International

Communications in Virtual Space – A Social Media Discourse

The idea of communication moves beyond its lexical meaning of exchanging ideas, information or emotions to a greater discourse; especially with the advent of social media at such a large scale, in terms of mode of communication, new ways of expression, subjective attachment or objectivity, functionality, and effectiveness. The enormous growth of the virtual world of social media, although imaginary yet existing by the reciprocated subjective engagements or agreement by the individuals, the ‘simulacrum’ (Baudrillard) of the real world, continuously forms more ideal than ‘ideal’ which the reality tends to imitate. Thus the virtual space governs and precedes reality. The hegemony of the ‘hyperreal’ world primarily functions through numerous communications, controlled by the process of mediatization and the agreement on ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.

The already fragmented mass in terms of socioeconomic and cultural aspects in and through global flows of growing disjunctures (Appadurai), being influenced at various degrees by the overtly consumerist hyperreal society generates innumerable diverse shifts in meaning which are partly based on their subjective involvement and immediate experience. The ‘truth’ therefore falls apart from its singular orientation of being mathematical or scientific to multitudinous conditioned interpretations. It is therefore noteworthy that the people, who reproduce the truth and generate meaning, themselves, become the consumers of the truth. There is an opposite statement for every possible generated interpretation and the outcome is the result of open conflict and negotiation between the two contrasting ideas under certain conditions. In this virtual space, a globally acknowledged equivalence like money is not always considered as the only desired immediate exchange value. The ‘Brexit’ would be a fine example to support this claim. In a referendum held in 2016 out of 17.4 million people, 52% opted the UK to leave the European Union whereas 42% wanted to remain in the same. Finally, the UK had left the European Union on January 31, 2020, before Boris Johnson who had promised the Brexit came in power in July 2019. Studies show that social media like twitter and youtube had been immensely effective in making the public statement for the Brexit (Bauchowitz).

Although Language is considered as arbitrary as there is no logical intrinsic relationship between the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’ to coin a ‘sign’ (Saussure), the social media has been keen to produce new sets of language and expressions technologically on one hand and by the active participants and the recipients of changes, i.e., the people on the other. The technical universal language, provided by social media consists of emoticons, stickers or gifs that express certain emotions and feelings. They also provide options to express like, dislike, love, care, sadness or anger against any post or comments. Unlike the postmodern concept of ‘deconstruction’ or ‘différance’ that claims texts can be interpreted under myriads of contexts and identities, such expressions, the combination of visual face or body with certain emotions and expressions, are highly contextualized and structured with their visible differences and effectiveness. Though one can interpret the expressions provided by the social media in a number of ways too, the apparent possibility of an infinite number of shifts, the ‘différance’ is mostly undone because of the primary contextualized rigidity of signs and their large-scale availability. Even when there are shifts in the generated meaning, they occur within the presupposed language and the linguistic structure, set by the social media. While reading fiction, we do create a fancy hyperreal narrative based on the story with the help of imagination but because of the abstract or unstructured nature of the imagination, it hardly becomes communicable. Therefore social media uses far a structured language with every possible contextualized emotional outcome and expressions as much as possible so that the visible communications can take place with subjective engagements by the individuals within the hyperreal world.

People who access social media are never homogeneous, rather are segregated every day into new groups or collectives with different interests, motivations, and opinions. Their active participation and interaction in some open discussion or private chat brings in new ideas, words, and contexts and thus generates new interpretations and meanings. Social media gives the option to remain in touch with people or groups who share similar or almost similar ideas. It also provides the opportunity to opt-out from subscribing to any discussion or exchanging dialogues about any idea and the people who are very much into it by simply blocking or unfollowing them. Thus the individual, despite belonging to a seemingly open space, remains very much confined within a virtual ‘imagined community’. Such communities give every individual an illusory sense of superiority of being attached to a champion ideology or a way of life. These communities control the discourse primarily with an ulterior motive of consumerism, a social media influential, within the group. For example, there are active traveling groups, fan pages of some artists or organizations, etc. Movements based on social media like #Metoo or Naming and shaming, although were able to showcase the darkness of gender and women oppression, the virtual bonding has never been much effective because of the instability of the ‘subject’ in a consumerist hyperreality where the ‘subject’ enjoys a number of opportunities to be appeased by the ‘consumer society’ even while compromising the identity and subjecthood to escape the hardships and pangs of being the subject, contributing to its immediate lose. The movements come upon as representations with an innate lack of existence outside the virtual space of social media.

The virtual space is never what it looks like, almost a parallel replica of the real world; rather it is either compromised or exaggerated or both. The process of replicating is deceptive as the virtual space is still somewhat dependent upon the reality to extract ‘sign’. When it comes to representing, the signs are used to generate meanings for special purposes. For examples, there are popular memes or short funny videos like ‘every mom ever’ or ‘every student before exams ever’ portraying, rather exaggerating, or stereotyping the ‘performativity’ or sufferings of a mother or a student to extract a particular mass emotion, of empathy and gratefulness or laughter in these two cases mentioned above, to which the viewers can somewhat connect their own real-life experience or social sense. These memes or clips aids to distance the reality of a person as a complicated being other than a mother or a student. Thus, the mass emotion, essentially attached to a performance which forms an elusive ideal of a character, often considers a living breathing complicated being, despite being a mother or a student, as ‘other’ in reality. Therefore, the cloud of heavy emotion often remains unempathetic and almost ineffective for the ‘other’ in reality.

Humans can be considered as dynamic bubbles of lack as the lack is the central force of their dynamism. The virtual space of social media within consumerist discourse reproduces one’s lack and thereby takes control of the individual. The virtual becomes more real than the reality with more visibility than a naked eye. The availability of gadgets like a smartphone or a DSLR camera can produce the image of something that gives us a view with greater detailing. Since the referential history is no greater than a myth as Baudrillard would argue, the journey of hyperreal can be said is towards the ‘aura’ which is becoming the ‘new normal. The individual who has never experienced redness of the color of a red rose in such detailing, now comes under another lack to see the new redness of the rose in relation to the rest of the world. The monospecific approach of the discourse of the social media reproduces a lack, sense of ‘relational’ approach. The lack is mediatized and productized by the hyperreality which the individual carries along. There are a lot of instances on social media where strangers approach personally and directly to gain some sexual favors from someone. On being denied or asked further questions apart from the topic of sexual intimacy the stranger blocks them immediately. The stranger’s vision is blocked by the lack of considering a person as a complicated being in relation to other things and contexts but a sexualized body as sexual favors or intimacy is a consumable product for the stranger.

Social media although gives room for personal interactions and people engage themselves in one to one conversations, the interacting persons are often unable to carry on without bringing in words or expressions and contexts exclusively from the virtual space. The lack of words that they sense is due to the vastness of the virtual space being able to transcend the reality effectively. Striving for the representation of self and the things around haunts so much so that even when there is exchanging of words, the recipient remains almost absent from the representing self on both sides. People pick words and expressions to recreate and represent their lack while they hardly receive from the person on the other side and thus the conversation becomes absurd and empty. Instead, the metanarratives and the cultural texts are communicated well as they’re very much required to ameliorate the ‘self’. The very attitude, choice of words, tonal quality, aggressiveness, etc are perceived and often exaggerated before imbibing those within the ‘self’ in specific contexts when it comes to conveying about one’s position. Options like ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ foreground another lack of ‘synthesis’ in daily conversation. The social media discourse and communication functions more as a device that incarcerates people within a seemingly liberated space, than aiding in the superficial concept of connectivity as projected by the social media, while extending consumerism in a hyperreal world by manufacturing and commoditizing the ‘lack’.

-Himadri Mandal (One of the winners of the Article Writing Competition 2020)

Bibliography:

-Appadurai, Arjun. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” Theory Culture and Society 7.2-3 (1990): 295-310.

-Bauchowitz, Max Hänska and Stefan. “Tweeting for Brexit: How Social Media Influenced the Referendum.” John Mair, Tor Clark, Neil Fowler, Raymond Snoddy, Richard Tait. Tweeting for Brexit: How Social Media Shaped the Referendum Campaign. abramis academic publishing, 2017. pp. 31-35.

-Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

-Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. Ed. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Trans. Wade Baskin. Mcgraw-Hill Book Company, 1915.

Picture Credits: virtualvocations.com



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