adds new stuff, constantly stirring the pot to make facts and misinformation indistinguishable. Little did scholars like Deuze know our lives would be so much more mediatized today, thanks to the pandemic—a mediated pandemic, I call it, so much are we dependent on our media to inform us about the pandemic. Over the past eighteen months or so, we have grown uncomfortably accustomed to staying virtually connected while staying physically disconnected.

 

When that constancy breaks, it’s time for the zombie to wake up.

 

Shashidhar Nanjundaiah has been a senior journalist and headed schools of journalism and media in India. Currently, as a research scholar based in the United States, he feels the need for better news literacy especially among younger audiences. 

 

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