The digital world is really bizarre. There are spaces of intellectual discussion on one side of Twitter, aesthetic backgrounds on a corner of Instagram and funniest memes on Reddit. The digital world that I consume on a daily basis is like a wonderful but sometimes draining environment of virtual lives.
With so many decades of Internet and social media, we are currently in a time where the digital world can be termed as a replica of the real world. It is in fact, a microcosm of everything that this planet has - thoughts, dreams, politics, activism and so on. But it is also a place where hate is built carefully, controversies are born quickly and mental health is torn apart. We are right now in a place where the digital world has developed a culture of its own.
Digital culture can be defined as the culture that is born out of interactions happening across digital platforms, which could be a reflection of what is happening in the real world or a culture that is born digitally. For example, digital shopping websites are only a replica of the brick and mortar stores. But the current trend of many Instagram filters is a production that is born out of the digital world, perhaps aiming at the insecurities of people but also just for being artistic.
What makes digital culture really interesting to me personally is to see how a hierarchy is born or maintained even in a virtual world. Consider the ban of Tik-Tok. Tik-Tok was a relatively democratic platform of content creation. With its huge list of music, easy video making and editing tools within the app, Tik-Tok was an accessible and friendly app to everyone alike. This naturally meant that the app was used by people from the less-privileged groups as well. However, quite soon, the hate on Tik-Tok began to materialize. This began with what seemed to be innocent mocking through memes and soon ended with people feeling relieved that the app is finally banned. The hate on Tik-Tok and its users go beyond simple criticism. It is in fact a reflection of the hierarchical structure within the digital world which lets the privileged subtly and not so subtly make funny remarks of the less privileged.
This hierarchy in digital cultures is particularly visible in Instagram, wherein everything has a set standard and anything that does not make it to this standard will not be accepted by the algorithm and would be forgotten in the digital world. These unrealistic standards haunt us even in the real world, which is an inverse situation of the digital world affecting the real world.
Consider a situation wherein I want to post a picture of myself. I would automatically be given options to beautify this image with filters or make it more aesthetically pleasing by changing it to monochrome. I will also have to find a caption that is catchy enough along with trending hashtags. Somehow, this aesthetic standard is a reflection of the high culture society that we refuse to see through.
William Gibson remarks, "Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical."
Thus, the very term of calling the digital world as virtual or a space that is elsewhere is no longer applicable as this space is right now interconnected to our lives so much that there is no running away from it. This is why cultures that are going on or developing in the digital world should be studied carefully.
This is also one of the reasons why responsible content creation is very important. Fake news on these digital platforms have the potential to stir up wars in this world. It can hold people against each other based on ideological differences. A good example here is of the people who believe that the earth is flat. While flat earthers have existed from a long time ago, they are gaining even more momentum by mobilising through social media. They also use social media as a tool to propagate their thoughts on their theory.
While everything boils down to the digital platforms that should be taking responsibility to ensure that the algorithms work in the right way to actually help its users rather than further polarise them, the individuals who are on this digital world also have to develop an understanding. Most of us are painfully ignorant due to our privileges that we seldom pause to think of how our actions on social media can harm others. A few years ago, a speech-impaired man had slept in the Kochi metro due to tiredness. An image was taken of him and circulated across social media claiming that he was drunk. This soon led to a lot of problems for the man and his family.
An awareness of how digital culture is and the different hierarchies within it is necessary for every user. Also, a lot of empathy should be mandatory before signing up on any digital platform. I personally believe it is much more important that your e-mail id and password with special characters and uppercase letters.