Strange ways of the social sapiens

Strange ways of the social sapiens

Strange ways of the social sapiens

Rahul Bhandari, IAS

I remember one evening when I got a call from a friend in Punjab, who to my pleasant surprise, happened to be in Delhi. Pleasantries were exchanged, good memories evoked and a visiting time was fixed, with the domestic help being instructed to whip up some snacks for the guest.

I shot off a quick text to the missus and we sat together waiting for our guest to arrive, reminiscing meanwhile about the good times spent in Punjab, before our posting to Delhi. Under ordinary circumstances, it is deemed normal for a guest to seek the restroom on entry, but imagine my plight when my guest barged in, and with a sense of extreme urgency, requested access to my desktop and internet connection. For the next hour, we sat waiting in the lounge, where all we could hear was the occasional clicking of the mouse. Soggy pakoras and cold tea reflected the tension in the room, and finally, I could take it no more. The Indian Guest Code had been violated, and curiosity got the better of me.

I walked over to the room, anticipating some important conference that had perhaps come up or an important document that required submission. What I saw, however, left me stumped, for here we were, waiting hand and foot for our guest, whereas he was glued to a social media site with rapt attention. My initial indignation gave way to realisation, when I finally came to understand the precedence of social media over real physical interactions.

These creatures, better known as “social sapiens”, according to our household taxonomic classification, derive a sense of comfort in bombarding their social media profiles with hourly updates.

And if this was not enough, you have those who choose to engage on such posts. And what starts as a mere comment, ends up becoming a full chat session, one that is public and with a conversation back and forth, an endless cycle of comments and replies.

A recent meet-up with an old acquaintance invoked the Marx in me and brought out the bourgeoisie-proletariat dilemma for when asked what this wonderful being was up to, the reply I was presented with was one I could never have anticipated. I was handed a visiting card, where it was revealed that he was the administrator of two prominent WhatsApp groups of ‘socially important people’. The man drove authority from the power to admit and expel members, and would religiously go through the hundreds of messages, determined to ensure that his world of 250-odd members was subjected to the finest forwarded messages and nothing else. The eyestrain was a small sacrifice compared to this arduous task.

It is individuals like these that have made me rethink the Marxian dictum that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’. Perhaps! Marx ought to revise it to ‘social media is the opium of the masses’. Or there is always scope for a ‘Met Shri Karl Marx, feeling blessed!!’

The article was published in The Tribune on October 26, 2021

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