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Technology has been known to be one of the greatest inventions of mankind. It’s hard to imagine that just 25 years ago, we lived in an era where smartphones were not available. With technology, one could argue that it has immensely improved our lives by bringing the world closer and keeping us connected with more information. However, concerns have also risen about the harmful effects technology has on people.
One such concern was raised by Taufan Hariyadi, a veteran news journalist in Indonesia. Having spent 15 years as a journalist, the career has opened his eyes to the rapid development of social media. Through covering multiple huge events such as the presidential election, Hariyadi had noticed how the emergence of social media had aided in heated virtual discussions on the political situation in Indonesia.
“While social media used to be considered a space for everyone to share their ideas, the discussions, and debates that happen these days are not going anywhere nor fruitful. People flock to share their opinions on a certain matter, but it ends up being pointless,” Hariyadi mused. Hariyadi notes how anonymity on social media has pushed forth this trend. As compared to real-life discussions, social media has become a shield for anyone, and therefore be more relaxed on their word choices and even tone.
With fake news as a rising concern, one of the concerns is that verification of information and debate topics also become harder on social media. Hariyadi notes, “Anyone could sound like an expert if they wanted to. By providing a few sources, and sometimes, by using complex words, people are more inclined to trust these sources, even if they are fake. It also depends on the likes and shares — the more likes the posts garner, it becomes a mob mentality where people are more likely to think it’s true, in order to feel like they are part of the team.”
“But the problem is, have their sources been verified?” Hariyadi questioned, “Are they really qualified to make such claims?”
Bright Side, Dark Side
Hariyadi’s journalistic career had opened his eyes to the social media situation that is currently happening in Indonesia, or arguably, around the world. These concerns over the lack of verified information and mob mentality over the virtual internet eventually prompted him to write his new book “ Kegilaan Virtual”, known as “Virtual Madness” in English.
In his book, Hariyadi shares his perspective on how the internet has introduced a bright and dark side to the world with its emergence. With social media, internet users have an ability to make everything become a viral or trending topic. This is immensely helpful in the occasion where the public is able to urge the regulator to do something whenever a violation occurs. One such incident was in 2019, where a Japanese tourist was almost extorted IDR 1 million (USD 67.93) over a traffic violation in Bali. After uploading the video, it became viral in Indonesia, and resulted in the Indonesian police punishing the officers who went against the protocol.
However, he also noted in his book that the dark side of the internet could lead to a “filter bubble”. In reality, there is nothing wrong with having a discussion and having differing opinions, but the problem comes when these pointless heated debates result in a divided society.
“In truth, there is no one direct answer to most of the issues people debate about. These are all pressing issues that even the top world leaders are currently looking at, yet unable to solve with a direct solution. However, when it comes to virtual discussions, people are mostly fixated on their views — if I am right, that means that you’re wrong if you disagree with me.” Hariyadi notes how this could dangerously divide the society through self-righteousness, and becomes worse if it leads to identifying with a political identity.
Mentally Insecure Young Generation
Indonesia has been known as one of the social media friendly nations in the world. It was noted that between 2020 to 2021, the number of social media users had increased by 10 million (6.3%). This meant that the younger generation in Indonesia is now more connected on social media than ever before.
Besides having concerns on how social media could divide the public, Hariyadi raises larger concerns for the younger generation, who have an easier access to internet and social media as compared to the other age groups. He explains, “everyone wants to be the fastest on social media. The more they share, the more popularity they get.”
In the virtual world where happiness posted has turned into a measurement of success, teenagers are more inclined to shape their virtual lives. Given that they are in the midst of finding their own personal identity, social media may exacerbate their feelings of not living up to societal expectations. If one’s “happy” post does not garner as many likes, or couldn’t compare with their friends, they might feel as though they have lost out.
“There was this incident I saw where an Indonesian teenager had spent his vacation in Singapore. His friend had also done the same. However, when both of them posted on social media, he felt envious, thinking that his post was not good enough as compared to his friends. This led to him thinking that he should probably have spent more money on the holiday to match up.”
Hariyadi notes how this would cause an impact on the teenager’s perception of life, and an identity crisis.
How do we go from here?
The impact that social media has on the world is not a new issue, but it is definitely an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. With his book, Hariyadi acknowledges that it is impossible for us to be totally detached from social media these days. Social media, through its good and bad, has deeply changed the way we live our lives.
“The more important thing is, how do we not let technology control us?” Hariyadi shares, “Everything is at your fingertips.” It is not enough for us to say, ‘think twice before you post’, or ‘examine the source twice’. Words are easily said, but actions to be done are harder.
Reminiscing of the past where social media didn’t exist, Hariyadi speaks of the importance of teenagers upgrading themselves in skills that are not connected with technology. While technology runs pretty much the world these days, some skills are learnt best through real-life activities and disconnected from technology. This would create a balance for them in life, instead of being swallowed by technology.
Ending off, Hariyadi mentions how his book was meant to mainly give insightful thoughts on what he’d seen in the nation. He hopes for the book to be an alternative view for college students, in which they would stand up to be the next generation to offer solutions to create a more balanced future.
Leo Galuh is an Indonesian-based journalist for an analytical news service. He loves to meet people and generate ideas for stories. He believes that everyone has an inspiring story that worth reading. Leo travels a lot and always craves mouth-watering cuisine. Read more of his adventures on HalalTrip.