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January 24, 2018

Time to question


January 24, 2018

The juggernaut of social media is out there to trample down anything that comes in its way. Religion, individual lives and politics all have to contend with a very different phenomenon where truth is fluid and most often unrecognisable.

The response to this unexpected and expanding virtual vampire varies from country to country depending on their history, culture and relations between state and society. In Pakistan, we swing between two extremes – embracing everything new or banning it altogether. Such a response indicates our misconceptions about how technology shapes and reshapes the world we live in.

Banning social media or even restricting it would not serve the larger purpose of human progress. Social media has expanded the space for social interaction and has liberated people enough to express their thoughts and feelings differently. One can see jokes doing the rounds, feelings shared with friends and family and serious matters being discussed with people of diverse backgrounds round the clock. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype and other such platforms have empowered humanity to express views and emotions on both trivial things as well as issues of strategic importance. This could not have been imagined a few years ago.

Since social media is a fantastic new terrain, we will certainly have hurdles in navigating through its muddy waters. It is very difficult if not impossible to have a cake and eat it all, hence, we cannot dictate people to agree to our terms of engagement on social media. However, we can work on developing new norms that recognise others’ sensitivities without jeopardising the human urge to explore and express.

The main problem with social media is the difficulty of processing a huge flow of information and validating the credibility of the source. Since both the context and the source are either unknown or are not disclosed in the virtual world, the only viable option available for avoiding deception is to examine the evidence which, among other conditions, must meet the criteria of independent verifiability and logical coherence of the given message.

Education was supposed to create new ways of doing things and to enable people to deal effectively with emerging ethical and social problems associated with technological innovations. But the kind of education we provide to our children lacks both direction and depth. All the focus of contemporary education is on imparting job-oriented skills with little or no attention on personality development. By default or design, the curriculum followed at all levels of education predominantly reflects the capitalist model, which accords more importance to the material existence of man and disregards its moral and spiritual aspect.

What one should expect from education today, other than earning money, is to enable students to become critical of everything they see and hear. Questioning lies at the heart of true education and the capability does not come by accident.

Questioning should ideally begin at home by allowing children to examine the context in which something is said or done, and this should continue throughout one’s life. But what has been the norm in both the places where our children live and study, is an undue emphasis on conformity to traditions and a blind following of authority. The least punishment that a critical attitude generally carries is ostracism. Punishment of any kind does serve an immediate purpose but it undermines the possibilities and the capacity of people to cope with new challenges.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.

Email: [email protected]

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