Shabdon Ki Social Factory

Spring Fever Literary Festival
Day 4

17th March, 2015
India Habitat Center


Spring Fever, the nine-day long literature festival conducted by Penguin Random House publishers at India Habitat Center, saw yet another packed crowd on its fourth day for Shabdon Ki Social Factory, a discussion on how social media has changed new writing, literature in general, and journalism.

‘Socrates once believed that the invention of writing would eventually make the people more forgetful. Literature survived. We survived. Now social media looms over us in that same degree. What happens now?’

– Yaseer Usman

The panelists for the event were (left to right) Dr Shashi Tharoor, Nidheesh Tyagi, Ashok Vajpeyi, and Pankaj Dubey. Yasser Usman moderated the talks.


The evening began with the unanimous, yet unvoiced agreement that what we now call social media is Facebook and Twitter, but not limited to these two alone. This was followed by its dissection; soon the many layers of social media was exposed to arrive at the conclusion that though there are many advantages to social media, one should always look at it critically.

Every single post on a social media is a call for debate and arguments, Ashok said. Our conversations have changed, the ways we interact have changed, but human niceties should remain. Nobody should judge another on the basis of a single post. Nobody should claim that theirs is the only truth.

Shashi Tharoor

The alchemic concoction of anonymity and the freedom of expression makes it possible for even the most polite of lads to be aggressive, on topics that they neither understand nor are interested in.

– Dr. Shashi Tharoor

What social media has created is a vast network of isolated, yet connected individuals, like sleeper cells if you will, who wake up at the onset of a bad post, or a wrong comment to wreck havoc. I have some personal experience of this, of trolls.

Tharoor nonetheless makes it a point to reply to as many tweets as he can. He is unofficially called the Twitter Minister for his impeccable presence there.

One does not need to heed everything, he added. It is a very interactive medium, not a broadcast medium. I like to think of social media as a vast public square where you bump into all kinds of people. There is no need to get upset over minor quarrels.

To the question ‘has social media changed Tharoor’s writing?’ he said that it has certainly taken away a lot of his time, time that he could have otherwise dedicated to writing. He also pointed out that our attention span has decreased considerably with the advent of social media. Or is it the other way around? Is social media is result of our reduced attention span, he left that unanswered. It is the era of the instant and social media seems to capture this brilliantly.

Nidheesh argued that social media to Indians is not new. He explained how in the early years a dhobi would trigger a conversation within the society which then would go on to the extent that an agni-pariksha was called for.

He feels that social media is more a boon than curse for many reasons; one of this being the ease with which one can search for information or find out what is happening elsewhere – the instantaneousness of it.

Ashok Vajpeyi thought differently. He reflected on the many treasures of languages in India that now have no room or scope for usage because of social media. It [social media], he said, has become a tool for giving out information. It is just that. It does not evoke the same emotion, the many memories that resonate with a word. He hopes that there would still be a part of literature that is left untouched by social media.

DSC_0054

Literature should be to make the reader understand the depth and corners of the World. It should not for the ease of anyone, simply it.

– Ashok Vajpeyi

Coming back to the topic of writing, Nidheesh pointed out that social media has worked miracles for Urdu. Apparently Urdu fits nicely into a tweet and this has been recognized and utilized by BBC in their channel BBC Urdu.

Tharoor remarked on the fact that social media has genre conventions in the air, opening us new genres – short stories in 140 characters. At the end, he said, the purpose of a story is to get your imagination to provoke another’s imagination.

Pankaj further explained that social media has democratized information and the way we used to get these information. Everyone, he believes, has a right to express their opinions and social media is doing just that.

Should we control it?, asked Yaseer to which Tharoor replied that if we start controlling social media, it would soon cease to remain what it is now.

Social media could be better, he pointed out, more attuned with the sensitivities of people. It is a vehicle, society is the destination, he said concluding the discussion.

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