The digital age through the internet has rearranged the rules of order and that has enabled the human being to become a superhuman in the social media sphere and quite frankly, some governments are quite uncomfortable about this. Why might you ask? Because governments want to control and although this isn’t something new, the information domain has mutated and has become a contested area inducing change, from social engineering to social architecture of our physical environment and to our attitude and behaviour. The word government should tie quite nicely into this, because for as much as we’ve heard it, said it and used the name without giving it a second thought, its meaning should be clarified. When we think about the word ‘government’, it’s actually derived from the latin verb guverno “to control” and the noun mens meaning “mind” – To control the mind. What is interesting is that the information environment has become a battle ground for ideas and opinions and since the inception of the internet, the digital arena has become a perpetual non-linear battlefield. This dynamic has become a melting pot for all sorts of influence activities, which has rearranged the way we perceive and form opinions based on the information that we receive. In fact we receive information at a much faster and varied pace, which doesn’t leave room for mental absorption, but constant psychological conditioning through change and acceleration.
So where does the cultural aspect come into this? Since our birth, we go through enculturation (the process of assimilating new ideas into an existing cognitive structure) and through acculturation (the adoption of the behaviour patterns of the surrounding culture). This process has survived for thousands of years through constant interaction, travel, trade, languages, intermarriage and wars to name but a few. However, the information environment has brought significant change, which has altered the way that we think and absorb information. In the West, the variety of choice on offer has for example made some of our generation or millennials unable to make decisions. Making decisions is a key part of our life and functionality and nowhere is it more important than living in a conflict zone. Perhaps the term ‘silent majority’ rings the tone of familiarity.
This can be attributed to the current dilemma Afghanistan is currently in, where the population believes in the ‘system of government’ and at the same time doesn’t support the Taliban or what they stand for, which they’ve been hedge betting for the most part of a decade. Obviously there are some good reasons not to blame them, as there are some good reasons to blame them on the other end of the scale.
I think being the silent majority is a terrible position or state to be in, when so many crucial things are at stake. For example, for the sake of survival, the population procrastinate in choosing which way to go and try and survive as best as they can, by avoiding any form of psychological or physical harm. Whether they are conscious of the fact that they’ve given up much of their liberties in order to have security remains to be seen, as to how far they will give up their liberties, aspirations, hope or any other trait that distinguishes us humans being at our best, will be seen sooner or later. But one casualty is never accounted for, and that casualty is the culture of a country that is more often overlooked and underestimated time and again. Infrastructure can be rebuilt, institutions can be reopened, but its the culture that suffers the most and takes the longest to recover. As Edward B. Tyler said, «That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society». If this is true, then we can say that communication and culture are intertwined and in our era, hard to separate. They are very much part of our physical, psychological and ever widening identification.
Did this happen by accident or did the media landscape have something to do with this?
The facts point to the period after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, when the US led coalition quickly moved to bring stability by disarming the various factions and warlords in exchange for money and power, so that they don’t tear each other apart. After this was mainly achieved over a period of 6-7 years, the power brokers used their new found wealth to acquire their own media platforms and to use their privately owned TV channels, radio stations and print media to consolidate their position, maintain their relevance, push their agenda and use cultural nuances through their narrative, to strengthen their position, by creating divisions amongst different ethnicities and fomenting age old tribal tensions. So tribalism was back on the menu, bigger and badder and in a different way. Therefore, half of a concept of Maximilien Robespierre came into fruition: «The secret to tyranny is in keeping people ignorant». In fact, the country continued tribalism and hence elsewhere around the world, little tribes and tribalism emerged in parts of the West opposing their country’s acceptance of immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa, traveling to those countries in search of a batter and peaceful life. Meanwhile, the media with all its might exploited this issue and made those ‘insignificant little men’ behind computers with nothing significant to do, into ʽsupermenʼ or digital warlords overshadowing blog spheres, Twitter and Facebook as well as having their comments shared and commented on (regardless of their positivity or negativity). Hence, the replies, tweets or any other messages that were shared, enabled the source to achieve their intent and capture the social media landscape through their involvement. They were no longer little nor were they insignificant anymore.
Nothing was more potent than violence on the internet and with the added clash of cultures/religion, sharing messages and videos by users amplified this monster and perpetuated this violence to another level. Naturally this will have an effect on the minds of people interacting on those sites and automatically takes this to another dimension, where governments, security agencies and other actors try and find ways or ‘patternsʼ to understand this phenomenon and subconsciously ‘control itʼ, as it is very uncomfortable for the establishment to see ‘not just somethingʼ, but anything regardless of its significance in perpetual motion. The sad thing is that while the media platforms continued and still continue to exploit just about anything/anywhere to capture the public’s imagination, unfortunately the military followed suit and felt obliged to react to its enemy’s activities, without carefully considering the undesired effects of exploiting the bad actions of its adversary, which may play into it’s hands of having its actions amplified and in some respect directly/indirectly overestimating the dangers it poses. This is where the classroom discipline and the workshops conducted at the military academy was thrown out of the window and ʽreflex warfareʼ was employed to tackle the enemy. In other words, command and control mutated into ʽcontrol and commandʼ – a seismic difference.
For as much as the information environment, especially the internet has and will continue to benefit society in a significant and exponentially way, it will also continue to hurt it and set us on the road to uncertainty, indecision and with plenty of hate and frustration. In fact the internet or specifically social media has become a ʽhateful placeʼ. Whether this was intentional or was propagated after its inception as the ʽoffspringʼ of a product, which was meant to inform and educate us, has certainly shown that it has an ugly side too.
However, the internet is an abyss of freedom of expression and no matter what, embracing it will continue to enlighten us, encourage our participation, question opinions and sharing our knowledge. It is the society that Robespierre might have imagined regarding education and freedom, presenting us with interconnectivity and acquaintance, shaping our global community and introducing the true globalisation of culture and communication. We’ve heard about the economy, international trade, political dynamics, freedom of movement, human rights, immigration and war, but look no further, as our lives are shaped and affected in such a way through technology, that very few dreamt of such effectiveness of this magnitude, indeed such potential. So welcome to a global culture through communication and information technology, where our spirit and determination, instinctive aspirations and perpetual evolution, will continue to break new boundaries. We don’t speak of it or hear of it, but we can’t wait for it…..because it’s in our nature!