I received an email forward of an SMS I had originally received during the last election. It went “if pro is the opposite of con, what's the opposite of progress?” Back then, I put it through my personal content-forwarding checklist and determined that it wasn't even worth posting on Facebook, let alone Twitter, where I put forwards to a stringent quality-control test that ensures that my reputation as a cutting-edge jokester is maintained. This joke, I decided, would serve as revenge spam for those incorrigible chaps who keep forwarding me SMSes with jokes from email forwards copied from blog posts plagiarised from tweets originally crafted by Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats on Twitter).
But this message had an interesting addition at the bottom. It exhorted its readers to join a Facebook group that boldly expressed online solidarity with Anna Hazare and even claimed to keep the spirit of revolution alive, albeit through the selfless clicking of a mouse. I received another email, this one with a largish attachment that turned out to be a Che Guevara-esque image of Kisan Baburao Hazare (see how easily I Googled his name to appear knowledgeable?) that one can conveniently print on a T-shirt and wear it to office on Fridays, if HR allows collarless tees. The revolution, at least for the middle class, is often subject to corporate policy.
There is also a group of online mavens dedicated solely to making puns using the word “Anna”. The country is apparently on Anna-bolic steroids and hordes of online supporters come from the Anna-holics Anna-nymous and so on.
At the same time, there is cynicism, supposedly about the Lok Pal but in reality directed towards people enthusiastic about Anna. This gang is under the delusion that their cynicism somehow represents a moral higher ground, soaring above the sea level of naiveté like Bangalore does over Chennai. It is simply a logical extension in a predictable series of events. There is an establishment. Some people oppose it without quite understanding how things work and then a few go “haha LOL Annarchy” and laugh at the supporters. And then there are some more like me who go “haha LOL Anna cynics and Anna supporters” and write columns like this in The Hindu.
The fact is that there's really no moral difference between supporting, laughing at supporters or for that matter sitting on a cushioned fence like me. One of the unfortunate outcomes of Internet penetration is the pregnant desire to find the coolest side to take in any issue. One would think that with this much information available, folks would think through their positions on contentious issues using the merciless filter of facts. What we do instead is take the side of minimal intellectual effort and maximal social network dividend.
A good friend of mine had the most cogent thing to say about all of this. He called it the Lok Beatles – Lok John, Lok Paul, Lok George and Lok Ringo. I “liked” his joke, but that doesn't mean I don't like Anna Hazare ok? I just liked the joke. Sigh.
Keywords: Digital Natives