When tweeting turns compulsive

US President Barack Obama’s logic, “You can’t have a hundred per cent privacy and a hundred per cent security,” in response to an outcry over snooping by intelligence agencies, is hard to rebut. But with this ‘culture of disclosure’, that the social media has spawned, sleuths must be smiling all the way to the tapping centres! Not just political leaders and high profile professionals – even ordinary citizens the world over are ready, willing and able to put out everything that’s on their mind out in the public domain. Not just where they stand on burning issues but what they are up to, what they are planning – to eat, to buy, to say, to read, to not read, to do over the weekend. We’ve already seen marriage proposals and acceptances tweeted. I shudder to imagine what’s next – crime confessions? Mark my words, that day is not too distant; and who knows, may even overtake the publication of this column. At this rate, after mourning the exit of the good old telegram, we may soon have to kiss our polygraph machines goodbye! As users, many of us seem to have got so carried away by the medium and often so addicted to it, that we are unable to draw the line between what is fit and relevant for public consumption and what you should be telling only your family members.

Whenever I log on to Facebook and particularly Twitter, I’m stumped by the ‘amazing pace’ of updates by users. Some of them seem to be only tweeting at work. I’ve heard of HR departments clamping down on the use of the social media during working hours (with the exception of the media industry where its use probably ought to be a parameter for annual appraisals!) But I’m in the process of scouting for credible research on the impact of the social media on the productivity of the work force. With the functional privacy mobile phones afford, tweeting on how boring your boss is, bang in the middle of a conference or meeting or presentation, has now become quite common. The good thing is that people are reading a lot more, what with every media house worth its iodized salt, tweeting links to stories. Now this is what I’m curious about. I remember seeing Twitter handles that have been around for a couple of years, clocking about a lakh tweets. Of course, that may include a sizable chunk of retweets. But the tally also has comments on news stories, which calls for more time consumption. Do the math. About a lakh tweets, in say three years, works out to about 100 tweets a day. If it’s during office hours (unless you are in a 7000 strong social media team for a mass political leader) what’s the approximate time spent on tweeting and what would be the levels of concentration and focus at work? And we are constantly reminded about burnout in India Inc. And what about the environmental impact in terms of power for servers at twitter and so on? A good subject for doctoral research?

My other major concern continues to be the impact of the social media on the language we use. The advent of SMS lingo still has English teachers fuming everyday. I’ve seen formal business proposals with requests to “PFA prop. Plz rply. Tx”. That’s a separate issue. Twitter, with the anonymity it gifts trolls, has exposed the poor vocabulary of many users whose language has become so coarse. If these users cannot stomach a contrarian view in a polarised world, how about a cold shower instead of showering abuses on others? The mature stance of President Obama comes to my mind. In his 2008 victory speech, the sentence “I will listen to you especially when we disagree,” still rings in my ears. How I wish we had the fiercest debates but dignified rebuttal on the social media. Wishful thinking, right?

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