Live and Happening

Debarati Palit Singh
Saturday, 17 February 2018

We are now ‘networked’ more than ever, trawling the net, and swiping the smartphone to know ‘what’s up with the world?’ Debarati Palit Singh talks to social media users across generations to find out what’s keeping them hooked

If you tell your life’s story through a series of pictures, then you must be in your early 20s.
If your child’s school grades, classwork, homework and extracurricular activities are keeping you glued to your screen, well, then you are in your late 30s or early 40s.
If you are constantly updating your work profile on social media networking sites, then you must be in your mid-30s.
And if you are keeping late nights, rising early, using your phone to check what’s happening in the life of your kids and grandkids, well, the curious cat has bit you in your 60s and 70s.
To sum up, this is how the young, old and middle-aged India are using social media — a nomenclature which wasn’t known until a few years ago.

The circle of influence
In the last decade, the advancement of smartphone technology has changed the way society functions. Who calls their siblings anymore? We text, greet each other, inquire after each other on dedicated WhatsApp groups. There’s one for family, one for school buddies, another for collegemates, and yet another one for gym partners, office colleagues and so on.
So WhatsApp has a family touch; LinkedIn is to network and further your career prospects; Instagram and Facebook show off your glossiest moments from travels, to fine dining and your creative pursuits. You tweet to show that you know!
Imagine how easy it’s become to know what’s happening on the other side of the globe — reading, watching videos of events as they happen, real time. We read opinions of leaders, actors, experts, sports persons on Twitter and Facebook — without any filtering agency.

So many applications, but people joining them, have one single pursuit — to increase their circle of influence. Explaining the concept, Richa Singh, co-founder, Blogchatter and social media expert, says, “For everyone, social media means enhancing your circle of influence. This circle of influence varies from person to person. A 17-year-old tells his peer group, via his pictures and posts, ‘I have a better social life than you’. People in their 20s want to communicate to others that they are financially independent or settled. The keyword for them is ‘settled’ and that’s the picture they want to project on social media.”

My life, my pictures
Statistics suggest that teenagers and those in their early 20s are the most active users of social media. Therefore researchers are interested in studying how the medium impacts them. Several studies have revealed that though the medium plays a vital role in broadening this group’s social connections and learning technical skills, it also holds great risks due to lack of self-regulation and falling prey to peer pressure. A case in point — the Blue Whale challenge ended up taking several young lives.

The apps that this generation is inclined to use the most are Instagram and Snapchat. Says Singh, “The youth like sharing events and achievements in their life through pictures and images. Hence their preferred mediums are Instagram and Snapchat, and not Facebook.”
“The reason I have invested in a good quality smartphone is because I wanted good quality pictures. I keep my friends updated about what’s going on in my life via photos,” adds 21-year-old Akshata Jadhav.

Siddharth Damle, a Third Year engineering student, says that he spends 90 per cent of his time checking and uploading stuff on social media. “From uploading pictures to making friends, I use it for everything. I am into bird photography and I upload my pictures on Instagram and Facebook. Without these platforms, I wouldn’t have been able to share my passion with a wider world,” he explains.

Been there, done that
Millennials make the most widespread use of the various mediums — they keep themselves updated by reading news, views, opinions, etc. They use the apps to keep in touch with friends and families. Social media has also become a tool to climb up the professional ladder.
Priyabrata Ghosh, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, uses the various apps to stay connected. “I am more active on WhatsApp and Facebook. I am now connected with my extended family, which was otherwise not possible. We have groups from both my paternal and maternal sides of the family and we can keep track of what’s happening in each others’ lives. It makes a lot of difference to know that our families are by our side, even if it’s in the virtual world.”

Marketing executive Manisha Dubey is keen to leverage her career growth through the job platforms. Says the 30-year-old, “I keep updating about my professional life and people know the kind of work that I am doing. If a company wants to approach, it can be done easily. I also do half of my work through WhatsApp. It’s easy and quick.”

Curiously, the 30s group also faces an ‘existential crisis’ when it comes to their equation with social media platforms. “Some of them are married/ unmarried, with/ without kids. They are the ones who want to go off social media. They have reached a point where they have been there, done that and now they don’t know what they are doing on social media,” points out Singh.

The ones in the middle
This is the generation which didn’t have access to social media when they were growing up. “They were introduced to the medium when they entered their 40s. As far as their behaviour pattern on these sites is concerned, it’s more like a 17-year-old with a new phone. They are keen to learn more and connect with others,” adds Singh.

But unlike teenagers, this age group uses the medium more responsibly. Naveen K, who is in the Indian Army, says, “My work is such that I do not get time to keep track of my child’s education physically. But I can at least keep myself in the loop via WhatsApp and video chats. I know what’s happening in his school and class. So when I am home, I can help him with his studies.”

He is also a member of the WhatsApp group for parents, whose kids study in the same class, in which different study patterns are discussed. “The present education system isn’t enough to secure a better career or life for our kids. As parents, we have to take initiative to help them learn a lot more, beyond the school text,” he adds.

Old and cool
Many older people in their 60s and 70s, post retirement, have dedicated most of their time to social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. For them, it’s been a whole new world and they are still learning the little tricks here and there. Until a few decades ago, the older generation complained about how they couldn’t find a common ground with the youngsters in their families. But that’s not the case anymore. Bappi Das, who is 69, started using WhatsApp one year ago. Now, he is completely hooked to it. “When I was told about Facebook and WhatsApp, I was apprehensive about using them. But once I did, I realised that the medium is so interesting! It has helped me understand my son better. We have common topics to chat about like what’s trending in state politics, the business scenario, sports, etc.”

Prasunkanti Majumdar, 74, is up till 4 am everyday to check his Facebook and WhatsApp accounts. “My family complains that I am losing out on rest. But I am enjoying myself; I am learning new things. I have found friends, with whom I lost touch, decades ago. I have a great interest in politics and sometimes I come across posts which open a whole new perspective about the subject, which daily newspapers and news channels fail to provide. Reading these posts, commenting on them, understanding them is quite enjoyable,” he adds.

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